Finding & making a way

Published 10:27 am Monday, October 2, 2017

AULANDER – Jackie Lyons-White believes in slogans and quotes.

“They keep me going,” the Lewiston native confesses. “Even when naysayers or dream killers say it couldn’t be done, I was determined to make it happen.”

What Lyons-White it making happen is Aulander’s only family restaurant, Dolly’s Chat and Chew, located at 111 Main Street here downtown.

A native of Lewiston and Bertie High School grad (she also serves now as president of the Bertie Alumni Community Association), Lyons-White matriculated first at Roanoke-Chowan Community College and later, seeking medical assistance for her son, she moved to Durham where she attended the former Rutledge College. Along the way she married and took a job with the Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle, from which she retired this past spring after 28 years.

“When my other siblings were working in the fields or in the factory, I was a home learning from Momma how to cook,” she noted.

She says the date of her Grand Opening – Sept. 30 – will mark the 30th anniversary of his mother’s passing. The name Dolly she says comes from a childhood name her sisters gave to her.

“I’ve always been a hard worker and I work for everything I want,” she continued. “I had this dream and determination with a never say die attitude. I had some setbacks along the way but I kept trusting in God.”

Lyons-White’s dream came thanks to inquiring about the USDA Opportunity Building where her business will be located. She then made further inquiries about the Small Business Incubator Program.

“The idea was to get small businesses to come here and help revitalize the town of Aulander,” she added. “I was approached by and met with some of the town commissioners (Bobbie Parker and Phil Thomas) about starting a business, but at that time I really didn’t want to move back to Bertie County.”

It was after those meetings with the town commissioners that she says God showed her a vision of what she could do with the building. She already had a vendor business providing funeral flower wreaths, selling clothes, and doing food catering back in Durham. But her restless spirit wanted more.

“After the vision back in April (2016), I called them (town commissioners) back and told them I was ready,” she related. “I went before the town board and I was approved that same night to rent this building.

She started re-modeling in June 2016.

Lyons-White then went about trying to secure financing through grants. Some grants she had eyed earlier, she later found out through Bertie County Economic Development she did not qualify for.

“I went to Martin Community College, and Larry Biggs with the Small Business Center there helped me draft a business plan – the one I would take to the town board,” she noted. “And then I went to Raleigh to Rural Development, but wondered why I had to go out of the county when I was trying to do business here.”

“They wanted me to apply for loans, but I said there has to be some re-vitalization money out there,” she said. “All these rejections made me more and more determined to open up this place.

“It was a rough road,” she explains, “but I never gave up. I said I was going to open this business whether they could help me or not. That’s now much I trusted God.”

She then had the good fortune to receive a stipend and then an insurance settlement.

Using that seed money, she attended auctions for restaurant equipment, received gifts from former EPA co-workers, family members, and gradually she was able to build up her nest-egg.

When I cut that ribbon and open these doors, I’ll be able to say that everything in here is paid for,” she said. “I won’t owe any banks.”

Lyons-White knows a business venture is risky, but she’s willing to risk it because of her love for Bertie Count

“Sure, I was told I was taking a risk open up my Cafe in Aulander or Bertie County,” she cautioned. “I didn’t and still don’t see it as a risk, I see it as a need for an eatery in the Town of Aulander and a great opportunity for a small business entrepreneur like me.

“I’ve had pastors stop in; one was from Millennium stop in and he told me that on Sundays they have to go to Ahoskie, Roanoke Rapids, or even Virginia, and how much they’d love to have a local place with good ol’ Southern cooking,” she said. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to revitalize the town and to help myself too.

“I mentor myself along this year-long journey of getting this Cafe up and running,” she declared. “I said every setback is a setup for a great comeback. I asked myself was this a test for a testimony? Not one time did I attempt to give up on my dreams. My mind was made up.”

Lyons-White plans to only be open on weekends as the business tries to establish itself and gain its economic footing.

“If it goes good, I may add some days,” she reasons, “and I also plan to be open for special events and some holidays, too.”

For now, Lyons-White will commute from Durham, but thanks to Dolly’s Chat and Chew, you can expect to see her in Bertie County a bit more often.

“I’ve got some other ideas because I see some things that are needed here, and there are some other things I want to do,” she relates, “but I’m going to take it just one dream at a time.”

Three hundred people have told Lyons-White they plan to attend her Grand Opening-Ribbon Cutting, and she says she’d like to hug every single one of them.

“Nothing brings people together like good food. Besides, I just retired,” she joked. “I’m not going to spend all my days in the kitchen.”