How a restaurant in The Plains became a community favorite.
Gigi’s Country Kitchen has held a place in Athens at 105 N Plains Road since 2011. Open every day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the restaurant’s specialty is serving up breakfast and lunch. In fact, this year, on Nov. 1, Gigi’s will be celebrating 10 years of providing for the people of Athens. In recent years, Gigi’s has gained traction and has been able to expand their customer base.
A momentous contributor to Gigi’s growing popularity was Joe Burrow, quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals and an alumnus of Athens High School.
“I’ve never been a big football guy, but if I was ever watching college football growing up it was the Tigers, so I was kind of familiar with the French Cajun lingo, and go with the EAUX type thing, so we throw ‘Geaux Joe Burrow’ in French Cajun style on our sign,” said Travis Brand, owner of Gigi’s Country Kitchen. “Marty Smith, from ESPN, interviewing Joey in Death Valley on the field, says ‘how cool was that, this Gigi’s restaurant in the Plains kind of gave you a shout-out –– how’s that feel?’ And they for some reason, for the next three minutes straight on national television, just talked about Gigi’s and our omelets, cornbread, biscuits, and all these different things. So that began the madness, the following two years where it was just absolutely unbelievable.”
This began a whirlwind of excitement for Gigi’s and really helped put their name out there.
Speaking of the name, Gigi’s obtained its name from Brand’s grandmother, who was a voice of reason to him in his childhood. With her active involvement within her area through fundraising and more, Gigi left an inspiring legacy. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but still managed to raise $30,000 for cancer patients who could not afford treatment. Gigi also encouraged Brand’s dream to open a restaurant. When she passed away, Brand knew what the name of the restaurant would be and knew it would always be more than a name to him.
In Athens, there’s endless and constant support coming from the community. Gigi’s customers have created a binding loyalty to the restaurant, especially amidst the pandemic.
“It really dawned on me that we meant something to people when we started seeing people come in, alumni, saying ‘we came back for homecoming and we had to come to Gigi’s’, like wow, weird,” said Brand. “That was five years ago when our first group of graduates were coming back that had eaten here since they were freshmen –– coming back for their first year as alumni. I was like ‘wow, we are a part of people’s [stories]’… It’s kind of odd and special, and neat; we watch get to watch people’s children grow up.”
Brand expressed his gratitude and humbleness for the support he has for the restaurant’s new customers and regulars that they see often. He said that he enjoys when college students eat at Gigi’s and appreciates how easy-going, courteous, and generous they are as tippers. Gigi’s customer demographic varies in all ages, and all are always welcome with open arms.
“I’ve been going there since they opened because I happen[ed] to retire the same year that they opened in 2011,” said Bob Wiseman, a Gigi’s regular. “There was a long time that I was going in pretty early for breakfast and then going in for lunch too, so I was a ‘two-a-dayer.’ I backed off of that in the last couple of years, but you know it’s my favorite place to go.”
Although customers contribute to the impact of Gigi’s success, behind the scenes, the achievements of Gigi’s Country Kitchen could not be as immense without the hardworking, brilliant staff, which consists mostly of Athens locals.
“Our staff –– I have [to] first and foremost say, is absolutely second to none,” said Brand. “I don’t care what it is, what I’m doing in this world; if I’m going into battle, and that’s whether we’re cooking food or handling a zombie apocalypse, my crew is absolutely the reason Gigi’s is Gigi’s.”
The staff is always developing new ideas to better Gigi’s and create the welcoming atmosphere everyone appreciates.
“There was one case that there was this gentleman who had just moved to the Plains area,” said server and dining room manager Jessica Shaulis. “I think it was his second or third time ever coming in, and he walked through the door and I was like, ‘hey, do you want your usual?’ I think it was a breakfast bowl at the time… and a coffee. He sat his coffee down at this table after he had sat down, he stopped me and he introduced himself, and I obviously introduced myself back, and he said, ‘I just want to thank you,’ he’s like, ‘I just recently moved to the area and it’s nice to come to a place and be recognized.’”
The city of Athens has also allowed Gigi’s to build relationships with other local diners. The owners connect with each other, whether it’s talking about sales at the grocery store, helping each other with hardships, or sharing each other’s posts on social media to build up support for one another.
“COVID has been the biggest opportunity for us to see the love and support we have from these people,” said Brand.
Amidst the pandemic, customers have still made an effort to come out and make sure Gigi’s stays afloat. There have been local doctors coming in to buy a meal for the health department anonymously. Another local business owner came in and bought gift cards just to make sure that Gigi’s was receiving the business they deserve.
Brand said that these instances make him feel like he and the rest of his staff have not only a direct family, but a huge family in Athens. During COVID-19, this has allowed Gigi’s to keep up through the challenges the business is facing.
Gigi’s is home to a plethora of delicious menu options, including omelets, soups, salads, burgers, and a whole list of breakfast specials. It will continue to hold a spot in Athens’ heart and create a friendly atmosphere that’s available for anyone and everyone’s enjoyment.