MOUNT VERNON, KY – Marcella Lovell prefers to let her meatloaf and Rocket Burger speak for themselves. Tourists and regional food lovers have been listening, answering and enjoying Marcella’s Farm to Fork local delicacies for years.
But what happens when a pandemic hits and success is greeted by restrictions and safety measures? Lovell, her staff and her loyal customers continue working through it all – together.
Lovell’s Mount Vernon-based restaurant had just hit its stride over the summer and early fall. She and her staff had adapted to social distancing restrictions and masking up, following the spring shutdown. She was gearing up for holiday meals and events in November when Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s mandate ending indoor dining put her plans on the back burner for a bit longer.
The Rockcastle County native says she and her staff will continue working hard to serve their loyal customers and community during these changes. “We will offer carryout and curbside pickup during the shutdown of indoor dining,” Lovell said. “We may also, at my discretion, close on occasion during this time to give my hard-working staff time to rest and be with their families at home.”
She added that her staff has been hard hit by the pandemic. Many have chosen to work instead of taking vacation time, due to fear of future restrictions. “We take precautions for all contagious situations, and Covid is no different for our protocol,” she added. “But, when this happens, it leaves other staff picking up the hours and filling in where needed, including myself. So, some time off for all of us will be OK, and God will see us through as He always has.”
Operating on faith is nothing new to Lovell.
She’s invested a lifetime learning to cook fresh, home-style food and baked small-town customer service into her business. It’s not something she takes lightly.
She was raised on a farm not far from the restaurant’s locale and says her life as a young Kentucky farm girl has given her just enough grit and mettle to endure the shutdowns and setbacks. Lovell has faced more significant challenges than this, she said.
“Operating a woman-owned business can be a challenge itself,” she said. “In the beginning, it was hard to get people to believe in me and my dream. It was hard to get the money I needed and to be taken seriously.”
That is except for Don and Sue Long, friends and previous owners of the property on which the restaurant sits. “Don and Sue were kind enough to waive payments on the property for over a year, just on my word. It was then I slowly began to see the reality coming to light. So, with second-hand equipment, a Discover (credit) card in hand, and a small home equity loan, I began building my dream.”
But perhaps her biggest inspiration to sustain comes from the women who taught her to cook in the first place: her mother and grandmother. She keeps a sign in her restaurant that is a constant reminder of why she continues. It reads: “Marcella’s: Simple country cookin’ the way mom cooked for me.”
“At Marcella’s, we pride ourselves on using the freshest, best-quality ingredients available. We do this by sourcing from top-quality vendors and locally grown farm and dairy products, when available,” Lovell explains. “My staff and I take pride in preparing the food and serving to our customers in a timely and most hospitable manner. We cook and prepare our food just like my mom cooked for me. It’s filled with love and will put a smile on your face one bite at a time.”
In addition to the support of loyal customers, friends and neighbors, Lovell found a new and supportive lending partner over the summer: Southeast Kentucky Economic Development Corporation (SKED).
She was preparing to expand her successful business in early 2020 when COVID-19 hit the nation. At that point, Lovell put those plans on hold but still needed new equipment and working capital to keep her customers fed.
She heard about SKED from a family friend and applied for a business loan from the regional, nonprofit lender. With the SKED loan, she was able to buy a new ice maker, new grill and put in a new heating and air conditioning unit. Best of all, she was also able to keep her 17 employees on the payroll.
“Everything (her equipment) went down at the same time,” she explained. “The SKED loan was the easiest one I’ve ever done in my life. They came to me for all of the paperwork and closing, and turnaround was fast.”
SKED Business Loan Officer Karen Minton says being able to help homegrown entrepreneurs like Lovell keeps SKED’s mission alive.
“We are thrilled to be able to help Marcella buy new equipment and get some important working capital when she needed it most,” Minton said. “We hope to help her expand in the future so that she can serve even more hungry customers when all of the restrictions are lifted and life returns to normal.”