When we moved to Atlanta from Boston many years ago, I flew down for the weekend, and spent every waking minute for three days intensely searching for a house in the Buckhead area. Our agent was a wonderful, patient woman named Peggy Hibbert, who didn’t seem to mind showing over 70 houses to a client who was headstrong, opinionated and apprehensive about her disruptive little move South.
Undeterred, Peggy took me to lunch at an old fashioned diner with a southern twist, known for its milk shakes, meat loaf and individual juke boxes (none of which have ever been at the top of my list), called the OK café . Maybe it was the grits and coffee, the funky décor, the friendly staff, the mix of customers or just its suggestive name, but little by little, the OK café won me over. The apprehension was replaced by a tinge of excitement at being in a hot new young place like Atlanta. I was intrigued by the fun and sassy attitude combined with good old fashioned southern. I loved the mix and the dichotomy, and right there at the OK, I got a sense that life in the new city was going to be O.K.
Peggy sold us a beautiful house, and over the years, we’ve returned frequently to the OK café, each time remembering that very first visit, and appreciating what a turning point that was in our lives.
So when we woke this week to the news that the OK café had a fire, I felt tremendous sadness that an Atlanta institution had lost its soul. How could this happen to something we just take for granted? How sad for the people who work there, and have lost their jobs. And how vulnerable we all are to the unexpected that can change our lives forever.
When I got to work, our wonderful Alva, who never ceases to amaze us with her generous spirit, her relentless energy and kind determination, expressed, with utter urgency: “This is terrible for all the kitchen and wait staff at the OK. We need to do something! This is Christmas and they have lost their jobs!” We didn’t even have a chance to talk about it among ourselves, and mourn the many meals that we won’t be having at this venerable institution. Alva was already on a mission to fix it!
Coincidentally, shortly after the fire broke out, Meg got a call from Sam asking if her real-estate savvy hubby, Scott, could help find the OK Cafe another location, fast! After all, she said, what about all the people who work there and who would be without jobs during the holiday season? Wasn’t there anything we could do to help?
We’ve since heard that the owners of the OK have assured the community that they will take care of their staff. The reaction from our staff was, “But what about all their tips? That’s what they rely on, and during the holidays, they’ll be missing out on even more generous tips.”
The outpouring from the whole Buckhead community, not just our little “Huffington” community, has been wonderful and heart warming. A fund has been set up at Alva’s church for the employees of the OK Cafe. If you choose to donate, it’s so easy: Just click on Northside United Methodist Church and click on Giving. You don’t even need to log in … just designate your donation to the Shepherd Fund and OK Cafe, and know that your donation will go straight to helping the families of the employees during this holiday season.
I love that our little community takes care of its own during the holidays. That’s what communities should be about, and that’s clearly what the holiday spirit is about. There may be a few fewer power breakfasts in town for the next few months, and a little less grits on the griddle, but if the outpouring of support is any indication, life at the OK cafe is going to be OK.
PS: A little update on the donations to the OK cafe. We have learned that in the past 24 hours, more than $27,000 has been raised for the OK Cafe employee fund! Don’t we live in a great community?