Waitress says customers are like family

Published 8:00 am Saturday, May 1, 2021

VIDALIA, La. — Tonya Jennings Harp greets each customer with a bright smile and serves them with a caring heart only a mother of three can have at The Cafe in Vidalia at 702 Carter St., close to where The Dart landed Friday morning.

A Monterey, Louisiana, native, Harp has served the Miss-Lou community as a waitress for 35 years, and started working two and a half years ago for The Cafe.

Customers come in regularly to eat and talk. Some come in as often as three times a day, she said.

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“We have the same people every day,” Harp said. “This is the best family atmosphere (I have ever worked in). I work all of the holidays because of the elderly that we feed during the year. I like to serve people.”

COVID closed The Cafe at first, so they put chairs and tables outside for the customers so they could have somewhere to meet friends and family to talk, she said.

Miss-Lou is home to her because of her family, her friends, and the community, Harp said. She loves Downtown Natchez and Natchez National Cemetery.

A mother to her two sons and a nephew she has raised as her own, Harp works six days a week. She likes to take them fishing when she is not working at The Cafe. They fish Lake Concordia, Lake St. John, or St. Catherine’s Creek National Wildlife Refuge and target bass or white perch.

“We are so competitive on who catches the first fish, who catches the most and who catches the biggest,” Harp said. “(Russ) beat me on all three (categories. For like two months, he nagged on and on. Telling me, ‘I beat you, Mom,’ it was the best day of fishing he has ever had. Usually, my truck outside has kayaks and fishing gear because when I get off work, we run and go fish.”

Her car caught on fire during the snowstorm, so she called first responders for help. She serves them on the regular at The Café, Harp said. The community responded by raising money for her cause, she said.

They had a ton of fishing gear in the car when it caught on fire, so someone donated eight fishing poles and fishing gear, she said. It was touching to receive kindness from others, she said.

A community café like The Cafe is important because it gives people a place to visit with others, she said. Waitressing is not about the food, but the kindness shown to customers.

“It is a refuge for a lot of people. It is like a church. They love to come here,” Harp said. “(Customers) become family. I love the community and what I’m doing.”