‘He Always Took Care of His People’

by Kari Apted

Jim Stalvey left a positive mark on Newton County and an unforgettable impression on those in the restaurant industry. Even Chick-fil-A dedicated its sign to him after he died at the age of 80 in January. At a time when few people stay at one job for long, four of his long-term employees share their memories about Stalvey and his family and why they never wanted to work anywhere else. 

Neal Cooper was a senior in high school when his aunt told him about an open position at Stalvey’s, where she worked. Now 55 years old, Cooper is the restaurant’s kitchen manager. 

“I make menus, do all the cooking, keep things going,” he said. “I always had a passion for cooking. God gave me the ability to cook and the ability to preach, and I believe in staying in my lane.” Cooper believes the connections between himself and his coworkers are what has kept him there for over three decades. “We are like family. We work together, we cry together, we pray together. Mr. Jim loved me, and I loved him.” 

Deedie Seagraves has worked at Stalvey’s for 26 years. 

“We are like family. We work together, we cry together, we pray together. Mr. Jim loved me, and I loved him.”

Neal Cooper

“I was working at Winn Dixie,” she said, “but I always wanted to be a waitress.” Seagraves started out waiting tables only on Saturdays but now works there seven days a week. “I order all the food, wait tables, manage, whatever they need me to do. I loved Jim and love Sharon. They are like my second mom and dad. I could never leave this job. They have been too good to me.” 

Stalvey’s Restaurant manager Teri Krickel has been an employee since 1995. She started out cooking in the kitchen—the filet mignon is still her favorite—but now her primary job is keeping up with the bookwork at Stalvey’s and the Butcher Block Deli. Krickel shares Jim’s passion for the restaurant business and pointed to the way the Stalveys have always treated their employees well. Stalvey’s humility and work ethic made an impression on her. 

“He would come in and make salads, or cook, or bus tables—whatever needed to be done,” Krickel said. “He did that until he just physically couldn’t any more. Even after his stroke, he would come in with his walker and make sure we were doing everything right. He never thought he was too good to do anything that needed to be done.”

 Connie Tant, manager at the Butcher Block Deli, reiterated what so many have said. 

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“Jim always took care of his people. Anytime anyone needed something, he was always willing to help everybody,” she said. “He always told us, ‘Don’t leave nobody hungry. If you see somebody hungry, you don’t just give them food. You invite them in to sit down and eat at the table.’ He liked being around people and taking care of people. I liked what they said at his funeral: ‘He’s up there cooking for Jesus now.’”

Click here to read more stories by Kari Apted.

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