The Spanky's Family



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Ansley Williams, owner and founder of Spanky’s on River Street has cracked the code for success in the restaurant industry: he makes his employees feel at home.

 

When most restaurants are dealing with a revolving door of employees who are in one day and out the next, it’s nice to know that some still think of their coworkers as their family and their job as their home. 

 

“We actually like coming to work. What a concept!” laughs Miss Gwen, who worked in Spanky’s kitchen for 36 years. 

 

She isn’t the only lifer at Spanky’s, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. There are plenty of people from the bar to the kitchen who started as employees and have turned into family. So while Spanky’s celebrates a milestone of 40 years in business, which in itself is an accomplishment these days, the family of workers that calls this place home also celebrate their own anniversaries of the day they decided to join the wacky, crazy team they’ve grown to love.

 

The Spanky's Crew:

Cleve Williams (pictured of the above with Ansley)
General Manager
Worked at Spanky’s 37 years

“When I started I was just supposed to bartend for my summer break from Georgia Tech. I had so much fun I never went back to school!” Cleve Williams started as a bartender and worked his way up to General Manager of Spanky’s until his retirement three years ago. “This was a lifetime job for us. The other day I realized I never had to make a resume. This place was my only job, and it was fun until the day I retired. That’s all you can really ask for in life.”

 

Christina Norman
Live Oak Restaurant Group CFO
​Worked at Spanky’s since 1980

 

“I was the baby duckling when I started, now I’m everybody’s grandmamma!” laughs Christina Norman who worked her way up from waitress to CEO over her 36 year career at Spanky’s. “The people here are my other family. Sharon, Ansley’s wife, trained me and became my best friend. We’ve been together through it all and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” When asked about what the 40th anniversary means to such a tight-knit team Norman said, “It’s a whole new chapter for us. It’s amazing to look back at everything that has happened, everything that’s evolved. And I got to be there to see it all. What a blessing.”

 

Freddie Thomas
Bartender since 1978

“I started selling Schlitz beer to restaurants,” laughs Freddie Thomas, a jovial man who recalls hours of laughs behind the bar at Spanky’s. “I was hired as a bartender, learned the ropes, and been back there ever since.” Thomas raves about the family atmosphere Spanky’s has and the good people that have been a part of the story for years. “We’ve become a family, and the stories I could tell you would get me in trouble, but man do we have some stories!”

Cheryl Kieft
Bartender
Worked at Spanky’s since 1994

“I started as a hostess then Joy took me under her wing. She taught me everything she knew about being a waitress,” remembers Cheryl Kieft. “At the time there weren’t many female bartenders, but Freddie had confidence in me and put me behind the bar on St. Patrick’s Day! Talk about throwing me to the sharks, but it’s really the only way to learn. I learned quick and had a blast. We still have fun back there!”

 

Joy Bishop
​Waitress since 1986

“I had never waited tables in my life before I came here,” remembers Bishop. “I’ve stayed so long because these people are my family. We’ve grown together over the years. We laugh, we cry, all the big stuff, we’ve gone through together.” It’s touching how Bishop smiles at the coworkers who have turned into family. You can tell she has a passion for the people and place she has called home for 30 years. “I’ll stay as long as Ansley lets me!” she jokes. We have a feeling that will be a very long time.

 

Gwen Hicks “Mama Spankys”
In the kitchen since 1985

“I started in the kitchen. That’s my baby,” laughs Gwen Hicks, who is also known as “Miss Gwen” or “Mama Spanky’s” to the entire Spanky’s family who has loved her laugh and humor for the last 36 years. “I was a salad chopper then a fry cook and not long after that became manager. It’s important to work beside people not over them. It makes them love their job and, in turn, do a better job.” After years behind the scenes making Spanky’s beloved chicken finger (“I may not have invented it but I surely mastered it!”), Miss Gwen has officially retired, but that doesn’t mean she’s slowed down. “I’ll never really leave. It’s more than a job; this place and these people are my family. They’ve officially adopted me now!”

 

Visit this long-standing crew at Spanky's on River Street.  spankysriverstreet.com.

To read this and more about the Southern Food Revolution, subscribe now or pick up the October/November issue of South Magazine.

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