Most of us hope that the work we do each day will leave a positive impact on the world around us, but it’s easy to forget that sometimes the little things mean the most. Like a perfectly cooked breakfast when you’re feeling blue, a laugh shared with friends, or being greeted like family when you walk into your favorite restaurant. Mimi Gentilini knows exactly how much these things mean to people. Her eatery, Mimis Good Food, is all about friends and food and warmth. And while “down-home casual” has become a popular restaurant concept, that’s not why Mimi does it. It’s simply who she is – and her customers love her for it.
Mimi grew up in an actual log cabin on a lake in New Jersey. Her town was small and friendly, a planned community much like Peachtree City. Her mother was a schoolteacher with an advanced degree, her father an engineer. Her grandparents lived nearby, she had one brother and one sister, and they all spent plenty of time outside.
“My childhood was truly idyllic,” says Mimi. “I swam or fished or canoed or ice skated every day. My dad was the cook in the family, and I learned from him. He made the most fantastic over-medium eggs, but I never ate them because I didn’t like eggs as a kid. I was very domestic in some ways, though, and somehow I always thought I’d be the classic 50s T.V. homemaker.”
When her then-husband was transferred to Atlanta in 1988, Mimi’s kids were 11 months old and four years old, respectively. Like many who find Fayette County, they looked all over the metro area before discovering Peachtree City, but knew they were home the moment they did.
“Oddly enough,” she remembers, “it was the cart paths that sold my daughter on the move. She was just beginning to have friends and was worried about leaving them, but she loved the golf carts and couldn’t wait to ride her bike on the paths.”
Once settled in Peachtree City, Mimi launched what would ultimately become a lifetime of community involvement by volunteering at Braelinn Elementary.
“Cutting and pasting is my favorite job in the whole world,” jokes Mimi. “With actual scissors and glue, I mean. I really love it!”
She eventually served as PTA president and was part of the committee that helped Braelinn become the first school in the country to work with Kroger on the transition to electronic school reward cards. And, of course, she cooked with her kids. Their favorite? Homemade pasta.
Once both of the kids were in school, she and her husband began thinking about owning a business so he could stop travelling and they could earn an income while having more control over their schedules. In August of 1996, they opened the Peachtree City Huddle House. To their surprise, the restaurant took off. It operated for almost 15 years as Huddle House and then another year as Mimi’s Good Food. Along the way, Mimi and her husband divorced, and she continued to run the restaurant on her own. In early 2012, she found out that the building she’d been leasing would soon become unavailable. She was just coming off of a major illness and debated long and hard about what to do next. But her heart was with her restaurant – and her customers – and June saw her re-opening in her current location on Kelly Drive. The customers followed in droves and, before she knew it, Mimi’s Good Food had become a local gathering spot.
“Mimi is an incredible woman who has never met a stranger,” says Terry Ernst, a member of the Peachtree City Council and a regular at Mimi’s. “She is passionate about everything she does and is a strong supporter of our community. If you haven’t been to Mimi’s restaurant, you are missing a great experience.”
“Mimi’s has been dubbed the ‘PTC City Hall Annex’ by none other than Peachtree City’s sage, Terry Garlock,” notes another council member and regular, Mike King. “A notice proclaiming this has been posted at the door. To my knowledge, there has yet to be a quorum of council members present, but that isn’t to say all of us haven’t experienced the wholesome atmosphere”
The food is honest breakfast and lunch fare: eggs, waffles, omelets, and sandwiches – comfort food, the kind you get at home. The Mimi’s difference is in the quality of service, the friendly atmosphere, and her absolute insistence that every dish be perfect.
“We met Mimi at her first location on 54,” explains longtime customer Nina Divins. “We were both still working and more than eager to have a good restaurant meal several nights a week. Besides the fact that her menu appealed to us, we had been checking the health inspection ratings published in the local paper. Mimi consistently had a grade of 100, as she still does.”
That 100 percent score is a major point of pride for Mimi.
“I do micromanage when it comes to the food,” she says. “But plates should look a certain way, and I refuse to cut corners with food safety, ever.”
That dedication comes with a price. For Mimi, it’s long hours – especially since she’s open from 6:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. seven days a week. She admits that she hasn’t taken a real vacation in almost a decade.
“Mimi is the hardest working person we know,” says Nina. “She’s up before dawn every morning, opening the restaurant at 6:00, and on the go all day until the official closing time at 3:00, with cleanup and readying things for the following day still to go.” Mimi’s daughter, Lisa Wilkinson, agrees.
“You would be hard pressed to find anyone who works harder than my mother,” she says. “But I don’t think she would have it any other way. Her customers mean so much to her, to the point that it even feels strange to call them that; they’re friends, and many are really like family.”
According to Mimi, Lisa is absolutely correct: she wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s definitely tough sometimes,” she says. “I work my tail off. But I get to come to work and spend all day with my friends and family. It’s just wonderful.”
The neat thing about Mimi’s is that people don’t just get to know the owner and her staff – they get to know one another as well. A few weeks ago, two strangers came into the restaurant, got to chatting, and discovered that they were both veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Before long, they were immersed in conversation, and both left happy. That kind of experience is exactly what Mimi likes to see.
Mimi’s family is incredibly proud of what she’s accomplished. “I think it’s amazing that my mom has taken a small business, moved it to a spot nobody thought could possibly be a restaurant, and turned it in to a staple of the community,” says Mimi’s son, Michael. “I think there are a couple factors essential to a small business that she has embraced fully. One is the level of care that goes into the food. She takes the time and insists the same from the employees to make sure things are perfect. Showing a legitimate care for what is being served is something I think people can taste – and feel.
“The other is her genuine personality. My mom is without a doubt the most honest and generous person. I think it makes people feel comfortable when they are at the restaurant, like they’re among friends and they’re being taken care of, and they don’t have to worry as much about whatever their day entails.”
As much as she loves to cook, taking care of others is definitely Mimi’s specialty. From her two children to her three rescue pups to the many customers and employees who’ve become so much more, her heart seems to have room for all comers.
“I just adopt people,” she says. “The kids who work for me are my kids. They get lectures and advice and help when they need it. Some of them come back during holiday breaks and just need to work a couple of shifts to earn some money, and I love that. About 15 years ago, I ‘adopted’ one of my regular couples, Bill and Nina Divins, as my ‘parents.’ We go out to eat and I got to throw them a huge anniversary bash. I just love them.”
The feeling is absolutely mutual.
“One day Mimi introduced us to some of her friends, telling them that we were her adopted parents,” says Nina. “She has continued to act as a daughter, much to the relief of our children still living up north. They know that if they can’t reach us for some reason, they can call Mimi and make sure we’re all right. I fell about a year ago, which ended with me spending six weeks at Southland rehab center. During that time, Mimi worked to keep me in reading material, which was a real blessing. Also, Mimi brought a Christmas tree to our house and put it up for us. She’s a beautiful person.”
Michele Walton, who has worked for Mimi since she was 16 years old, agrees.
“My mom died when I was six,” she explains, “then my dad when I was 23. And there have been many people come and go in my life. Mimi has always stood by me. She’s the reason I had a job and an income to support myself through college. Honestly, she’s the only reason I was able to eat my first semester of college, as she always miraculously had ‘leftovers’ to send with me to school each week – trays and trays of untouched food I knew she made just for me. She’s the most giving person I have ever met. I read a quote once that I’ll never forget. It said: ‘A mother isn’t someone to lean on, she’s someone who makes leaning unnecessary.’ That’s Mimi.”
But Mimi insists she’s the blessed one.
“Giving of yourself to others is a gift to one’s own soul,” she explains. “Things aren’t always easy, but I try to focus on all of the blessings that I have, to be grateful for all the goodness in my life – and there’s a lot of it. My relationship with my children is amazing. We speak nearly every day, and I am proud to say that they are kind, good honest people. And I have developed long-term meaningful relationships with good people. I feel like I’m really a part of something here, something special. Two hundred people came to my 60th birthday party, and the kids who work for me organized that whole thing. It was perfect and so much fun. How many people get to experience so much love?”
At the end of the day, love and laughter seem to be the keys to Mimi’s amazing impact on those around her.
“My mom loves her community,” explains Lisa, “and for as long as I can remember, she has been giving back or trying to help in any way possible. Whether she is volunteering at one of the many charities she supports, sponsoring a little league team, or bringing food to the home of a sick customer, she gives so much more than she takes. As a mother, she’s no different. She is a constant source of love, comfort, support, and strength for our family. I love her so much, and I’m so proud to call her Mom.”