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Categories: 2024 Seasoned in Service, FEB/MARCH 2024, FOOD & DRINK, Seasoned in Service

Seasoned in Service:
Natasha Phillips
34 years, 16 as owner of FOJ

Seasoned in Service is a series in our annual Food Issues, celebrating local food service professionals who have been in the business for ten or more years, highlighting their invaluable contributions to our community.

Interviews by Sierra Stark Stevens

Photos by DSTO Moore

Natasha Phillips grew up in the service industry, learning the ropes from her mother, the founder of Natalia’s. Although she left Macon for college, she never forgot her roots or the pride she felt being part of a well-run restaurant. So, in 2007, she and her husband, Carl, opened FOJ on Forsyth Rd. In this MM interview, she discusses her career path and the grit and determination it takes to be a leader in food service for decades. Her advice? “I honestly feel like every parent out there should push their children to all work in a restaurant at some point in their life. The world would be a nicer place if that happened.”


How many years have you been in the service industry?
34 years now…yikes! I started as a hostess many moons ago!


What skills or experiences did you bring with you when you started out?
Energy and excitability! I was 15 and working at the most hopping restaurant in town, Natalia’s. I see the same thing with the young students I bring in. Their energy and hustle are beautiful things and often contagious.


Have you always lived and worked in Macon?
I went to college in New Orleans and Atlanta, so I worked jobs there. In New Orleans, I worked at a spa as the receptionist, handling phones and booking customer treatments. In Atlanta, I worked as a server at a couple of restaurants and a bartender at a music venue. These were all great learning experiences, but they also awakened me in that I realized just how great my mom ran her business and how smart a businesswoman she was. No place I worked at was run like hers.


Tell us about how your role has changed or grown over the years.
After 18 years in the service industry, I saw a need and opportunity to bring something different to Macon, and in November of 2007, Fountain of Juice was created by my husband Carl and me. And when you make that crossover from employee to employer, your role changes in that every position at any given time is your position. You wear all the hats!


Is there a particular attitude or principle that guides your work?
I have a great pride of work and expect the same in those I bring on. I try to be my staff’s biggest encourager. No matter how small you are when you start, you do the same work in what should be done for the bigger finish. Excellence is a habit of repeated efforts.


What’s special about Macon’s food scene?
Macon’s food scene is truly coming alive. Not only do we have what one expects when coming to a southern town, really great meat and threes, but we have this new adventurous restaurant scene hosting melting pots of flavors from all over the place.


What should people eat or drink at FOJ?
We have so many great staples at FOJ, which is a great starting place. Our kale salad will make you say “kale yeah”! The roasted chicken salad is a cult favorite, which I personally recommend with salmon instead. And Carl makes the best burgers in town using Macon’s very own Rocking Chair Ranch beef. That would be a good starting point. And, of course, you can wash that all down with our signature lightly sweetened green tea.


What makes you most proud at the end of the day?
This business is very competitive, so you have to have consistent standards to keep people coming back. I take pride in working hard to uphold those standards and ensuring everyone is on the same page. Restaurant work is hard, and we feed hundreds of people every day. It is not easy making sure all that food and service is executed properly every day. Honest hard work makes me sleep pretty good at night.


What do you wish outsiders knew about the service industry?
I honestly feel like every parent out there should push their children to all work in a restaurant at some point in their life. The world would be a nicer place if that happened. We are not magicians at FOJ. We make everything we put out and we do not have it all premade and holding in a food warmer. And when 100 people come in between 11:30 and 2:00, food may come out a little slower at times. I suppose I wish people would recognize that their hangriness does not make magic happen. It only makes servers not want to serve the public anymore.


What’s important to you outside of work?
I have two sons and live on a farm. So outside of work is all about ball and animals. There are ballgames I’m usually running late to on most Friday nights and husband, goats, and donkeys braying the moment I get home. Never a free moment, and I would not have it any other way. Life is good.


Anything else you’d like to share? 
The restaurant business is a hard life. The restauranteur sacrifices quite a lot to the business, their employees, and customers. So to all the customers out there….support your local restaurant. It is a labor of love or God knows, none of us would still be doing it all these years later. Be nice to us! Compliment your servers and chefs when they do good. It feeds the soul and makes the long hours worth it!