Federal restaurant revitalization fund brings new life to Americus institution


Three generations at Gladys’ Kitchen: (R – L) Tracia Tullis, owner and founder; Gladys Jones, her mother and namesake of the restaurant; and Alia Tullis, Tracia’s daughter.


Tracia Tullis and her mom Gladys opened Gladys’ Kitchen in Americus 27 years ago. The country cooking restaurant, known for its crispy fried chicken, signature dessert and the delicious caramelly Butter Roll, is an important community asset, a popular gathering place on weekdays, weekends and after church on Sundays.


“Gladys’ Kitchen is an institution,” said Nema Etheridge, a University of Georgia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) business consultant. “If you know food in Americus, you know Gladys’ Kitchen.”


In 2020, the institution was shaken. Like all businesses closed by COVID, Tullis had to shut the doors. However, she pivoted and continued serving her community.


“COVID impacted us in a way we’ve never seen before,” she said. “We went strictly drive-through, losing about half of our customers and employees. It was devastating. We are a place for gathering, and we no longer had that space for our customers.”


Fortunately, she met Etheridge and learned about a new federal Restaurant Revitalization Fund available to restaurant owners hit by the pandemic.


“Restaurants were struggling with the new normal,” said Etheridge, who is based in the SBDC’s Albany office. “People were ready for restaurant industry support. I was encouraging businesses to submit applications.”


Etheridge left her card with Tullis, who followed up.


“I gave her a call, we met and talked and she explained everything to me,” Tullis said. “I thought it would be a great help to our restaurant and the community.”


The two met and Etheridge helped her get set up to apply for the funding. She then helped Tullis understand how she could spend the funding and how to report her expenditures back to the U.S. Small Business Administration.


The grant helped Tullis add a drive-through window, retain five employees and remodel the restaurant. Her new relationship with Etheridge continues with weekly contacts to discuss various projects, like adding menu items. In Spring 2022, they announced the restaurant’s reopening.


“Working with Nema has brought out some wonderful ideas and thoughts that I hadn’t had time to consider while running the restaurant,” Tullis said. “Having someone like her introduce me to different ideas is a great help.”


“Seeing the restaurant support its employees and get its first upgrade in many years was wonderful,” Etheridge said. “Gladys’ Kitchen serves not just its customers, but its community. To see it come through stronger is really important for Americus.”


By: Jennifer Giarratano

Photos: Diane Dodd