After working half her life at one of Columbia’s best known restaurant chains, a special member of the Lizard’s Thicket family hung up her apron for the last time Friday.
Mickey Jarvis, general manager of the St. Andrews Road restaurant in Irmo and a Lizard’s Thicket veteran of nearly 35 years, ends her reign as the company’s longest-serving employee with her retirement.
“She’s part of the family,” Lizard’s Thicket CEO Bobby Williams said. “My life would have been much better if I’d had more employees like her.”
Jarvis, an immigrant from Taiwan, began working at Lizard’s Thicket as a waitress in 1981, four years after the chain’s first store opened. When the first Irmo branch opened in 1985, Jarvis was tapped as its general manager.
“(Williams) trusted me to do it, and I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I did it,” Jarvis said. “I had to work twice as hard, but I did it.”
She’s managed the St. Andrews location – consistently the chain’s busiest store – for about 14 years, cultivating the family-friendly and efficient atmosphere that customers expect when they walk into her restaurant.
She’s watched customers who she used to put in high chairs grow up and bring their own children to the restaurant.
Brothers Fred and John Paddick eat at Jarvis’ restaurant almost every day – sometimes multiple times a day.
They know she runs at tight ship. She doesn’t like to see anyone’s coffee cups sit empty or a table go uncleaned, they said.
“Because of the continuity, the fact that people like Mickey have been here for so long, there’s a stability about how the atmosphere is,” John Paddick said. “People like to be able to go to ‘their’ store, and that’s what this place has become for so many people.”
Longtime customer Carlos Gibbons, father of TV personality Leeza Gibbons, is quick to think of Jarvis’ smile and warm welcome to him and everyone else who walks into the restaurant.
“We just tease each other. I call her my girlfriend,” Gibbons said. “She’s just so friendly and helpful and courteous and kind. ...We’re all going to miss her.”
While the Lizard’s Thicket restaurant chain has grown to more than a dozen locations with more than 800 employees, Jarvis stands out as the face of the Irmo branch and the epitome of Lizard’s Thicket service.
Williams, whose parents, Bob and Anna, founded the chain in 1977, praised Jarvis for her unwavering work ethic.
“She really treated it like her own business,” he said. “As a manager, she’s firm, but she’s fair. And I think that’s what people like about her. She demands a lot out of the employees there. She’s strict, but they appreciate that because they know she’s doing the right thing looking out for the business.”
On Friday, a number of Jarvis’s current and former employees along with members of the Williams family surprised her with a retirement celebration at the restaurant.
In the midst of hugs, photographs, hand-holding and a few tears, Jarvis told them all she would be back frequently to check on them and the restaurant.
“The people in this town are so good to me, and it’s just so easy. They made it so easy to run the business,” Jarvis said. “They treat me like part of the family, and I enjoy that, and I love every single one of them.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.