The day after Joe Burrow won the Heisman award, I started the morning at Gigi’s Country Kitchen.
It was purely out of sheer luck. I had just arrived back in Athens from an internship in D.C. the night of the ceremony, and I — lacking any sort of sports knowledge or relevant connection to the region in the prior months — had never heard of the Athens-native launched into stardom as the most dominant name in college football.
But suddenly, he appeared to be everywhere.
Our peaceful Saturday morning ritual — rise, rub the grogginess from our eyes, make the drive out to The Plains for a cheap and delicious breakfast — was disturbed by the bustling chaos of people wanting to eat the same breakfast as Joe Burrow. When we approached Gigi’s, we took note of the sign out front: “ Here we geaux, Jeaux!”: a tribute to the player’s team at Louisiana State University.
“That’s what Joe Burrow gets!” the waitress exclaimed when my boyfriend ordered an omelette, twirling the gold and purple beads draped around her neck.
Gigi’s was not expecting to feel such strong symptoms of Joe Burrow fever. Travis Brand, the restaurant’s owner and primary cook, was shocked to hear his small-town restaurant’s name on ESPN nearly a year after a radio interview in which Burrow declared his love for the restaurant.
“Gigi’s was being discussed, in Death Valley, by our hero Joe Burrow. That was pretty wild,” Brand told The Athens Messenger.
Since, the country kitchen has paid homage to the hometown hero in any way they can, hanging up photos and posters of Burrow playing for Athens High School in the restaurant and stringing up a banner that says, “Gigi’s Country Kitchen of Baton Rouge.”
And with the national spotlight on the country kitchen, business is booming and has almost become something of a tourist trap for football junkies and sports journalists — in the middle of small-town Southeast Ohio.
Gigi’s isn’t the only place Burrow has uplifted in the region with his overnight stardom. After mentioning his childhood in Southeast Ohio during his Heisman acceptance speech, a kickstarter raised over half a million dollars for the Athens County Food Pantry — a tangible boost that will sustain a beneficial organization long after the Joe Burrow Mania fades.
Although it doesn’t take the national spotlight to pull the community together, I still take solace in knowing that my favorite little breakfast spot is enjoying the success it deserves.