Melissa Jackson is a Lexington native, a country Americana musician, and a proud mom. But what most Lexington community members probably know her as is the owner of Doodles—a local Lexington restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch everyday except Mondays.
I had the rare privilege of experiencing Doodles on a Monday. As Jackson started brewing some coffee for the two of us, I looked around the empty restaurant and realized that it was something I had never seen before—Doodles empty. The restaurant on all its days of operation is usually bustling with customers and sometimes even has a line outside the door.
Not being the original owner but coming to work for Doodles two years after its opening, Jackson felt the same pull and interest that many do when first experiencing Doodles.
Doodles’s first owners were Sue Harkins and Lynda Mellin. The original concept of the restaurant came from Lillie Ruschell, a Louisiana native. Since Harkins and Mellin both also had strong ties to the state, they brought a strong presence of New Orleans cuisine to Lexington with the opening of Doodles in July 2008. This is still apparent in the menu with shrimp and grits, beignets, and various other choices.
However, another part of the menu is what gained Jackson’s interest to work for the restaurant. She was drawn to Doodles because of the locally-sourced food aspect. As she said, it’s “comfort food with a conscious.” After purchasing the restaurant two years ago, Jackson has tried to really maintain that basic ideal and to even take it a step further by building a strong relationship with Lexington.
“We try to be as engaged with the community as we can. Our staff volunteers at different events throughout the year together,” said Jackson.
Not only is the Lexington community important to her, but so is Doodles’s relationship with Transy. As Jackson explained, not a lot of collaboration was done with the school until she took over as owner. Transy’s Pi Kappa Alpha chapter had a dinner event at the restaurant a few years ago, and ever since then, Jackson has tried to build a stronger relationship between the two institutions. Jackson recently implemented a discount for any Transy student for every day of the week.
Another focus of Jackson’s since taking over the restaurant is the bond between the staff members. She described herself as a “hands-on owner” and emphasized wanting her staff to be happy. Along with their community service work, the staff bonds over kickball games every spring and fall.
“I think helping to cultivate a good environment for the staff and making sure the staff is happy, that’s really important to me,” said Jackson. “I do think that if you make your staff happy, then the product that comes out and the atmosphere and environment that the customers come into is going to be less abrasive, and they’re going to be happy.”
More changes to the restaurant might still be seen under Jackson’s reign. She explained her hopes of opening up more Doodles locations beyond the corner of North Limestone and Third Street.
As for that current location, Jackson is brainstorming ways to increase the space. Because of the restaurant’s popularity, during winter months when the outdoor patio closes, the room becomes packed and in need of extra tables.
However, do not expect any drastic changes to the structure of the restaurant. For Jackson, one of Doodles’s top qualities is that it’s a “quirky space.” The building was once a gas station which makes the arrangement interesting enough. However, Jackson also noted the multiple large windows, saying that the constant sunlight really adds to the happy and upbeat Doodles atmosphere.
“Because it’s a breakfast and lunch place, it’s not dark,” explained Jackson. “It’s energizing, which is important I think for breakfast. People are coming in and starting their days out.”
Perhaps the restaurant could even be described how Jackson takes her coffee: “Light and sweet, just like me.”