Longtime customer and employee honored by Atlanta companies

Chick-fil-A Moore Road surprised employee Antje Jarrell with a parade outside her home for her 80th birthday.
PHOTOS BY PERRY DANIELS / SPECIAL
Chick-fil-A Moore Road surprised employee Antje Jarrell with a parade outside her home for her 80th birthday. PHOTOS BY PERRY DANIELS / SPECIAL

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Some metro Atlanta businesses are making grand gestures to show their older customers and employees how much they are missed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared older adults among the most vulnerable for severe illness from COVID-19. A reported 8 out of 10 COVID deaths reported in the U.S. have been adults 65 years and older. Because of this, many older people, like Antje Jarrell, 80, and Ellie Donahue, 74, have taken precaution by quarantining and changing routines.

For Donahue, this means giving up her daily visits to Publix.

“I went daily because that’s why my mother did,” said Donahue, who frequented the Publix off Holcomb Bridge Road near her home in Peachtree Corners. “My husband would say ‘what ... are you doing every day?’ I’d go down for a gallon of milk, a quart of orange juice. I like to get what I need each day, not big hauls. I was there so often I could help other shoppers out. They’d ask ‘where’s this’ and ‘where’s that.’ Aisle 4, I’d tell them.”

Many Publix employees, from the manager, to those in the deli, bakery and customer service, are on a first name basis with Donahue.

“Miss Ellie is special to all of us,” said Jeff Toker, who was the assistant store manager until a recent transfer. “She’s shopped here since we opened. I have talked with her about my wife, my dogs – anything. We struck up an easy friendship.”

During the quarantine, one of Donahue’s daughters went to the store to shop for her. Toker spoke with the daughter to get an update on Donahue and an idea was hatched.

“We missed seeing her. We have many long-term associates and long-term customers and we really value the community feel that’s been created,” said Toker. “So, I had the bakery decorate a cake, we had balloons, everyone signed a poster, and six of us surprised Miss Ellie at her home.”

Donahue was shocked and touched.

Publix employees surprised loyal customer, Ellie Donahue, at her home during quarantine.
PHOTO BY ELLIE DONAHUE
Publix employees surprised loyal customer, Ellie Donahue, at her home during quarantine. PHOTO BY ELLIE DONAHUE

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

“My daughter told me I better go out on the sidewalk because there was a surprise, but I had no idea what was going on,” said Donahue. “I was so thrilled about it and very proud. I have COPD and my children warn me not to get out. It meant a lot that my friends from Publix came to me.”

When conditions are safe, Donahue said she can’t wait to resume her Publix visits.

“When you’re there every day, the employees become your friends. I call them my Publix family,” said Donahue. “My poor husband, God bless him, has been doing the shopping, but he goes every other day. Every day, I tell him, you have got to go every day.”

Antje Jarrell, of Suwanee, known as Ms. A.J. to most, is a celebrity at the Suwanee franchise of Chick-fil-A, located off Moore Road. Jarrell is a dining room host, whose duties include welcoming customers and caring for them throughout their meal, whether that be refilling a drink or assisting little ones with their placemats. She has become close to many regulars, often hugging them, and following up on previous conversations. Jarrell has worked at that location since 2007.

“I was in my 60s and enjoying retired life when a man from Chick-fil-A visited my Bible study and told us about a position he was looking to fill,” said Jarrell.

She interviewed once and was greeting customers at the grand opening soon after.

“Ms. A.J. provides the second mile experience for our guests,” said Whittney Wallis, the restaurant’s general manager. “She is what Chick-fil-A stands for."

Antje Jarrell has worked at the Chick-fil-A Moore Road location since 2007. She took a leave from work in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
PHOTOS BY PERRY DANIELS / SPECIAL
Antje Jarrell has worked at the Chick-fil-A Moore Road location since 2007. She took a leave from work in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. PHOTOS BY PERRY DANIELS / SPECIAL

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jarrell’s last day in the dining room was March 13. She has been in quarantine at her home since.

“We knew she’d been quarantined and that her 80th birthday was coming up,” said Wallis. “We typically bring in cake for her when things are normal, but we knew she wouldn’t be around us because of COVID. We consider her family and knew we had to think of a way to show her how much we love and appreciate her.”

Plans for a surprise parade began to percolate. Chick-fil-A shared their plans on social media and the response from the community and staff was overwhelming.

“We met at a nearby school – at least 20 cars,” said Wallis. “It was amazing. People decorated their cars, there were balloons, and banners. Also, we bought a bunch of pink flowers, because Ms. A.J. is German and throwing flower petals is a German tradition.”

The morning of her birthday, May 3, was a busy one for Jarrell. Her daughter Nancy was visiting, and they had plans to drive to Newnan to be with Jarrell’s son and his family. Celebratory calls from Germany were already rolling in by 8 a.m. when the doorbell rang. A wet-headed, nightgown-clad Jarrell answered the door and was shocked to see her boss, Brad Williams, the man who visited her Bible study years before, leading a barrage of cars in a parade.

Chick-fil-A Moore Road surprised employee Antje Jarrell with a parade outside her home for her 80th birthday.
PHOTOS BY PERRY DANIELS / SPECIAL
Chick-fil-A Moore Road surprised employee Antje Jarrell with a parade outside her home for her 80th birthday. PHOTOS BY PERRY DANIELS / SPECIAL

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

“There were horns honking and balloons everywhere,” said Jarrell. “I was in such a tizzy, I just said ‘oh, let me get dressed.’ When I got out there and saw all those people there for me, flower petals everywhere, it was all I could do to keep from boo-hooing.”

Jarrell has spent her time in quarantine like many others, baking bread and cleaning her home. She still cuts her own grass and has enjoyed doing that. Her husband Willis passed in 2017. This break has given her time to sort through his items, a project she had avoided. She has put her time to good use, but she is ready to return to work.

Chick-fil-A has continued drive-thru and curbside service and, according to Wallis, business has not been affected. Jarrell did make a cameo appearance in the drive-thru recently. Donning a mask, she waved and handed out mints to drive-thru customers.

“I love my job and it’s my prayer that my little light might shine for the Lord and that I might be a blessing for someone,” said Jarrell. “I hope I can spread kindness and put good into the world. When people come in the door at Chick-fil-A, it’s like seeing old friends and I miss that. I miss my friends. Serving them truly is my pleasure.”