Shot by Poole, the short videos (most aren’t longer than 10 seconds) often feature the buffet menu for the day, as well as the preparation of some of the more popular menu items, including cornbread dressing, collard greens, squash casserole and banana cream cake.
Named for Lori’s grandmother, the restaurant uses family recipes, many of which are more than 100 years old.
Glenn, Garrett and Lori Poole, the owners of Izola's Country Kitchen. / Courtesy of Izola's Country Kitchen
While the restaurant’s proximity to Fort Stewart Army base has long attracted out-of-town customers, Poole said there’s been a noticeable uptick in visitors from states as far away as Michigan, Oklahoma and Texas, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
A couple who traveled to Florida told Poole they drove several hours out of their way to eat at Izola’s because of their TikTok following.
One key to that following is the presence of Patrick J. Whiters, who goes by Jay. The cook, who worked at Izola’s as a breakfast cook from 2012-2014 before returning to the restaurant in 2019, made his TikTok debut late last year. He shows off items on the all-you-can-eat buffet and takes followers into the kitchen while he stirs giant vats of Cajun gravy that later top the shrimp and grits and stir-fried cabbage.
While some videos focus solely on the food, with songs like Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and Jerry Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” in the background, Poole said it’s the videos featuring Whiters that get the most engagement.
“People loved him, they just really took to him,” Poole said. “He has a warmness that comes across.”
For his part, Whiters, who in addition to working at Izola’s also attends culinary school, has been bowled over by the attention.
Food from the menu of Izola's Country Kitchen / Courtesy of Izola's Country Kitchen
The first video in which he appeared (he cooked Izola’s cornbread dressing), got almost 300,000 views.
“It just went crazy from there,” he said, noting that several customers who recognize him from TikTok ask to take pictures with him.
He said his videos are spontaneous. “I just go off the top of my head and run with it,” said Whiters.
Patrick "Jay" Whiters is a cook at Izola's Country Cooking in Hinesville, Georgia. / Courtesy of Izola's Country Kitchen
Comments on the account’s posts, which Poole moderates and responds to, have been almost completely positive, he said.
“I look forward to these videos every day,” a user called Pin Pon Tran wrote recently. “The food looks delicious.”
“I’m so invested in seeing the menu every day,” TikTok user Bareha wrote.
“People feel the love in it,” Poole said. “That’s who we are. We just want to bring every day these recipes that we enjoyed as children.”
The combination of Izola’s food and Whiters’ charm has not only gotten the attention of followers but of TikTok, as well.
Poole said since the account’s rise in popularity, administrators at TikTok have reached out to him.
“We had people from TikTok call us and say, ‘We just wanted to let you know, whatever you’re doing, keep doing it’,” he said.
So what does Poole’s son, who got his father started on this TikTok journey, think of Izola’s popularity?
“He just called me the other day and said, ‘You hit a million likes, Dad! Isn’t that awesome?’”
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