For more than 16 years, Jackie Nelms owned and operated the Iron Kettle, a small-town restaurant turned well-known tourist attraction in Lynchburg, Tennessee.
Before owning the Iron Kettle, Nelms managed a local convenient store, Ed’s Bi-Rite. During her time as a manager, a local gas station and restaurant went on the market and without hesitation she decided to buy the Iron Kettle.
Her interest in the restaurant business derived from her childhood. She described herself as a military brat, moving to new places throughout her young life.
“I was constantly encountering different ethnicities and cultures,” Nelms said.
The Iron Kettle was known by the locals as both a small-town treasure and a regular hot spot for the national and international tourists visiting Jack Daniels distillery.
Three restaurants neighbored the Iron Kettle on the town square in Lynchburg; two barbeque restaurants and a small sandwich shop. Nelms said her restaurant stood out because it added the town’s signature Jack Daniels whiskey to menu items.
For a long time during her ownership, Nelms was the only female restaurant owner on the square. She felt at times that she was a little girl in a man’s world.
“The other restaurant owner’s kind of babied me, like my restaurant wouldn’t be around long,” she said. “But, despite that feeling, I pushed through and did great things while owning the Iron Kettle.”
For instance, Nelms did more than serve food. She hosted and catered political campaigns for local politicians, non-profit organization meetings, and local sports team dinners before and after games. Consequently, the Iron Kettle became a community icon.
“The restaurant business is a constantly changing industry, especially employee turnover and health inspection regulations,” she said. However, her experience owning and operating the Iron Kettle was more positive than negative.
“Being my own boss, meeting new people, and being involved in the community were things that made this journey worth it,” Nelms said.
She hopes her success is an inspiration to other women.
“Nowadays, there is no reason why you can’t,” she said. “There’s nothing stopping you but yourself, just put on your big girl panties and go for it.”
Nelms made the decision to sell her restaurant in 2016 to focus on her growing family. Although the Iron Kettle is not there physically, the legacy and memories the locals and tourists made will live on forever.