If you are looking for some delicious food made with love, go visit Marcia Willis at the Café at Thistle Farms in Nashville. She will likely be guessing your order as she smiles and waves at you from her window in the kitchen. Her smile is an expression of the joy she gets from working in the community of Thistle Farms. Here is just a small morsel of her inspiring story.
Tell me about you and how you came to be a chef at the Café…
I’ve been here a little over 2 years. I was in the sister program and left after 9 months. I got into a toxic relationship and jumped out of the car on Charlotte Ave. I was sitting and crying in front of the Dollar Tree, when Tammy Griffith, who worked at the Café, saw me crying and got me into her car. She said, “I’m fixing to take you to the Café and get you a job. You need to do something for yourself.”
I talked to Angela Willis, and then I met Courtney. She told me to come volunteer to see if working at the Café was something I wanted to do because, as she says, “once I invest in you, I fully invest in you.”
I thought, Who’s going to fully invest in me? I came from a background of drug addiction and prostitution. I had never had a job for very long before—maybe 2 weeks at a time, just long enough to get a paycheck.
So, I started out at the Café as a barista. But, I didn’t want to be front-of-house because I can’t control my face if I’m having a bad day. I begged to do the kitchen—the back-of-house work. I moved to the sandwich station, and apparently, I did a good job because now I’m the head of the kitchen!
Why do you continue your work at the Café?
I love this place. God had little strings on me like a puppet. He led me right where I needed to be. Now, every morning, I get up and read out of four books: the Holy Bible, Just for Today, a daily devotional, and a women’s devotional. I get with myself and God every morning before I leave my house. I get myself spiritually ready because the Café is the most spiritual place I know, and I don’t like to come in here with any negativity. Sometimes it doesn’t work. I fall weak and open myself to other people’s work. I’m still learning. But, this place taught me that my life before was not living. To walk in here is cleansing.
Before I got here I had no work ethic. These women taught me. I’ve moved all the way through the ranks in the Café—for that, I’m super proud of myself. This is my lifeline. I’m supposed to be here in the morning. The plates I set in that window are beautiful. There is a spirit in this place that is so overwhelming. This place is my life. I don’t know where I’d be without it. The women here! In every woman, there is a lesson learned and a part of her personality that I want in myself—a part of her spirit. I learned how to love myself from these women, compassion for others and for myself. This is a whole other world. Outside of my home, this is my home.
What’s your favorite dish or drink at the Café?
My favorite drink is the iced caramel latte. My favorite tea is called Communi-Tea. My favorite dish is the Farm House.
Do you have a favorite spot at the Café?
My window. I stand there all day. It’s my baby. I can see those beautiful loyal customers out in the Café. They had to stay away for a time during Covid, and I knew I had to see them again. There is a lady, whose name I just learned. She comes in the door every day and looks right in my window and blows me a huge kiss, and I blow it back. You don’t know who’s watching you. My CEO walks by everyday. I get to see everybody walking in and anticipating what’s going to be good today. They look at the specials, and I guess what they want… believe you me, I can read the people and tell what they need. My coworkers are always in shock.
What is your favorite Thistle Farms body product?
I like the lavender body balm. It’s the “balm”! And the candles. I am a sister for life. We never forget to light the candle for the next woman coming in.
[Shop all the Thistle Farms products from Batch, and add one to your next custom gift box.]
Tell me about your favorite memory of your time in the Thistle Farms community.
Here recently, we had a leadership training class in the education room. The presenter told a story about how he got to where he was, and he said that he likes to be at work before everyone else is to see others arrive. He wants to be standing there ready for the first customer; he wants to have all his ducks in a row. When he said that, I thought, That’s exactly what’s going on in my head every morning!
When I found out I had these leadership traits in me, it blew my mind. I thought I'd always been a follower or a failure or nothing. He ran down a list of things that I know I am, but I didn’t know I am. Now, I think I’m addicted to leadership classes! I’m ordering books. I told a coworker, “I can't communicate well with my team.” Where I come from, even if it is constructive criticism, it might come out sideways, so I stuff it down until it becomes resentment. My coworker said to me, “You just need to be yourself.” I am trying to figure out who that is. I’m five years clean. My focus hasn’t been to figure out who I really am. Who am I now? Who am I trying to be? A leader doesn’t swallow anything.
My favorite leadership quote right now is:
Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
To become a leader of the kitchen, I have to stand up for myself, communicate with my team, and I have to let people have their own process. I have to let people do their own thing and be happy with what I’m doing. I just found out that I had these traits. All I knew is that I work hard. It never occurred to me that that was leadership.
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
This place is so much more than just a job or paycheck. It helps you to grow. We’re all each other’s spiritual teachers.If you’re in Nashville, go visit Marcia Willis at the Café at Thistle Farms for a wonderful meal, made with love, in a beautiful setting. Then, add some Thistle Farms goods to your next Batch order to support their mission with every gift you send.