by Andi Agnew

The waitress sets down two glasses of La Posta Malbec in front of Liz Lancaster and me. We are sitting in the increasingly busy bar area of Bravo! Italian Restaurant and Bar. This is one of my favorites,Lancaster says as we toast to the end of another long work day. Lancaster, 26, is Marketing, Promotions and Community Relations Manager for Mangia Bene Restaurant Management Group. Mangia Bene is responsible for Bravo!, Broad Street Baking Company and Sal and Mookies New York Pizza and Ice Cream Joint. In just five years, Lancaster has gone from intern to marketing maven, and she speaks with wisdom well beyond her years. An “old soul” with the heart of a kid, Lancaster talks with me about her successful career and the many lessons she has learned along the way, as well as her obsession with all things Disney.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Jackson, and we lived on Kings Highway (in Fondren) until I was four or five. Then we moved to my dads hometown of Corinth. I have family that all live pretty much in the Fondren/Belhaven area. So even before I came down to Millsaps College, Fondren was already there in my life from the very beginning. Growing up in Corinth was a great small town experience very Mayberry-like. Everybody knew everybody.

Tell me about your time at Millsaps College?

I didnt want to go to Millsaps at first; all of my family had gone there, and my sister was there when I was looking. Then I visited once and just fell in love with it. It was a great experience. I got to be involved in everything, just like I was in high school. I ended up helping create the Communications Studies major at Millsaps and was one of the first to graduate with that major. Because of that, I got to take all kinds of classes not just English or business I got to take anthropology, film… it was a well-rounded experience.

How did you come to work for Mangia Bene?

My senior year, I had a “senior freakout moment.” I wasnt sure what I was going to do with this Communications Studies major that I had created. I had been interning for Tom Ramsey, right before he became the chef at Underground 119. As I started thinking about jobs in the Jackson area, I felt I was already stepping into that food culture. Jeff Good is an alum of Millsaps I had worked with him on a few projects throughout the years.  I sent him a Facebook message that said, Hi Mr. Good, I dont know if you remember me, but Im graduating soon and heres my resume I don’t know who does your marketing, but they do a fantastic job and yall are always doing stuff for the community. Thats what I want to do.I get back this cryptic message that says, Meet me at Broad Street tomorrow morning at 9:00am and well discuss.” I had no idea what to expect! I met with him and we started talking he confessed that he was doing all of the social media and marketing himself. He said, I need someone I can mold into being what I need for my business. Someone who can continue and carry out what Ive already secured.That was five years ago. You never know unless you ask. It still blows my mind how it just all fell into place.

What would you say to young people who are thinking about their future and maybe considering following a similar path to yours?

When I was in high school I worked for a local restaurant called Pizza Grocery and I worked as a server there. I recommend that every young person work in the service industry for at least six months to a year – to understand customer service, the behind-the-scenes of how a business works. Also, the more internships the better paid or not. I worked an internship almost every semester I was in college. I did that so that I could get the experience I needed to know whether or not I was going in the right direction.

What are some of your favorite or “go-to” dishes at the restaurants?

I could eat breakfast at Broad Street every single day. But, Broad Streets tomato-basil grilled cheese is perfection. I didnt realize what I was missing in my life until I had that. Sal and Mookies — I know people think of us as a pizza place, but our wings and hummus are some of the best in town. Every single time I go, I get one of those two. I always want people to try stuff that they wouldnt think of trying.

What do you like best about your job?

I think what I like most is the community involvement thats one of the first things I was looking for within a job experience. Working for Mangia Bene is the perfect solution we get five to seven donation requests each day. Were able to give back to the community in so many ways, and I think I know at least one person from every single nonprofit in the area. Were not just a restaurant group every decision Jeff makes is not just about our business. A lot of people ask why all three restaurants are located within the city of Jackson (instead of expanding to Madison, Ridgeland and Flowood) — its because we believe in this city and want to be involved and make this city better.

Tell me about your love of Disney?

I grew up in a Disney household. The first movie I remember going to see was “101 Dalmatians” in the old Deville movie theatre. Some of my earliest memories are of our whole family going to Disney World. My grandparents were very frugal, but when it came to Disney World, there were no boundaries, because it was about the experience. When I got to college, there was an anthropology class called Disney and the American Way of Life,taught by Dr. George Bey. That class changed my life. Ive been to Disney World four times in the last three years. Now Im currently planning a trip to Disneyland because Ive never been, and Id love to go to the place where it all started.

See this feature in the latest issue of Find It In Fondren Magazine, including additional photos