Written by Andi Agnew
Dubbed “Master of the Plate Lunch,” LaDoner Hollis — better known as “L.D.” – has been part of the Walker’s team since day one. Originally from Pelahatchie, Hollis moved to Jackson and worked as kitchen manager at The Dock. Years later, she joined Derek Emerson at Schimmel’s and remained a part of the team when he took ownership of Walker’s in 1999.
“I’m the daytime kitchen manager… I bring all the lunch specials up, do all the catering. I love everything I do here. Derek and Jen are just like family to me, so whatever needs to be done, I do with a smile. They are good people to work for,” Hollis says.
“LD’s helped raise my kids. Someone asked me what I’m going to do when she quits, and I said, ‘We may never do lunch again!’” Derek Emerson says with a laugh. “She’s been so loyal to us; we’ll probably take care of her forever.”
Anything made at lunchtime is Hollis’ recipe, “…except maybe the crab cakes, which we had at Schimmel’s,” says Emerson. Her signature chicken salad is on the menu every day, and she prepares the vegetables and plate lunches each day. She has also trained other cooks who have gone on from Walker’s to one of Emerson’s other restaurants, such as Local 463.
Fans of Thursday’s meatloaf special might be surprised to learn that it is Hollis’ least favorite dish. “It’s the best meatloaf ever,” Emerson says. “She’s the only person I know that can make something and not taste it and it be perfect every time. It’s like a sixth sense… she can make 100 pounds or 20 pounds, and it tastes the same.” Hollis says her favorite food is vegetables, “or maybe veal and lobster, if Derek is cooking.”
The mother of three grown children, Hollis doesn’t cook at home much these days. “Ain’t nobody home but me,” she says. But she isn’t one to sit still for very long, either. A member of Unity Fellowship Baptist Church and the Order of the Eastern Star, Hollis helps out in her community. “She takes food to people and helps people when they are sick,” Emerson says.
Hollis has seen many changes over her nearly 20 years in Fondren. “I like it better,” she says, “there have been so many improvements, and it feels safer.” Hollis has been a steadfast member of the Walker’s family through some tough times for the business, including a fire in 2005 and Hurricane Katrina in the same year. She has also seen the growth and expansion of the Emersons’ brand to include three additional restaurants (CAET, Local 463 and PM). “That’s like more family,” she says. “I have never worked for anyone that appreciate what I do like Derek and his wife do. I feel comfortable when I come here. Sometimes I come here just to get away from home.”
Emerson says, “She’s been a huge part of this place for a long time; as long as she can do our lunch vegetables and meats we’ll be all right.” And Hollis insists that she has no plans to retire. “Not long as I can get up and get around!”