By Travis S. Taylor
Thousands of Atlantans have immediately entered a state of euphoria following their first bite of our famous 'Miss Josephine's Mac & Cheese'…and perhaps even thousands more throughout the United States and around the world who were wedding or corporate event guests.
Josephine Griffin is indeed a real person—one of the most interesting people you'd ever meet—and she is the creator of her namesake dish. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Josephine is charming, complex and a true lady.
She's been with Affairs to Remember Caterers longer than any other active employee—since April 30, 1986.
Co-owner of Affairs to Remember Caterers, Scott Ardolino, said, "Josephine…what a jewel and one-of-a-kind! I hold nothing but great memories of the two of us working together, back in the heydays of the 80s and 90s. Josephine and I managed the kitchen at full tilt. She would carry and complete a very heavy work load on a daily basis. You could always count on her to get the job done, and done correctly! I will miss her smiling face and her laugh—that you could hear throughout the facility. I feel honored to have had the years of her dedicated service and all that she has brought to the Affairs to Remember brand. When she retires, she will be truly missed."
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Josephine and chat with her about her time at Affairs to Remember Caterers and, of course, about her 'Miss Josephine's Mac & Cheese'.
For our employees and many of our fans you are the 'celebrity' behind our incredibly popular 'Miss Josephine’s Mac & Cheese'. Will you share the back-story of this dish with us, please?
I started working with Affairs to Remember at the old Ponce de Leon location, back in 1986. When they officially added a Southern 'Mac & Cheese' to our food offerings, they had to assign it to someone to make; for consistency of product, you see.
The next thing I heard was, "Let Josephine make it!" I thought I would go through the floor! It all worked out and I'm touched that so many enjoy my recipe so much. You want to know the main ingredient? You have to put 'love' into what you do, and I put love in my Mac & Cheese.
Josephine shared with me some of the ingredients, but not the actual recipe. That one will remain a secret for a while longer, I imagine.
You've been with Affairs to Remember Caterers longer than any other active employee. What do you remember most fondly from your early years with Affairs to Remember? In recent years?
From the early years, I enjoyed working with Mr. Jack and Miss Yetta—co-owner Ron Lazarus’ parents. Of all the work to be done, they picked me to help. They took me under their wings—a contributing factor to my long and rewarding career with Affairs to Remember.
Scott is one of the most wonderful employers I ever had. We used to get to work early, have some coffee and catch up, and then get into the work. Back in the day, I was Head Cook. I was determined to make Scott and Ron proud of what I did. We had fun! Those were good years.
Today, I work only two days a week. I still have fun, so much that I hate that I can't work like I used to. A lot of employers wouldn't let someone go from full-time to two days a week. They've been great to me.
I've stayed this long because of how good they've been to me. I'd work here 28 more years if I could.
You've seen a LOT of change during your time with Affairs to Remember. What change has stood out in your memory as a great and wonderful change for Affairs to Remember?
Moving to Defoor Hills in West Midtown. The old Affairs location on Ponce de Leon was congested. It's great having all this room and space to work in, with nobody running over each other. Before we moved over here, Affairs to Remember managers got to design the kitchen, just the way we wanted it—What a huge plus!
Besides your own Mac & Cheese, what are some of your other favorite Affairs to Remember dishes?
My Potato Salad is famous, too! As is my Thanksgiving dressing with giblet gravy, which I serve every year at my home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm also quite fond of our potato souffle and our chicken salad. On the Hot Line side, I really like our Top Round, which I always made sure was cooked to perfection, back when I was making that dish.
What’s your idea of "the perfect meal"?
As a Southern woman, I love Southern food. My perfect meal would be fried chicken, mac & cheese, collard greens, cornbread, chocolate cake or Dutch apple pie for dessert, and sweet ice tea. But it has to be good ice tea, Honey. I make my sweet iced tea with lemon, mint and Coca-Cola.
What do you do for fun?
I really enjoy playing Bingo and going to my church. I also volunteer at my local senior citizen living center. No big surprise here, but I help them with the cooking.
Who at Affairs to Remember has helped shape your experience with the company?
The biggest influence during my time here has been Scott Ardolino, one of the owners. He was the one who hired me all those years ago. I remember him telling them, "Y'all better hire her; she looks like she's going to work!" Scott himself hired me the same day!
Cheryl, our Comptroller has helped me through it all, through a lot of different things. And I miss Peggy Sue from the old Ponce days. We worked well together—we were a great team.
You've been with Affairs to Remember 28 years this month. In a day and time when job loyalty is not so common, what's your secret for career longevity?
I've been fortunate. I work for the best employers—Scott and Ron. They keep me motivated, so I'm still here. Scott helped me a lot…he really did. I don't know anyone I'd rather work for than Scott and Ron.
There's no secret, really. It's actually quite simple. You have to be dedicated to stay on a job this long…and focused. I've hung in through the thick and thin and in my 28 years, and I've been late only four times. Not a lot of people can say that and I would like to think that says something about how happy I am to work here.
I thought I would leave after 25 years, but I'm still here! As much as I've enjoyed working at Affairs to Remember, I'm planning to retire this year, and I'll try not to be sad because I have so many wonderful memories to keep with me.
What advice would you give to young people considering a career in the culinary arts?
You have to be dedicated. You have to focus. If you don’t know something, you have to ask. And you have to expect an amount of on-the-job training. You can't stay out all night and come to work the next day thinking you can give your best—something every employer expects, whether you're the CEO or the dishwasher. You have to want to work, do your job, and do it well.
[Photo: Courtesy of Picture This! Photography]
That state of euphoria that I mentioned earlier, that event guests enter after scooping into 'Miss Josephine's Mac & Cheese'…we know it to be factual because of all the direct feedback from our clients and their guests. Well, that and the fact that we've enjoyed it ourselves on a "few" occasions…over the years.
Josephine is planning to retire later this year, which is sad for us, but we're excited for her. Fortunately, we get to keep the recipe—tucked safely away in our recipe vault—so that thousands more have the opportunity to enjoy 'Miss Josephine's Mac & Cheese'.
So, when Josephine Griffin retires, we won't have to yearn for 'Miss Josephine's Mac & Cheese', but I personally will miss her perfectly seasoned, smiling face and her, "Hey Darlin', how are you doing?"
UPDATE: Josephine did not retire when this article was written in 2014. In fact, she marked her 30th anniversary as a member of the Affairs to Remember Caterers family on April 30, 2016. Congratulations, Josephine!
By Travis S. Taylor
Director of Communications
Affairs to Remember Caterers
Travis manages the Communications Department for Affairs to Remember Caterers, which includes internal and external communications, media relations, website, Social Media and other Communications-related responsibilities. Travis holds a Bachelor Degree in Technical Management with a concentration in Web Graphic Design and he is a prolific blogger.