By Paul Wolf
Larger than life personalities only need one name.
Cher, Madonna, Prince, Dorothy (and no, we are not in Kansas).
Fondren’s yellow brick road leads to Brent’s Drugs and Dorothy Agee, a spirited and hilarious server who quips, “I came with the building.”
Truth is, Dorothy has only been with the 1946 staple for the last several years, since Amanda and Nathan Wells and Jonathan Shull joined Brad Reeves as owners.
But her gregarious and lighthearted manner defy a timeline that she says has been filled with lifting others up, all while serving the best diner food in the neighborhood.
Dorothy is a home health worker by day, Monday – Friday, working at Brent’s Friday nights and all day Saturday and Sunday.
“I like to be prosperous, so I’m always working because I’m not working for me,” she tells of her willingness to give to others. “My kids don’t mind me working like I do because they know that I help everybody.”
Dorothy is one of those servers that everyone asks for. “She is a good server,” her mother, Shannon Johnson says, adding, “She gets it from me.”
Shannon, too, works for Brent’s, and came to the diner at Dorothy’s urging.
“Dorothy was here before me,” Shannon explains. “I was at Applebees and she told me, ‘Come work with me… I work at a good place.’”
Shannon has been at Brent’s a year and a half and is general manager Sarah Friedler’s full-time assistant manager. “I plan on retiring here,” Shannon says. “This is it for me. [It’s] hands down the best job I have ever had.”
Service with a smile? Always. Dorothy says, it is her chance to share what she calls her “blessing.”
“I like people. I’ve been to places in my life where I haven’t been so happy and I know how that made me feel. [Making people happy] translates, it moves to other people. And I think God loves me,” Dorothy says, beaming from ear to ear. She points to her smile saying, “He gave me this blessing.”
He must have also given her her comedic timing, too.
As Dorothy talks about her strategies for seating what tables when and working her contagious attitude, she brings up Hollywood.
“I’ve gotten TV offers since being here,” she explains of her encounters with customers who have showbiz ties. “I had an audition for Master Chef but I don’t julienne, honey!” she laughs.
One day, in Walgreens, a lady asked to take her picture, explaining she was in television. Dorothy got an audition for NBC’s “Celebrity Night Out” off that photo. She still gets casting emails, but suggests the real stars are her children.
“They can take my kids!” she exclaims. “I’ve got one that dances all night and one that writes books. I’ve got one that tells you what to do all day like she’s 32. She’s like an old lady – little dress, her shoes – and she keeps her Bible in her purse.”
Speaking of family, Brent’s has been a common denominator for Dorothy, Shannon and three of Dorothy’s siblings – “Ra Ra”, Chris and Will. At one time, five people in her family were working here at the same time.
Dorothy has no plans of leaving, but believes part of the reason she stays is to hold on to a memory of Will, whose life was cut short last year. “Sometimes, I look out that big front window and I can still see him walking down the street. He loved it here.”
On any given day, Dorothy is floating from table to table, even out of her own section. She says this is a way to challenge, to teach – to build everyone else up.
“I can’t change anyone, but I can influence someone. I go around, talking to every customer. And it’s not that I’m trying to get their table. I’m doing this so you see what I do to make these people want to continue to come in here. It’s also a fun competition. When I win and you win, we all win and that’s when raises and promotions start popping.”
Upon my regret that this wasn’t a video interview (I laughed the whole way through), Dorothy says, “Fire the camera up; I can fluff this!”
And when I suggest an end to our interview – after getting a treasure trove of material – Dorothy says, she has more. “Write a book!” she says and promises me a cut of the profits.
I’ll just take a milkshake the next time I’m in.