by Brian Lamar (aka. The Great Foodini), Assignment Editor
There are many magical moments I remember as a child in regards to grabbing a quick bite to eat.
One of my favorite memories is going with my great-grandmother to get a sandwich at a local deli in Florence, Alabama.
Most people don’t realize it, but Florence (my hometown) is rife with musical genius. Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Lynyrd Skynrd and more recorded there.
Just jotting down the street to grab a Reuben sandwich was a treat because we would run into some of the most interesting people who had rich interesting stories, talents, and lives.
That is probably where I found my love of journalism and cafe/diner/sandwich shops with flare.
I recently found a local place that holds as much magic and evoked as many nostalgic memories as my childhood Cafe and Deli —The Jet-a-way Cafe in the Stennis Airport.
The cafe is open Five days a week, Mon-Fri 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. It serves roughly 750 people a week with 40 seats.
There are several cool factors with this place.
Most obvious, it is a public airport with air traffic moving back and forth along the wall of windows facing the flight line.
Sitting and eating a sandwich with a view of Hurricane Hunter WC-130s, Navy T6 Training jets, and occasionally…if you’re lucky, an Antonov An-225, the largest airplane in the world will set down and shake your stack of fresh onion rings.
One day when I sat down to try several items on their surprisingly amazing selection like the overstuffed Roast Beef Po’Boy and a cup of their in-house gumbo that I think rivals places like Mary Mahoney’s, I noticed a guy in a bright blue flight suit sitting next to me.
Here comes the best part of this place. Sure, the view of the flight line in operation is awesome and cool and a great place to take kids.
Sure the food is super tasty and generous helpings and there is something for everyone including fresh salads.
Those two things pale in comparison to the clientele.
You read that right.
The person you might be sitting next to is what gives this place that extra shine and makes it stand out amongst other eateries.
I looked over at a blue-suited guy who was sinus deep in a burger roughly the circumference of his face.
I leaned forward and read his name tag.
I don’t remember the name, but the title read NASA PILOT.
With a mouth half full of creamy Mac and cheese and wide-eyed, I spit “Are you an astronaut” all over the counter in front of me.
With a John Wayne-Esque crooked smile, he chuckled yes. I apologized for being a hyper nerd.
I immediately called my wife, also a NASA nerd, and told her that I had met a real-life astronaut.
After talking with Emily, the Jet-a-way manager, it was confirmed that due to the proximity of the Stennis Nasa Space Center, there are plenty of astronauts that come through during the week, including the guy who first 3D printed something in space.
The Cafe is routinely adorned with aviators of sorts.
The majority are either DoD personnel or corporate plane owners flying in for pleasure or business.
The Jet-a-way Cafe has a special that all aviators can get any item on the menu for 1$ with a fountain drink.
According to The Stennis Airport Director Chanse Watson, Stennis Airport has built a reputation as a small airport in the aviation world.
People know they can get good service, fuel, and good food.
On a Strategic level, one reason the cafe was so important during COVID was due to a Secretary of Defense Memo put out that only allowed DoD pilots to stop at places with an on-site food service facility, which kept DoD clientele coming through the worst of the pandemic, which was an economic boost.
Upgrades are on the way for the airport, which just got a $1.9 million federal grant to redo all runaway lighting to LED and every other runway light on the same circuit for redundancy. This will help reduce maintenance costs and improve integrity to lighting systems.