One night, around 9 p.m., a few Gateway staffers and I headed to the Village Inn on Dodge Street, near Methodist Hospital. Immediately, we were fascinated by our server’s attention to detail and his inclination to entertain us. Despite his responsibility for multiple tables, each time he visited ours, he engaged us with jokes and off-the-cuff remarks while quickly and accurately filling our orders.
We decided during our visit that we needed to tell his story – making this decision even before he showed us up in an impromptu game show-style quizzing session that solidified our unforgettable visitors’ experience.
Jermaine Jackson, the man behind our “legendary dining experience,” treats all his tables with the same degree of respect and attention.
Village Inn diner Mason said during each visit, Jackson tells jokes, gives fun quizzes and freestyle raps the table’s orders back after hearing them once.
“My band always goes to his Village Inn after our gigs because there’s no better way to cap off an amazing day than to go be served by him,” Mason said. “He’s not only a funny guy but [he] can be personal and genuine with you.”
Jackson’s desire to create unforgettable experiences for his guests dates back to his time as a busboy at a Golden Corral in Pontiac, Michigan, when he was 18 years old.
“Once I found out how dealing with people makes me feel, I was like, ‘wow, this must be it,’” Jackson said. “I worked at some factories, and I was kind of lonely in a factory. I worked at a candy shop, and I ate up all their candy and it was bad for my teeth, so I figured, ‘I better let this one go.’”
Jackson, originally from Chicago, endured multiple challenges by the time he turned 18.
“I grew up on the streets of Chicago, and I come from nothing,” Jackson said. “I’m dyslexic, I didn’t graduate, I’ve been in a gang and I just really had a rough life. I learned how to shoot a gun before I learned how to read.”
Jackson’s background and his deep-seated passion for people have pushed him to work hard and maintain an upbeat attitude. He continues to do his best to change the culture in his hometown, despite being thousands of miles away.
“That’s why I work so hard. I mean, I know I come from nothing, and what I’m doing now, being a blessing here to others? That truly, truly makes me feel good,” Jackson said. “What’s going on [in Chicago] is a cycle that needs to be broken, and I’m trying to break the cycle even though I’m somewhere far away.”
Jackson has worked as a server in multiple restaurants in Michigan and Nebraska, sharing his insights about customer service with his co-workers and gracing countless guests with his attentive assistance.
Some of Jackson’s proudest moments as a server include a shoutout from the Lincoln Journal-Star and serving celebrities like Aretha Franklin and Grant Hill.
“I did a lot of trash talk [with Grant Hill] because he played for the Pistons then, and I’m from Chicago, and he and Michael Jordan were going at it,” Jackson said. “My tip wasn’t great, but I wasn’t expecting it [to be].”
Providing a “legendary dining experience” includes both respect for people and meeting their needs depending on where they’re at. The majority of giving people such experiences comes from “treating people the way you want to be treated,” Jackson said.
“When I wait on [fellow servers], I ask them two questions: ‘how do you feel when a guest don’t tip you?’ and they normally react, ‘oh, that makes me angry, it sucks,’’ Jackson said. “I tell them if a guest don’t tip you, just tell yourself that person wasn’t able. My second question is, ‘how does it make you feel when their bill is about $100 and they only leave you $3?’ Their response is, ‘if they can’t tip, they shouldn’t go out to eat.’ I reply, ‘that $3 was that person’s last $3 they had.’”
Not all of Jackson’s interactions with guests involve jokes or quizzes, Jackson said. Some may just involve providing fast, accurate service or actively listening. Whatever the experience involves, Jackson aims to make his guests’ day better, something his guests say happens often.
“He is just hands-down the best waiter I’ve ever experienced and deserves the world,” Mason said. “Give this man a raise!”