I know it sounds totally crazy, but we didn’t just know each other –– we were friends.
Growing up in the small town of Belmont, NC, I remember hearing rumors that two girls at my school were the cousins of the Jonas brothers. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! There’s no way,” I thought.
But in spring 2016, a new restaurant was about to open on our Main Street drag. When I heard the news, I was just a high school junior working as a summer lifeguard. I was ready for a new opportunity and something about working in downtown Belmont felt special.
One day after school, I headed out to a random office in town to apply. Resume in hand, I shook hands with the soon-to-be restaurant manager and was interviewed and hired on the spot.
My mom had worked in restaurants early in her career and I was excited by the opportunity. I was even more excited when I learned that the rumors were true! The girls I went to middle and high school with were the Jonas Brothers' cousins. Not only that, the new restaurant, Nellie’s Southern Kitchen, would be owned and operated by the Jonas Brother’s parents, Kevin Jonas, Sr. and his wife, Denise. We were even supposed to have our own reality show!
“Even though we were poor growing up, this is the place we called home," said Kevin Jonas, Sr. "It had the best people in the world and the best food. Every day, my grandmother would come home with cotton in her hair ... and make the most amazing chicken and dumplings, biscuits and gravy. And this is our way of paying honor to her and all the good people of Belmont.” - Nellie’s Southern Kitchen Website
Kevin, Sr. and I (letter "M") at Nellie's when I was a member of the Belmont Letter Girls
To my surprise, Kevin, Sr. was a true Belmont local. He even graduated from my high school, South Point.
I’ll never forget my first staff training when the Jonas’ came and talked to everyone. They were so warm and kind. They didn’t seem pompous and elitist, despite what you might imagine about people who’ve seen so much success.
I worked hard to impress them and my supervisors, who were other members of the Jonas family, and was asked to work our opening “VIP” night. I couldn’t believe it!
Joe Jonas, Frankie Jonas, DNCE and the Nellie's staff
It was really cool, but I know what you’re thinking … how do I know Frankie??
Well, to open the restaurant, the Jonas family had to move back to Belmont, and Frankie, who was 16 at the time, was still living at home. Since it was a family business, he worked at the restaurant too. We were both hosts and, working together, we became friends.
As a child star, Frankie was homeschooled and he was headed to college at age 16. I was 17 and going into my senior year at South Point, but I’d still see him when he came home for breaks.
That following December, when Frankie was home for Christmas during his freshman year at Belmont University, he asked me to drive him to our annual staff party.
Of all the people we worked with ... he asked me?? I thought that was such an honor. So, of course, I went to pick him up and we headed to the nearby LongHorn Steakhouse (this is so funny to me, like, why did they host our staff party at LongHorn of all places?). On the way back, however, I stopped for gas and our friendship took a turn. Frankie asked me to buy him cigarettes. I had just turned 18 and he was still 16.
I have always been a moral person, and I didn’t like being put in this situation. For some people, this wouldn’t have been a big deal. But I started to get the feeling that I was being taken advantage of. I knew Kevin, Sr. wouldn’t approve, and I didn’t want Frankie telling his parents that I was the one to buy them for him ... or that I was the person who wouldn’t buy them for him? Either way, it was uncomfortable. When I told him how I felt, he pushed me to “just do it” like some kind of perverted Nike ad.
Ultimately, I caved and bought him the cigarettes. I told him not to tell anyone it was me, took him home, and we didn’t really talk again. He didn’t like that I pushed back, but I’m glad I did.
Working at Nellie’s taught me some valuable lessons, but I think the most important one was not to let perceptions (like someone’s fame or family) change who you are. Although it sounds a little lame or silly, in retrospect, I felt bad for buying him the cigarettes. I shouldn't have let his "celebrity status" influence me, especially when it came to my personal values.
When I see him pop up on my TikTok "for you" page now, I think fondly of my memories working at Nellie's and the times we spent together. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have known him and the chance to meet the real person behind the meme.