Country Kitchen selected a Hannibal manager for their national General Manager of the Year, but he is quick to commend the people he worked with for years.

Country Kitchen selected a Hannibal manager for their national General Manager of the Year, but he is quick to commend the people he worked with for years.

“I’ve hired a lot of good people,” Hannibal Country Kitchen General Manager/Co-Owner Kevin Thompson said. “One of my favorite things is you always attract more flies with sugar than salt.”

Thompson attributed his General Manager of the Year award — presented during a national convention in Wisconsin — to the folks who worked by his side for years. Through lasting family ties and a family atmosphere, Thompson strove to treat customers and employees like his own relatives.

The crew at Hannibal’s Country Kitchen bucks the average one-year tenure of a restaurant employee, Thompson said. Manager Jim Tallman worked at the restaurant for over 30 years, and his daughter, Amber Tallman, is also an employee. Fellow manager Tracey Lorenson joined the team more than 20 years ago. Thompson’s wife, Susan, started out when she was 16. The Thompsons’ daughter, Victoria Thompson, joined the team at the age of 15. Both of the Thompsons’ sons — Matt Thompson and Jeff (wife, Brandy) Thompson worked here, too. The legacy started decades ago with Thompson’s parents — A.R. Thompson and Sharon Thompson.

Thompson recalled when his father joined Country Kitchen as a maintenance worker, through ties from a good friend who held franchise rights with the company in the Quad Cities area. A.R. Thompson put his years of electrical and mechanical prowess to excellent use, repairing systems and appliances at Country Kitchens throughout Missouri. In 1980, he bought the Country Kitchen in Hannibal, Thompson said.

Thompson was in school in Iowa at the time. He then attended college in Kirksville, working at a Country Kitchen owned by Dick Schubert. When he began that job, Thompson simply planned to earn money during his college studies. It turned out, he was a pretty good dishwasher. Then, Schubert needed help with cooking duties. Thompson excelled there, too. It wasn’t long before Thompson became night shift manager. He remained in Kirksville, until his parents asked him to come back to Hannibal in 1984.

Thompson sometimes jokes around with employees and managers and said it is important to always treat others how you wish to be treated. He also knows which customers like to share fishing or hunting stories with him, and which groups would rather eat quietly.

He also said he acknowledges the moments when the employees are giving their all. Thompson regularly lends a hand by assisting the hostess, helping bus tables or picking up drinks.

“You’ve got to pitch in,” he said.

Thompson’s father made sure to keep the award presentation a secret, telling his son he needed to attend the annual three-day convention, since he missed the last couple events. In the midst of hunting and fishing seasons, Thompson reluctantly agreed.

“When Dad said do it, you have to do it,” Thompson said.

The General Manager of the Year award focused on tangible factors like labor costs, food costs and building business, Thompson said. But an intangible element made the achievement possible.

“Without key employees, it can’t be done,” Thompson said.

And by the looks of things, they aren’t leaving any time soon.

Country Kitchen has locations in 17 states and one Canadian province.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com.