Ann Willits grew up around food in Piqua, Ohio because both her mother and father liked to cook.
So, she was introduced to new dishes and new menus when she went through and graduated from Piqua High School in 1991. Plus she learned to like to cook.
Willits was still at Piqua when she started earning her business degree at Edison State Community College.
“I ended up marrying a military man and followed him through several places, including Germany, for two years,” said Willits. “When he was discharged, we returned to Piqua, and I returned to Edison College to finish my degree, graduating in 1996.”
They stayed in that Ohio town near Dayton until 2000, where Willits' first job after graduation was working at the Piqua Golf and Country Club.
“That was my first taste of working in a country club atmosphere. I got into it by starting at the bottom – by waiting tables,” she said.
In the meantime, Willits moved on in other areas also as she gave birth to two sons. Gage was born in 1993 and Jake in 1994. Lisa was born in 1997. Then, Willits' husband was transferred to Tennessee with his job, and the family followed.
“When we moved to Tennessee in 2000, I went to work for Appleby's and was made assistant manager by the end of that year,” said Willits. “In 2001, my husband moved on to Texas, and we got a divorce. I moved on up the ranks at Appleby's and became a general manager.”
David Willits was also a manager at Appleby's, and they met at the Lebanon store. Ann was still with the company running their Nipper's Corner facility at Cool Springs when David bought the Old Neighborhood Grill in Lebanon in November 2003.
In 2004, Ann left Appleby's and went to work for Chili's in Cool Springs, staying there until David bought the Chop House in Lebanon in 2005 at which time she went there where she stayed until July 13, when the owners decided to close it.
During those years, the Willits took time out for two major events in their lives. They married in September 2008 and had their son, Conli, in 2009.
“That made five of the children that are mine and a son of David's – Colton – making it an even half dozen for us,” said Ann Willits. “So, we have children aged 20, 19, 18, 16, 14 and 4 plus a grandson, Kannon, aged 18 months. Two of them have now left the nest.”
Following the Chop House closing, Ann went to the Old Neighborhood Grill and helped out for a while and then took a couple of months off to spend time with the children.
“Then, recently I was approached by several members of the board of directors from the Lebanon Golf and Country Club,” said Ann Willits. “They were telling me how they needed to enlarge and improve their food and beverage business at the club in order to make the business more secure and hopefully profitable. They were aware of clubs that had tried just closing their restaurants, and that hadn't helped do anything but put the rest of their club under. They were wondering if I had any ideas about the restaurant business at the LGCC.”
The result is a most unusual and unique remedy. The restaurant at the LGCC is now known as the Chop House on the Green and is open to all diners, member or not. So, Wilson County has a new dining facility, although it's really about 63 years old.
“The main thing any diner wants, country club member or not, is good food and good service. I have brought several of the favorites from the Chop House menu like the pecan crusted grouper and shrimp grits, appetizers like the seafood dip and New Orleans gumbo, sandwiches like prime rib slammers to reubens and 8-ounce cheeseburgers,” Willits said. “We have several great salads for our ladies and men who prefer them. Then, we feature creamed spinach and three-cheese potatoes au gratin in our choice of sides.
“But, on the other hand, we are catering to our golfers and other people who want things like our stone-fired handmade pizza, chicken wings or chicken quesadilla or kids under 10 who prefer a children's menu.”
She explained club members who pay dues are charged at the restaurant from a discounted menu. Those members who want to book a private party at the club, will not be charged for the room rental while a non-member can book a room for a nominal fee.
“In the two or so weeks since we've been operating here, many people have commented that the food has improved tremendously,” Ann said. “And the crowds have increased already with members and non-members, and that's what we want. We want the members to come out and try us so they'll come again and again. And, we want the people who are not members to come because hopefully they will want to come back, but also may like what they see and want to become members of the Lebanon Golf and Country Club, as well.
“We've only been open here a couple of weeks, so we still have a few bugs to get worked out just as you have in any new business or relocation. So come see us, but be patient with us in our venture.”
There will be several events open to club members only that involve the kitchen like a Breakfast with Santa on Dec. 14 where Mr. and Mrs. Claus will visit, pictures will be taken with Santa and a small brunch served.
In January, a chili cook-off is planned, and in February, a father-daughter or grandfather-granddaughter dance is in the works.
However, an example of eating events that are open to all attendees will be Thanksgiving Dinner.
The traditional Thanksgiving Day dinner at the Chop House on the Green will cost $13.99 for members each and $14.99 for non-members and will be served from 11 am until 2 pm.
Dinner will include turkey and ham, cornbread dressing, sweet potato casserole, country-style green beans, corn casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry fruit salad, five cup fruit salad, rolls, cornbread and pumpkin pie. Pecan pie will also be available at a separate price while the pumpkin pie is included in the price of dinner.
“Reservations are appreciated for Thanksgiving dinner as it's impossible to come up with roasted turkey at the last minute,” said Willits.
The hours have been changed since the reorganization. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Monday. The bar will remain open Sundays until 4 p.m.
“The hours will be extended come spring when we add breakfast for the golfers and anyone else who wants it, etc.,” said Willits.
“I am excited about Ann Willits coming with the LGCC and believe the entire board is excited as well,” said David Smith, president of the LGCC board. “I've eaten out there several times already, and the food is really good, so I think the move is going to be truly good for the club.”
When Ann Willits isn't at the Chop House on the Green, the four children remaining at home keep her family running with sports. Lisa plays volleyball all year round in high school and travel ball for Airborne Alliance. Garrett plays basketball at Tuckers Crossroads Elementary School and also golf. Conli is in gymnastics and swimming.
“My parents moved here in June and have been a blessing as far as the kids are concerned,” said Ann.
Call the LGCC at 615-444-8300 or Ann Willits can be emailed at email@example.com. Reservations are appreciated on all dinner requests, when possible.