By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Susie Buskirk’s story starts in Switzerland, but not really.
“I was born there, but I always say Germany,” she said. “I was very small when we moved.”
Her dad was a restaurant turnaround specialist, who took over under-performing locations and built business back up.
The family settled in Ansbach, the home of Johann Sebastian Bach, and ran a restaurant.
“We lived upstairs. It was a big building,” Buskirk said, stretching her arms apart. “The front of the house was on one street, and the back of the house was on another. Fifteen families lived in it at one time.”
She went to school six days a week, and spent much of the rest of her time at the restaurant, which stayed open until 2 a.m.
“I would help the customers, whatever they needed,” she said. “I had my bartender’s license at 15 years, because I was the daughter of the owner. You could do that.”
In the late 1950s, an American G.I. from Nettleton stopped by the restaurant. Not long after, Susie Hoffmann from the home of Johann Sebastian Bach became Susie Buskirk from the home of Elvis Presley.
Some might remember Buskirk from her days at Natchez Trace Inn in west Tupelo. She had no interest in working at another restaurant, but a German friend had an appointment with S.A. “Junior” Hancock and asked Buskirk to come along for moral support.
“She wouldn’t talk. Everything he asked her, she wouldn’t talk, so I answered for her,” Buskirk recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t use you, but I can use you.’ He was pointing to me. He told me to come and wear comfortable shoes.”
Years later, she connected with a different Hancock. L.D. Hancock had a business venture in mind and hired Buskirk as manager.
“I didn’t know. I said, ‘Mr. Hancock, what were you planning on doing?’” she said. “If he was going to open a tire shop or something like that, it wasn’t for me.
“He said, ‘I’m opening a vitamin shop.’
“I said, ‘I don’t know anything about vitamins.’
“He said, ‘I’m sending you to school.’
“So I’m on the plane going to Pittsburgh to learn about vitamins for my new job.”
It was called Hancock Health Food Store when it opened. She bought it after L.D. Hancock died, and changed the name to Healthy Habits at West Main Shopping Center, where people get gluten-free crackers, organic ketchup, sunflower seed bread, vitamins and more.
“We also do mail order,” Buskirk said. “I have customers in Jackson, Kosciusko, even in Pontotoc, that I send to.”
Buskirk said she’s well past retirement age, but she’s busy six days a week, putting to use the customer service skills she developed at her father’s restaurant in Germany.
“You have to have a personality for working with people. You have to be suited to it,” she said. “I’m suited to it.”