Kelli Lemon, 39: Business Manager at Mama J’s Kitchen 

click to enlarge feat42_kelli_lemon.jpg

Scott Elmquist

With a youthful spirit and infectious energy, Kelli Lemon has become one of Richmond’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders.

A graduate of the University of Virginia, Lemon became Virginia Commonwealth University’s assistant director of basketball operations at 22. Then she stayed for graduate school — “14 years there, four different departments,” she says. And four different titles. While there, she earned a master’s degree in sports leadership and management.

She also helped friends open their new restaurant, Mama J’s Kitchen, and took a few bartending shifts. In 2012, she became general manager.

It also was the exit from VCU she’d been seeking. Because while working with college students kept her feeling young, she says, she realized she needed more.

Her parents weren’t thrilled. They couldn’t understand why someone with her degrees and a state job would leave it behind to work in a restaurant.

“Anyone who knows anything about Mama J’s knows it’s more than a restaurant,” Lemon says. The restaurant is very involved in the community and does lots of charitable events.

So does Lemon. She’s now business manager, handling marketing, public relations and social media for Mama J’s. She occupies a similar role on the advisory board of the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club of Richmond.

Through her on-air job as a DJ at KISS-FM and iPower 92.1 — she has three shows a week — she made friends with fellow DJ Lonnie B. One Saturday night, she asked him what he was doing there and why he wasn’t out.

“He was so offended,” she says, “and that next week we planned multiple events.” The sell-out pop-up parties led to the Ready to Give Campaign, which raises money to buy supplies for the homeless and back-to-school backpacks.

Lemon’s been a mentor for Art 180 and a program at the Greater Richmond Chamber. And she’s helping Richmonders get to know each other through her weekly podcast, “Coffee with Strangers.”

Despite how it appears, she says she’s slowed down: “I don’t do anything anymore that I don’t love.”

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