Well-known for its slew of Mexican restaurants, the quiet town of Monett is slowly starting to expand its reputation. A massive community effort to revitalize the downtown strip and return it to its former glory is finally underway. The new YMCA, with its sparkling Olympic-size pool, now boasts a rock wall, racquetball courts and a game room. And The Bayou restaurant located off of Highway 60 has become part of the regular dining scene as it serves up bowls of piping hot gumbo, fried alligator and other delicious Louisiana eats.
The town of Monett got its start back in 1887 as the Frisco Railroad and Rock Island lines were caught in a battle to see who could lay tracks to Texas first. The resulting fight to the top resulted in the creation of Monett, which quickly became a hub of economic and industrial activity. For decades, the railroad was the largest employer in town, but today, Jack Henry, Tyson and EFCO have taken the lead.
Over the years, Monett served as the headquarters for several companies that left their fingerprints nationwide, and most consumers probably had no idea their Big Macs, snazzy new sneakers or school playgrounds had ties to this small 417-land settlement.
For instance, Schreiber Foods actually used to make 95 percent of the cheese used by McDonalds. And Jumping Jacks shoes, which enjoyed a boom in the 1950s, were made right here in Monett. Even M. E. Gillioz, the benefactor behind the historic Gillioz Theatre in Springfield, called Monett home. Mr. Gillioz even opened a second Gillioz theatre in the town, but it was eventually torn down in 1987. The decision to replace the elegant theatre with a bank is still a sore point with locals.
So the next time you’re headed south, make a pit stop in Monett, and check out the action along downtown, enjoy coffee at Mocha Jo’s before soaking up some sun at the nearby park or grab lunch at The Bayou. There’s more than just tasty Mexican food in this small hamlet.
What do residents love about Monett?
417 Magazine: What restaurant would you recommend to someone new to town?
“Acambaro Mexican Restaurant. The chips and chimichanga are great. The chips are super-hot and salty. Or head to Mocha Jo’s, and try the loaded baked potato soup. It’s basically cholesterol in a bowl, but it’s delicious.” —Melanie Roberts, 54, reporter for Monett Times
417: What brought you to Monett?
“I moved here 30 years ago from Hawaii for my husband’s job. We loved the town so much that when we had the chance to move, we decided to stay instead and open Mocha Jo’s.”—Debbie Berger, 60, owner of Mocha Jo’s
417: What do you love most about Monett?
“The people. Everyone is so accepting and welcoming.” —Debbie Berger, 60, owner of Mocha Jo’s
417 : What’s your favorite thing to do on the weekend?
“I love to go swim laps at the new YMCA. There’s a really nice Olympic pool there. And my husband and I are part of the Flat Tire Gang, a bike group here in town.”
417 : Do you know of any good ghost stories about Monett?
“Well this building seemed to have a spirit in it when we moved in, and we had one employee who really believed in the supernatural, so when we he would go upstairs, the employees would hit the ceiling with broom sticks. He’d swear it was the ghost of some poor lost soul! It was hilarious!” —Debbie Berger, 60, owner of Mocha Jo’s
417 : What restaurants would you recommend to someone new to town?
“The Monett Family Restaurant is super-popular, and the Angus Branch Steakhouse is great. So is Acambaro Mexican Restaurant.”—Betty Brandt, 79, with Find It Again Antiques & Flea Market
417: What’s the latest news about Monett?
“Downtown was finally deemed a historical site, and now there’s a huge effort to restore the downtown strip.” —Betty Brandt, 79, with Find It Again Antiques & Flea Market
417 : What keeps you here in Monett?
“There’s always been a lot of job opportunity here. My mom and I opened this store in 1987, and have been in business ever since.”—Mitzi Doss, 55, owner of Modern Variety
417 : How’s the revitalization going?
“Downtown has had its down times, but we’re making a lot of progress, and the revitalization has been big.” —Mitzi Doss, 55, owner of Modern Variety
417 : What do you love most about Monett?
“This is a great little town. We’ve been in business for 40 years and seen a lot of changes. Now we’re rebuilding the stores along downtown and going back to the original look, which is a really positive change.”—Berniece Morris, 79, owner of Fashion/Crossroads
417 : What’s the best thing to do with someone new to town?
“People always head to local restaurants when family and friends come to visit.” —Berniece Morris, 79, owner of Fashion/Crossroads
417 : What’s your favorite time to be in Monett?
“The holidays, especially Christmas. We have a big Christmas parade that goes through downtown, and all the shops decorate the windows.” —Berniece Morris, 79, owner of Fashion/Crossroads
417: What are you most excited about in Monett right now?
“The downtown revitalization is great. I love the vintage throwback.”—Lindsey Cross, 32, office assistant at Monett Times