Growing up, Kaelan Byrd of Flintstone, Georgia, was the oldest of five children. At points in her childhood, she wished for a baby sister, but grew up with four younger brothers instead.
Before the birth of one of her siblings, she remembers thinking to herself, "God, if it's another boy, please let him at least look like me."
Now 24, Byrd believes that being the first-born child, followed by a quartet of boys, made her a stronger, more resilient adult.
"I think that's what made me more of a leader," she says. "When you are the oldest, you don't have anybody ahead of you. (And) if you can communicate with four little brothers, you can communicate with anybody."
Today, Byrd is communications manager for Lil Mama's Chicago Style Hoagy on Georgia Avenue in downtown Chattanooga, a popular Patten Square eatery where customers flock to buy authentic, Windy City sandwiches created by owner and former Chicago resident Tiffany Pauldon-Banks.
Graffiti-style art covers the walls inside the restaurant, which occupies a portion of the property baby boomers will recall as the old Yesterday's restaurant and nightclub. The menu includes sandwiches with names such as The OG (turkey and Swiss cheese), the Herby Baby (cheddar and Swiss) Spicy Mami (turkey and pepper jack). Old school rap and R&B music energize the room, and the 1990s nostalgia is on full blast.
Pauldon-Banks says that hiring Byrd to handle the store's communications needs in 2020 was "one of the best decisions I made."
With a strong mission to build a community of customers, Byrd uses all the public relations skills she learned as a PR major Lee University. Asked to define her role, she recites a long list of duties, "I do classic public relations, media relations, event management, community relations, social media, graphic design, video editing. Sometimes I take orders, too."
Working for a new company like Lil Mama's requires an all-hands-on-deck attitude, she said. When she hired on in 2020 after seeing a job posting online, she was handed a "style book" with the company's core principles, mission statement and even a corporate color scheme.
* Age: 24
* Education: Lee University
* Hometown: Flintstone, Georgia
* Hobbies: Hiking
After working several years at Lake Winnepesaukah's SOAKya Water Park, including four years as assistant manager, Byrd says she was ready for a new challenge after college.
"I reached out to Tiffany, we set up a meeting and the rest is history," Byrd says.
Central to her job is community services work. For example, the restaurant has been a partner in a Kidney Foundation event, the MAINx24 street festival and a Juneteenth art gallery.
"If the community asks us to do something, we bring value and we do it," Byrd says.
Employees at Lil Mama's have a tradition of placing their hands over their hearts as a show of gratitude. Judging from the long lines at lunchtime, the feeling among customers appears mutual.