The day after wildfires ravaged Sevier County, Eddie Mannis, president and CEO of Prestige Cleaners, Prestige Tuxedo and the Downtown Grind Coffee House, interrupted his cheery holiday Facebook announcements to post this message:
“Sending prayers to our neighbors located in and around Gatlinburg. We are ready to help however needed. I have guest rooms and plenty of space and happy to do whatever I can.”
Later that day, he translated words into action, listing supplies being collected at Prestige Cleaners or Prestige Tuxedo locations to be delivered by another of Mannis’ businesses, FRSTeam by Prestige Cleaners (Fabric Restoration Service Team). Soon he was swamped with donations.
He took the following Saturday morning “off” to serve as grand marshal of the Fountain City Optimist Christmas Parade (and to participate with his employees in the Knoxville Christmas Parade the night before), but was soon back at the relief work, posting photos of the fabric restoration team serving lunch to adjustors and contractors at the centralized disaster relief location in Pigeon Forge.
Later that day, he announced that Prestige Cleaners will donate $5 from any gift certificates sold in December to Pi Beta Phi Elementary School in Gatlinburg, which lost two students, Chloe and Lily Reed, who died along with their mother, Constance, when they were unable to escape the flames that took their Chalet Village home. Many other Pi Phi students have been left homeless.
“The school where the two little girls went still had 95 families who were homeless,” Mannis said. “The gift card sales came about because I want to help the school directly and I don’t know what resources they have. My concern is there are a lot of people in the service industry that rent and don’t have renters insurance.”
Nobody who knows him is surprised by his push to help neighbors in need. From quiet philanthropy to organizing HonorAir flights that have taken more than 3,000 local World War II, Korean Conflict and Vietnam veterans to visit war memorials in Washington, it would be difficult to find anyone more generous with resources and time.
And that is why he is my 2016 Knoxvillian of the Year.
His generous spirit, entrepreneurial brilliance and unflagging energy have enriched this region for decades. His brother, Robert – an actor and photographer who lives in New York City – describes his big brother like this:
“He is dedicated to making Knoxville the best it can be. He’s constantly talking about that. He has real compassion for other people and great sensitivity to other people’s feelings and to their plights.”
The Mannis kids’ father, Cecil, and their late mother, Betty, worked hard to provide for their children, Jan, Eddie and Robert (little sister Leanne would come along later). They lived in a neighborhood known as “Frog Level,” attended Inskip Elementary School and a little Baptist church nearby. Cecil and Betty (who eventually divorced) owned a couple of restaurants, and the kids helped out.
“I’d say we were poor but didn’t realize it,” Robert Mannis said. “We all worked. Eddie started working when he was 14 or 15. He worked at Fountain City Florist, and when our father started working for Sanitary Laundry and Dry Cleaning, my brother worked there.”
After attending the University of Tennessee for a couple of years, Mannis decided to buy Big Orange Cleaners with a small nest egg he’d saved.
“The business was pretty small, and he changed the name to Prestige Cleaners – and just went from there. He bought the building next door, then bought the building behind it and built the plant on Emory Road. It just kept growing and growing. He’s worked so incredibly hard over the past 30 years to build that business. That company is my brother.
“You will not meet a man or a woman who loves Knoxville more than my brother,” Robert Mannis said.