Oxford restaurateur John Currence long ago mastered the retail recipe for running successful restaurants, having figured out how to offer great, reasonably priced food to the public at four separate eateries in the city.
Any other food service entrepreneur with a restaurant portfolio that included the likes of City Grocery, Boure’, Snackbar and Big Bad Breakfast might well be content with doing nothing else but replicating the proprietor/customer formula that has allowed him to prosper and helped to turn the city into a sophisticated restaurant destination.
Yet with his newest Lamar Lounge acquisition –– branded around the popular and ubiquitous phenomenon of Southern barbecue with a capital B –– Currence is now bringing the community of Oxford, Ole Miss and Lafayette County to the table as well.
Restaurant number five in the hospitality dynasty of the chef and dean of Oxford restaurant owners came about serendipitously, Currence says, after the former owner of Lamar Lounge approached him for assistance in running the popular though still fledgling bar and restaurant concept.
In looking at the bar/restaurant up close, “I could see immediately that Lamar Lounge was the perfect venture for giving back to the community directly,” Currence said.
One big asset it had going for it was the customers who came in droves and adopted the North Lamar lounge as their favorite hangout after the venue opened last fall.
“It is an important segment that we did not reach at Boure’, City Grocery, Big Bad Breakfast or Snackbar,” Currence said.
The makeup of the clientele –– young, college-age individuals and families with children –– and the relatively quick, bar-food footprint of the concept was attractive to Currence for another reason as well.
As a supporter of a local advocacy group, “Good Food for Oxford Schools”, he saw immediately the marketing potential of operating Lamar Lounge as a not-for-profit to address food issues and the crying need for better nutrition at local schools –– thus bringing the community and the entire state into the value equation with every meal served.
“It’s no secret that our food is the leading cause of the obesity epidemic that has swept the country,” said Currence. “We are the fattest state in the Union. We want to help propel Mississippi forward in the eyes of the country. I can’t sit idly by on the sidelines while we are being laughed at without picking up the mantle.”
The profit margin from sales –– say $2 on a $6 sandwich item –– would go to designated local organizations such as Good Food for Oxford Schools and other food and nutrition groups working to eliminate fried foods from school lunch programs, promote physical education and introduce fresh local vegetables to school lunch menus.
“We are giving back by not taking from,” Currence said.
As is the case with all John Currence restaurant concepts, the barbecue served to customers will be the chef’s own unique take on the Southern delicacy that varies markedly, from the simple East Carolina version to Memphis style barbecue, with its Cole Slaw accompaniment, and beyond, to the whole different animal of Texas barbecue.
“The thing about it that is interesting is that when you talk about barbecue and regional variations, you can identify the different geographical differences, but try to define Mississippi barbecue, and there is no identity to it.”
Rather than a liability, Currence sees this lack of barbecue character as a challenge and an opportunity to create something unique and distinctive with the food genre.
“I don’t feel beholden to any location,” Currence said. “My idea is to create the Frankenstein of barbecue, cobbling together the best of each variation that appeals to us.”
To do that, the Lamar Lounge’s barbecue will be prepared with a dry rub that Currence recently introduced for the purpose. And other distinctions will include the use of chili sauce instead of ketchup that Currence says references Mississippi and Memphis traditions at the same time.
Patrons who were happy with the Lamar Lounge the way it was under its original owners will be glad to know that Currence has no plans to change any of the popular menu items such as the Lamar Burger or make other drastic changes.
“It’s a walk-in,” Currence said. “Our intention is not to change anything about the place at all.”
One of the few additions that customers will see is the addition of a couple of new plate lunches and a weekly special. “The menu needed a little variety to it,” Currence said.
While Currence said the news of Lamar Lounge changing hands left some people scratching their heads, others overjoyed and still others wondering what the angle was, he is confident that patrons will be pleased with the result.
“Once folks see what is happening, they will see that it is something they can get behind.” –– Michael Harrelson, editor, Hottytoddy.com
Email Michael Harrelson at firstname.lastname@example.org