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From The Kitchen of The Sweets Lady Marcia Via

Photo by Marianne Todd
Photo by Marianne Todd

Marcia Via hasn’t forgotten what it was like to dine at Weidmann’s restaurant back in the day.

“We would sit in the long room with the long lunch counter,” she says, easing into a chair in Mississippi’s oldest restaurant and motioning to the areas no longer there since its renovation. “The back room had a fireplace, and on the wall were the soldiers’ pictures with their gold stars, those who had been killed in action.”

She also remembers going to the treasure chest as a child and choosing a special treat for good behavior.

And although the fireplace and long lunch counters are long gone, the treasure chest remains, as does the popular peanut butter crocks and antiquated photographs. The special treats, though, have changed a bit. Via creates them all using her mother’s recipes and others she picked up when she owned her own restaurant, just a few blocks away.

Photos by Marianne Todd
Photos by Marianne Todd

“Oh, I started cooking 67 years ago,” she says, her eyes sparkling from behind her glasses. Her energy and her appearance might make one think she’s much younger. “I learned from my mother, who made the most wonderful cakes. Back then we didn’t use candy thermometers and that sort of thing. We dipped the icing into cold water until it was firm. Or, with caramel icing, we’d beat it until it was cool. We sifted the flour back then. When we learned to do it, we learned to do it right.”

But back to those caramel cakes, the ones Via makes for Weidmann’s customers, the same recipe that graces their menu regularly. “Oh, those cakes. My mother would make one on Saturday and it would be gone by Sunday evening.” Not much unlike today.

Via, who was assigned to desserts and cornbread when she began her Weidmann’s job in 2010, makes sometimes 26 pies in a day. Along with other desserts, that’s a batch of caramel cakes, bourbon pies, bourbon chocolate pecan pies, lemon pies, peanut butter pies, key lime pies, bread puddings, caramel custard cups, chocolate crème brulees, Weidmann’s signature black bottom pies, praline cheesecakes – and sometimes a specialty dessert, like red velvet cheesecakes (oh, and more than 100 cornbreads a day, plus cookies and brownies for gifts from the restaurant’s proprietor, Charles Frazier).

The day starts early – 5 or 5:30 a.m. so that Via can “have my little bit of quiet. It’s a well-oiled machine, the way I work.”

The methodology comes from years of practice. Longtime Meridian residents remember Via’s The Square Plate Restaurant, situated across from the city’s newspaper, The Meridian Star, and next to the former Peavey Music Company.

Photo by Marianne Todd
Photo by Marianne Todd

“I was determined to open my own restaurant and my dad said not to do it. He said, ‘You’ll lose your shirt.’” But Via was determined. She started by using square plates and offering two soups a day, a salad bar, homemade bread, sandwiches, quiches and all homemade desserts. In 1979, in Meridian, Mississippi anyway, the salad bar was a novelty. “I thought it was ahead of its time in concept,” she says. “I loved baking bread, and I made an almond cake that was so good and homemade gingerbread with orange marmalade sauce, oh, and a rum cake that was so moist. Mama made homemade aprons and insisted that we wear them. We used cloth tablecloths and napkins. Then fast food started to take over Meridian.”

By 1981, her father’s words had proven prophetic. “We were paying the bills, but we weren’t making any money. I had to close it, and I have missed it every day of my life since.”

Photos by Marianne Todd
Photos by Marianne Todd

After an office job at a nursing school, Via took a job at a local restaurant making chicken salad. Nothing compared to the days of The Square Plate. Then Frazier’s wife, Trish, approached her about an opening at Weidmann’s. “I was hired on the spot,” she says, emphatically. “It was such an honor for me to be included in the Weidmann’s family. Charles has done an outstanding job. We have a good staff and good workers, and I’m so glad to be a part of it. They’re my family.”

These days Via worries less about running a restaurant and concentrates more on what she loves doing best – baking. “At my age, it’s rewarding for me to be able to do what I love to do.”

Want to go?

Weidmann’s, at 210 22nd Ave., Meridian, is open six days a week and for brunch on Sundays. Call (601) 581-5770 or visit www.weidmanns1870.com.

First published in Legends Magazine. Story and photos by Marianne Todd.

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