Today began with a series of three Facebook posts by John Cofield on his page dedicated to the pictorial history of Oxford, Mississippi. All commemorate the passing of Oxford iconic business owner, Mrs. Charlene Mize, who died today at age 90.
“Rest In Peace, Mrs. Charlene Mize. I was so very sorry to learn of the passing on Mrs. Mize this morning. Man Tony, I’m sorry. Oxford has lost a true icon in your mama.”
Flem and Charlene Mize opened the Beacon Restaurant April 15, 1959, and for 55 years it has been thriving at the same location at 1200 N. Lamar Boulevard in Oxford.
When Flem Mize quit his job of 20 years at Ole Miss to open up his own restaurant, a lot of his friends and family thought he was crazy. Undeterred, Mize rented an old gas station on North Lamar Boulevard and converted it into a casual dining restaurant called the Beacon. After one day at the Beacon, Mize brought home $100 to his wife and set it on the table.
“If we can do this every day, we’ll be just fine,” his wife told him.
The premise was simple: no glitz or glamour, no worries about reviews or dignitaries, just do the job well and people will want to come back.
Tony Mize now runs the Beacon. The Oxford native, who remembers visiting the restaurant as a kid, attended Bramlett Elementary and Oxford High School.
“I played all three sports in high school – football, basketball, and baseball,” he said. “My mother and father never missed a game.”
Mize was awarded a scholarship to play football at Northwest Junior College. He later attended Ole Miss for one semester before marrying his high school sweetheart Barbara Conlee. After her death in 2004, he married Catherine Cullen in 2006.
Mize said his father taught him the ropes, and his mother came to the restaurant daily.
“(Mize) wanted to give people good food at a fair price, along with good service,” said Mize’s son, Tony. “The same holds true for today.”
That attitude is one of the main reasons the Beacon, Oxford’s oldest restaurant, is still thriving 56 years after it opened its doors. Acting as a time capsule with booths, not much has changed at the restaurant. The booths are the same as they were in 1959, as are the tables, chairs, and often times the people.
When interviewed last January, 2015, Mize said, “My mother is an inspiration to me coming to the Beacon everyday. I don’t know if she would last long without the Beacon.”
His co-workers also like family.
“I have been very fortunate to have employees and customers who make the Beacon the restaurant what it is,” he said. “I have had cooks, two of whom just retired, work here for over 40 years. We have fun, cut up, but do our jobs. My employees are like family to me. We treat each other how we want to be treated. We will argue and get mad, and the next day, it’s back at work, and all is forgotten.”
“We have the same people day-in and day-out,” Tony said. “They come in their little groups and eat together the same way they have for years. We have fun up here, it’s a home away from home for a lot of people.”
The younger Mize attributed much of the success to treating all his customers the same way.
You won’t find any signed pictures on the walls, because to the Mize’s, a celebrity’s eggs are just as important as a construction crew’s eggs, even if the celebrity is Academy Award-nominee Samuel L. Jackson.
Jackson found himself in Beacon at 11:10 one morning and asked the matriarch Mize if they were still serving breakfast. Mize informed him they stopped serving breakfast 10 minutes ago and he could order off the lunch menu.
“I don’t think my mom had any idea who it was,” said Tony with a laugh.
At Beacon, the clientele isn’t the rich and famous, it’s Rich and Amos. They cater to students, working people and anyone else that happens through their doors.
“We’re a small mom ‘n’ pop business that’s been very fortunate to be successful for a very long time,” he said. “We have people that have worked here for over 25 years. They didn’t learn to cook from a culinary school, they learned it from their mama and their daddy.”
Mize said he wants his customers to feel comfortable in the restaurant. It’s often the gathering place for prayer meetings and political gab.
Judy Pettit began working at the Beacon in 1996.
“I love my job because my customers are like family to me,” she said. “Yes, my job is stressful, because most of the time, we are packed, and people are in a hurry. We want to get our food out quickly and provide a pleasant and family atmosphere for our customers.
“I didn’t know what was so special about the Beacon, but my father and his friends ate at their after every softball game they played. I went there one day with some friends, and then I understood also. It was like being at home. Everyone was friendly, food was great. It was just different, and you could feel it in the air.”
Michelle Farrow has been a cook at the Beacon for 15 years.
“I think the customer is what makes the Beacon the Beacon,” she said. “Construction workers and all kinds of people and their families come to eat here. We treat everyone the same, and they keep coming back because we try to make every person feel special.”
John Cofield’s Facebook posts filled with an outpouring of condolences from Oxford locals. Monica M Mauricio shared, “I’m so sorry to hear this. Her pretty smile made me feel so happy as a child when my uncle and aunt would sometimes take me to the Beacon as a Saturday night treat.”
Marty Vestal wrote, “So sorry to hear this. The Beacon IS Mrs. Mize. I hope she’s resting now in Jesus’ loving arms.”
Excerpts from John Cofield, facebook.com/john.cofield.52; January 14, 2015 article, ” The Beacon: As Simple As Bacon And Eggs” written by Michael Quirk, former HottyToddy.com staff reporter; November 4, 2014 article, “The Beacon: Oxford’s Oldest Restaurant” by Johnny Neumann, published on OxfordStories.net
John Cofield is a HottyToddy.com writer and one of Oxford’s leading folk historians. He is the son of renowned university photographer Jack Cofield. His grandfather, J.R. “Colonel” Cofield, was William Faulkner’s personal photographer and for decades was the Ole Miss yearbook photographer. Cofield attended Ole Miss as well.
Stay tuned for more information on Cofield’s forthcoming book: Oxford, Mississippi ~ The Cofield Collection — a pictorial history book with John’s writing on the history to go along with the photos.
Contact John at Johnbcofield@gmail.com.