“I grew up in Yazoo City and you never had to find something to do because it always found you. Friday nights I drove down to 16th Street, cruised around McDonald’s twice because I probably missed something the first time, crossed the railroad tracks and dreamed of hitting it fast enough to catch some air. I hung a left on Grand. You didn’t want to hang a right because that made you feel like you were going to school and you didn’t want to do that. I don’t know how long Grand Avenue is, but it seemed like 100,000 miles. I knew the shutters on every house and if they had a mailbox. I would head South and decide whether or not to make the turn around Goose Egg Park. Turn right on Canal, left onto Main Street and drive all the way down until I hit Jamie Osborne’s dad’s garage and thought about Jamie and Scout camp outs. Turn back and take the path through all of the churches, pass Wayne Jackson and Spence Gooch’s houses and decide if I was going back by the cemetery and Brickyard Hill. I rode. That’s what we did. I started off with a 4-door Ford Gran Torino, white paint with a blue vinyl top. Not as cool as Starsky and Hutch’s car, but close. It didn’t just have an AM radio, it had an FM radio and that was big.
Mrs. Hobgood taught history and government and carried a pistol and let us know about it. We knew where she stood and she didn’t care where we stood as long as we learned about the process. She was a smart woman and every Friday before the bell rang, she would give out a verbal invite to come roll her house and then come in for tea and cookies. Mrs. Hobgood’s house was the only teacher’s house that was never rolled.
I went duck hunting every chance I got. I could drive to the levee, shoot the limit before school and never be late for class. Sometimes Wayne Jackson and I went duck hunting with some of the coaches during activity period or lunch. It was that fast because we were less than a mile from some of the best duck hunting in the country. One day we went three times before the end of school. We did well that day. We didn’t miss any classes to duck hunt and if we did, they didn’t miss us.
I worked on farms in the summer riding 4-wheelers and spraying cotton and moving irrigation rigs. I was active in the Scout troop and that is where I got to meet some really cool public school guys. I got to see that just because you are in one thing, doesn’t mean you are in the best of everything. People from our school would fight with the public school guys just to fight, but they didn’t know each other.
I graduated from Manchester in 1987, walked out of the gymnasium, threw my cap and gown in my parents’ car, got into my packed car and drove to Oxford, Mississippi. I took English literature courses that summer and had a professor Colby Kullman, who is a retired writer. Every day we talked about Willie Morris, Barry Hannah and Larry Brown. He brought those writers into our class and after class we went to the Hoka or the Gin and talked until midnight. It was a great time to be in Oxford.
I was hired at the Downtown Grill and worked in the kitchen and became the chef. It was the place to eat and my starting point in restaurants. It had a fantastic bar and writers came there every day. John Grisham’s office was 25 feet across the street. I cooked for many writers, including Eudora Welty. One night it snowed and I went sledding on restaurant prep trays with Barry Hannah, Willie Morris, the bartender and a bottle of Jack Daniels. It was amazing just to watch the smile on Willie’s face as he went down the hill was like a kid who got his first bicycle. After he smashed into a curve and was bloodied up we told him he may need to stop. He said, ‘No, we will just drink through it.’ That is what we did.
The Grill got me interested in the restaurant business, but I really fell in love with it traveling with my dad on sales trips and entertaining clients at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was one of the first guys who majored in the hospitality program at Ole Miss and the owners at the Grill helped me find my way. I started with Ruby Tuesday and worked with them for 20 years. The company wanted me to move to Knoxville but I didn’t want to leave Fairhope, so it was time to start my own place. I opened Old 27 Grill six years ago. I still want it to be a sleepy hamburger joint that feels like it has been around for 150 years, but there is so much more I want to do. I want people to slow down and chill out here and ask the bartender ‘What do I want to drink today?’ I want them to be comfortable and read a book on the porch even if they don’t eat food. I want kids to make a fort out of rocks and play army. There is always a chance a possum will walk across your boots in the courtyard and that doesn’t bother me.
I want this to be a place where parents want their kids to work or a place where a person in transition can make some extra money and get back on their feet. If someone works hard and make us better, I will do everything in my power to help them get to where they want to be. I would like the Old 27 brand to expand in college or energetic towns and Bill E’s bacon spread across the Southeast. The bacon is awesome and has become the fun part. It comes from pigs raised on family farms in the Midwest and it it is only 48 hours from on the hoof to us. We use the best ingredients, cut no corners and we don’t race it. And it is sung to by local songwriters. I want it to be like your grandparents made bacon
I love what I do and the people I work with. Sometimes I get so tied up in the paperwork and government requirements that I lose the fun and excitement that I used to have. I am trying to get that back. I want to grow old in Fairhope, I just wish I had a little time to go out on my boat.”