Mississippi Barbecue Company prepares for a 2018 launch
Dale Jennings spent more than a year looking for the right location.
After getting out of the nuclear industry and selling his business, Jennings wanted a project in downtown Vicksburg, but he couldn’t find quite the right location.
“I was looking for over a year for properties downtown and I think I probably walked in every one that either came for sale or was rumored that it might come up for sale,” Jennings said. “I really wanted a view.”
Then the Biedenharn home at the corner of Walnut and Grove streets came for sale and his search was over. A second-floor balcony gives sweeping views of the Yazoo diversion canal and the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Depot on Levee Street and not even the decrepit state of the buildings could scare him away.
“One day this one here, the 1717 building, I saw a for sale sign on it,” Jennings said. “I immediately contacted my real estate agent and said, ‘Hey, find out about this one and the one behind it,’ and we bought all three because they were all for sale. It was the view mainly that was driving me, but the original buildings were horrendous.”
Jennings purchased the Biedenharn house and the building to its left, which share a wall and have been turned into one cohesive building, and the building situated on the lot behind them, which is now connected through the courtyard.
Jennings made the purchase in 2014 and in the three years since has completely revitalized the buildings as they work to turn them into the Mississippi Barbecue Co.
“There is no catalyst or lifelong dream that I was pursuing,” Jennings said. “It was just something I wanted to do. I knew we were missing something downtown and every great southern town has great barbecue — Chattanooga, Ashville, Austin — I thought it just needed one.”
Jennings and his crew had to go brick by brick through the buildings, which were held together by river sand and minimal nails, repair multiple walls that collapsed during the process and even move a staircase in one of the buildings.
“Starting from the ground up, we had to go straight to the foundation and you have to start tucking every single brick,” Jennings said. “That took a long time, many many months, and lots of manpower. To initially get the brick tucked where it could support a new structure. Then we went back with thousands of pounds of steel everywhere. We put lintels in where they didn’t exist.”
The majority of the exterior work has been completed including each of the buildings’ windows, which remain boarded up to protect them until the big reveal.
“The outside and the structural support is 80 percent of the work because once those are done, the plumber and electrician come and the trim out is easy,” Jennings said. “All the walls are brick and then floors and ceilings.”
Walking in the front door of the restaurant, you enter a small general store. To the left will be the main sitting area and to the right a bar area and the kitchen. A rustic staircase made of iron and reclaimed wood leads upstairs to an event area and extra seating and the balcony with the picturesque view that convinced Jennings to buy the building in the first place.
A door in the back of the entryway leads to a courtyard where outdoor seating and a sound stage will eventually be setup.
From the stairs to the doors and even the floors that will soon be laid, Jennings and his team worked to reuse as much of the original building as possible.
“All the interior doors from the Walnut building will be used in the office area,” Jennings said. “All the lumber was saved. It was denailed and then used to make the windows, make new original doors and then we are also reclaiming all the hardwood floor that was down and using it again. Not one ounce of lumber was thrown away. It was repurposed for everything.”
The back building now connects to the courtyard through a small passage that Jennings said will be made to look like an old mineshaft. There, he hopes to open a tap house with upwards of 40 beers on tap.
“We went to Nashville about a month and a half ago to meet with Yazoo Brewery, which is Linus Hall who’s from here,” Jennings said. “He started the Yazoo Brewery and we sat and talked to him. He’s going to be in this month and look at the building and see if we can possibly make a Yazoo Brewery tap house. We won’t brew any beer, but we would have about 40 taps at all times.”
Jennings said the plan is to open the restaurant in the spring.