OXFORD – Travelers make it a point to stop by Smitty’s just off the Square here, a restaurant famous around the world as much for its country ham, biscuits and red-eye gravy as for its authentic 1950s decor.
“The secret of Smitty’s is that is hasn’t changed – it’s a local gathering place,” said Jennie Gunn of Oxford, who purchased the restaurant earlier this year. “It’s listed on European Web sites as one of the places to visit in Mississippi and we see a lot of people from Europe and Australia who just want to check it out. Most of them have never had the kind of foods we serve, like salt-cured country ham or red-eye gravy.”
Even though the name and location has changed over the years, Smitty’s has been an Oxford institution for more than four decades, Gunn said.
“I know from hearsay that Smitty’s has been in Oxford for about 41 years,” she said. “Someone told me it might have started out as a Wagon Wheel, but I’m not sure about that. About 20 or 30 years ago, the restaurant, then known as Grundy’s, relocated. After Mr. Grundy sold it to the Smith’s, it became known as Smitty’s.”
On football game days in Oxford, faithful customers can be found knocking on the restaurant doors by the time Smitty’s opens at 6:30 a.m., anxious for the first batch of hot biscuits, ham, eggs and the popular red-eye stuff.
“Did you know red-eye gravy is nothing more than ham drippings and black coffee? That was one of the big surprises I had when I bought Smitty’s,” Gunn said. “But people love it. People come in and ask for red-eye gravy all the time.”
Customers who tarry on game days, particularly to partake in the traditional $4.95 blue plate special at lunchtime, must often wait outside on the sidewalk two to three hours before they can get into the restaurant that seats between 80 and 100, she said.
“Every time my family and I would come to ballgames in Oxford, I’d go to the Square and see Louise,” Gunn said. “I told her if she ever wanted to sell the place to please call me. One day, about seven months ago, she called me and told me she was ready to sell it that day. I couldn’t get there that day, but the next day I did. Since I bought it, people have called me and said ‘don’t change a thing!’ and I’ve tried to reassure them that I won’t.”
The two sections of Smitty’s are divided into a coffee shop and a dining room. Half of the dining room is often reserved for meeting space. Even though Gunn has many requests for catering services, she has not opted to pursue it yet. A portion of the restaurant’s to-go orders come from local merchants. One of the few additions Gunn made was whole coffee beans from Vermont that come in about 20 varieties.
“We would like to open at night eventually,” she said. “We’ve talked about a 24-hour restaurant. Right now, we close between 2 and 4 p.m. and mainly do breakfast and lunch. Our goal right now is to please everyone who comes in.”
Even though it’s time for an update, the same 1950s d