MERIDIAN — Weidmann’s Restaurant, owned by the Weidmann family for five generations, may soon be changing hands.
“We have the option to purchase Weidmann’s,” confirmed Fred Wile, owner of Southern Cast Products, a manufacturing company in Meridian and spokesman for Weidmann’s Square, LLC, the buying group for the restaurant. “We see this as a community-based project with the goal of preserving Weidmann’s, a landmark that is very important to our city and to the rebirth of downtown Meridian.”
Established in 1870 by Swiss immigrant Felix Weidmann, a chef on the ship that brought him from Europe to America, and his wife, Clara, the restaurant is known not only for its long counter and brass rail in the original Front Room, the Plate Room with a fireplace to the rear, and the historical and celebrity photos that dot the walls throughout, but for its signature small brown pot of peanut butter and crackers on the table at all times, crackling bread and its black bottom pie. Weidmann’s is known as the place to go — to see and be seen.
Weidmann’s was thrust into the national spotlight on July 1, 1935, when the Key brothers, Fred and Al, broke the world’s endurance record for nonstop air-refueling continuous flight in a tiny Curtiss Robin single-engine plane dubbed the Ole Miss. The record of 653 hours and 34 minutes wasn’t broken until 1973 — by astronauts. The celebration took place at Weidmann’s.
“In Meridian, all good things begin or end at Weidmann’s — family gatherings, birthdays, graduation celebrations, Mardi Gras suppers, wedding festivals and all other special times and events in the lives of people,” wrote Mississippi native Starr Smith in his recently published book, “Southern Scenes.” “Travelers in the know from around the nation always arrange their schedules when they’re in this part of the country to arrive in Meridian in time for lunch or dinner at Weidmann’s, which, over the years, has become a famous landmark.”
Gloria Chancellor, great-great granddaughter of the founders, and her husband, Poo Chancellor, have owned the restaurant since 1989.
Meridian native Sela Ward, who stars in the ABC hit dramatic series “Once and Again” and has been instrumental in restoring the Grand Opera Theatre in downtown Meridian, casually mentioned to the owners one day, “if you’re ever interested in selling, let me know,” said Wile.
“When Sela mentioned it again, we started seriously considering it,” said Chancellor. “When we found out the community was involved and would retain the restaurant’s heritage and unique flavor, we decided that perhaps it was time to retire. Of course, we’ve had mixed feelings about it, because it’s been part of our lives for, well, all our lives. But we wanted to spend more time with the people we love. Running the restaurant was all consuming.”
Wile added, “Sela grew up here, remembers going to Weidmann’s as a fond part of her childhood memory and didn’t want to see Weidmann’s disappear. When the Chancellors indicated a desire to retire, Sela got in touch with Bruce Martin, and he got a group together to talk about the possibilities of the community buying the restaurant.”
Soon after New Year’s Day, the community meeting, hosted by Martin, included Sela Ward, her husband, Howard Sherman, Fred Carl, founder of Viking Range in Greenwood, Mack Portera, president of Mississippi State University, Hal Parker of Vicksburg, Wile and about 18 local business leaders.
“We all agreed that Weidmann’s was an important part of the history and fabric of this community,” Wile said. “That’s when we formed Weidmann’s Square, LLC and began to see if the pieces would fit.”
Carl knew Willie McGehee, a chef from Atlanta who had started Caf