For nearly 80 years now, guests have come to the Edison Walthall Hotel to enjoy the three-star hotel in downtown Jackson. It is not just the beds that have brought them. The Edison Walthall has long been known for its food, and the food service continues to be an important draw for the 203-room hotel.
Earl Gaylor, owner of the Edison Walthall, said, “I look at some of the regular guests we have here, and I believe some of them come back again and again for the food.”
Interestingly, the Edison Walthall is noted for its longevity and history, and that is hallmark of the hotel’s food and beverage division and its leader, Chef Jim Price.
An early start
In 1967, Earl Gaylor, while with Oglebay Resort, took notice of a teenage boy who was washing dishes. Earl saw potential in the bright kid. So, he pushed Price toward the kitchen as a career. Price admitted that he was not sure why culinary arts appealed to him.
“I guess it was genetics,” Price said. “My grandmother worked in a restaurant, and my uncle was a master baker in the Navy during World War II.”
Whatever the reason, Price began working his way up in the kitchen. Price began learning the trade of butchering, a necessary skill for cooks back then. Eventually, Price was running a multiple-restaurant operation for Earl, and when Earl purchased the Edison Walthall in 1990, he brought Price with him to the downtown Jackson facility as chef.
Earl proved to have a keen eye for talent as Price is still there preparing dishes for patrons of the restaurant as well as attendees of the hotel’s special events such as meetings and banquets. But the theme of consistency and longevity does not end there.
Price said one of the major pluses he enjoyed when he came to the Edison Walthall was the high-caliber, experienced kitchen staff. “Many of them had been here since the 1960s. They came over when the King Edward shut down,” he remembered. “It was a big asset to have a staff that was already trained and experienced.”
Picking up the tab
According to Stephen Gaylor, son of Earl and general manager of the Edison Walthall, the food and beverage division is a consistent moneymaker. The food and beverage division is responsible for approximately one-third of the hotel’s total revenues. Labor-intensive work, the division employs approximately one-half of the hotel’s 100-person staff.
Stephen said the hotel enjoys a very low turnover rate, and the food and beverage division has a stellar employee retention record. To illustrate, Stephen pointed out one wait staff person who has been with Edison Walthall for nearly 30 years. More remarkable, her brother is also employed at the hotel, and has been there for decades, as well.
The Edison Walthall definitely needs their help. The restaurant is open breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week. (The restaurant’s hours are 6:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. weekends.) A typical day will see 200-300 patrons, maybe more, enjoy a meal in the hotel’s restaurant. And that does not count the special events of the hotel, which encompasses 13 meeting facilities. An average week will see the Edison Walthall host 10-20 meetings and five to 10 larger affairs.
Many of the hotel’s regular diners come to sample the Edison Walthall’s buffet, but they can also order from the menu. A few of the choices include Veal Oscar, New York Strip Steak Champignon, Edison Walthall Cheesecake with Strawberries and Caramel Custard Flan. Price said, with few exceptions, everything is made in-house from scratch.
Both Gaylors are anticipating many more “samplers.” Both are excited about all the new downtown Jackson development that is either underway or planned, such as the mixed-use projects such as The Pinnacle and Old Capitol Green and particularly the new convention center, all of which are in close proximity to the hotel.
“I really believe that when the convention center opens, it will trigger a lot of downtown hotel occupancy,” Earl said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.