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Dining Out Spotlight: Café 51, Hernando

Investor returns to his restaurant roots

Four decades after he watched his family’s Oxford restaurant burn to the ground, Jim Seay is back again in the restaurant business.

His return to the industry was almost accidental. Seay owns an investment property firm called Diversified Investments in Hernando. His idea to open a restaurant came when one of the company’s properties, a restaurant functioning in an old house on U.S. 51 just north of the square, became vacant.

“Some people say the food business gets in your blood, and I guess it keeps dragging me back in,” Seay said.

Seay’s parents opened the Mansion Restaurant in 1941 after his father designed and implemented the first cafeteria system at the University of Mississippi. Seay grew up watching his parents run the South Lamar establishment, which at the time boasted the largest dining room between Memphis and Jackson and featured a room made with marble claimed from the destruction of the Gayoso Hotel. After his father’s death, the 19-year-old took over operations at the restaurant until it was destroyed in a fire the late 1960s.

Except for a stint in Arkansas, that was Seay’s last foray in the restaurant business.  But with the Hernando facility available — with functioning restaurant equipment — his colleagues urged him to do it.

“We thought long and hard about it. The restaurant business is a challenging business, but people here wanted a good place to get a home-cooked meal, and Donna [Wood, a colleague] looked at me and said, ‘Jim, you’re the best one to do it.’”

With that, Café 51 opened featuring home-style entrees such as country fried steak, chicken potpies, meatloaf and baked and fried catfish. Side dishes include turnip greens, macaroni and cheese, fried okra and lima beans. Desserts are banana pudding and cobblers.

“We just offer traditional meals for Southern folks,” Seay said.

While Seay called the new butter roll desert a “cardiac arrest,” it’s Café 51’s fried chicken — offered daily — that keeps customers returning for more.

“We’ve had a dozen or so people tell us it’s the best fried chicken they’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s fried in vegetable oil; it’s Southern fried chicken to the nth degree. It’s pretty durn good.”.

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Café 51

2450 U.S. 51 South

(Just north of Hernando’s Courthouse Square)

(662) 429-7812

www.cafe51hernando.com

Don’t miss: Fried chicken

About Laura Smith

2 comments

  1. Carlos Teichert

    I knew Jim when we were teenagers in Oxford , it has been close to 50 years since we last spoke. Great restaurant family.

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