St. John: Restaurant biz was love at first site
While sitting out a few semesters from his studies at the University of Southern Miss, Robert St. John took a job at a local restaurant.
“I fell in love with it,” he said. “I knew from pretty much when I started working there that that was what I was supposed to be doing.”
He switched from a major in communications to hospitality management, but opened the Purple Parrot Café in 1987 before finishing the degree at Southern Miss. He completed degree requirements and graduated in 2000.
The restaurant, the only white-tablecloth establishment in Hattiesburg at the time, opened with 72 seats. In extra space in the building, St. John opened the casual Purple Parrot Grill.
Due to branding issues and confusion among patrons, the Purple Parrot Grill became Crescent City Grill, and in space made available after a dress shop in the building closed, St. John opened Mahogany Bar.
Today, St. John says the menu is nearly all the work of Chef Du Cuisine Jeremy Nofkee.
The restaurant has received the Four Diamond Award from AAA, which gives restaurants a one- to five- diamond rank that ranges from “basic to world class,” according to the AAA web site. A four-diamond rating indicates a “distinctive fine-dining experience.”
With two sommeliers on staff and a wine list of more than 800 labels, Purple Parrot is a 2008 recipient of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence.
St. John credits the success of the Purple Parrot to his colleagues.
“I sold a piece of property from my grandparents for $20,000 — that was my initial stake — and I worked hard for four years, 90-hour weeks,” he said. “Then, I just kind of pulled out and surrounded myself with people smarter than I am and more talented. I just got out of the way.”
After another few years of success, St. John said he started believing all the positive press he and the restaurants were getting.
“I started walking around, kind of buying into all that; thinking I’m pretty good at this, and then one day — it was a fluke — three or four people didn’t show up for work,” St. John recalled. “And it struck me — it’s not me. There are 150 people on our payroll, and I’m a small cog. I’m at the top of the corporate structure, but there are 150 people working hard every day, and it takes every one of them.”
Robert St. John
3810 Hardy St
Hattiesburg, MS 39402
>> Brunch … Sun: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.; Lunch … Mon – Fri: 1 a.m. – 2 p.m.; Closed Saturday Lunch
>> Dinner … Mon – Thu: 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.; Fri – Sat: 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. … Closed Sunday Dinner.