Blair Hughes has a helpful background for a restaurant entrepreneur. Not only is she from one of the state’s most successful restaurant families, she also spent 15 years working in finance in Washington D.C. before returning home to Tupelo in 2000 to open the Park Heights Restaurant.
Hughes is a member of the Bean family that is celebrating 30 years in the restaurant industry. Her mother, Myrrl Bean, and two brothers own Harveys and the Grill, restaurants with outlets in Starkville, Columbus and Tupelo, the successful franchise Sweet Peppers Deli with multiple outlets in Mississippi and other states, and the Bulldog Deli in Starkville.
Hughes was in graduate school when she moved to Washington D.C., and she enjoyed her fast-paced life there in the finance world.
“It was a perfect time in one’s life to be up there, but the big city was kind of wearing on me,” said Hughes, who owns the Park Heights Restaurant with her husband, Hemp, and her mother. “I was ready to come closer to home. As my family puts it, I lost my mind and came home. They say the restaurant business is in your blood, and maybe it is.”
People who are good cooks and like to eat out sometimes make the mistake of thinking that opening a new restaurant would be a breeze. In fact, often having knowledge of the financial end of the business is as critical to success as serving up great food in an appealing atmosphere. So Hughes’ experience in business was a big advantage. She also did a culinary training before opening Park Heights, attending the Memphis Culinary Academy. Then she cooked in restaurants in Florida and New York to prepare to open her own place.
While she and her husband mainly run the front of the house and the finance and management part of the restaurant, she believes the knowledge of how to run a commercial kitchen has been very valuable.
“Getting the culinary training gave me the confidence that I needed in the kitchen,” Hughes said. “I really don’t cook much, but if I need to, I am familiar with a commercial kitchen and what goes on there. My chef, Greg Huerkamp, who runs the kitchen, has been with me nine of the 11 years we’ve been open. Several other employees have been with me five plus years. Their loyalty and dedication to the job and sense of humor is the reason for our success. We work hard, but are a very close knit group. We think that spills over into the front of the house.”
Parks Heights is an appropriate name for a restaurant that includes a popular rooftop dining area overlooking Fairpark and downtown Tupelo. During the warm months wedding receptions and class reunions are booked on the roof on many Saturdays. If the roof area is not closed for a private party and the weather is nice, it is open for regular diners.
“It has been quite a hit,” Hughes said. “There is no other roof dining for many miles. I love it up there. And we had so many great days this year weather wise. We opened it so much earlier than we normally do with the early spring.”
The restaurant specializes in fresh seafood, and also steaks and chops from the grill. We’ve coupled those with a lot of ingredients bought from local farmers and suppliers whenever possible.
“We are big into buying local, shopping local, investing local — all of that good stuff,” Hughes said.
While menus change seasonally, there are also signature dishes on the menu that they have served since opening and plan to always serve. Those include crab cakes, pan-seared sea bass, and 21-day aged filets. All of their fish is grilled or pan seared, but some of the side items are fried.
“For the most part, we have a lot of healthy choices on the menu,” Hughes said. “But we are happy to accommodate any type of dietary needs of our guests. We get special requests often.”
Some popular side dishes include black-eyed pea fritters and Southern greens, and a roasted corn and crab risotto.
Her husband Hamp joined the business in 2008 when they moved to their present location. The couple shares the duties of running the front of the house while leaving it to the chef to run the kitchen.
Hughes has no regrets about returning to Tupelo to open a restaurant.
“I love it,” she said. “I will enjoy doing it for many years.”
More on Park Heights
Name of Business: Park Heights Restaurant
Address: 335 East Main Street, Tupelo
Phone: (662) 842-5665
Date Founded: May 2000
Owner(s): Blair and Hamp Hughes, Myrrl Bean
Coolest thing about business: Offers contemporary Southern cuisine in a wonderful setting downtown across from Fairpark with outdoor dining on the roof and patio.