As always, the dishes will be delicious and the presentations will be pleasing to the eyes at this year’s EXPO Business After Hours. It all begins on Thursday at 5 p.m. and goes until around 7:30 p.m. at the Mississippi Trade Mart.
About a dozen restaurants and caterers will participate in the Business and Technology EXPO event, serving their best to attract new customers and capture the Best Taste and Best Presentation awards.
“The winners are selected by five to seven ‘secret’ judges,” said Charina Rhodes, circulation manager of Mississippi Business Journal. “No one knows who they are. They’re pulled from the crowd.”
Last year’s visual presentation winner, Valley Food Services, took home the prize for an arrangement of fruits that resembled “a marvelous art work,” said Rhodes. “It’s not just the food, it’s how they present the entire section.”
King Edward Grill won Best Taste two years in a row and will be back this year to defend their title. Nick Wallace, the executive chef, predicts the restaurant will get its third top Business EXPO win this year.
Wallace will serve food truck tacos with fresh roasted salsa fresca, smoked brisket and pork shoulder, all served with cilantro and cotija cheese. Dessert will be banana mousse. “It’s to die for,” Wallace said.
The secret to winning is knowing what the people want, Wallace said. “It’s all about the taste.”
The chef said participating in the EXPO puts the spotlight on the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Jackson and its restaurants. “It’s all about exposure for the hotel,” Wallace said. “We have a philosophy that once you step inside the hotel, one of the best in Mississippi, you’ll come to one of our menus.”
Other participating eateries will provide tastes from their varied menus, including Italian, Southern and sweets in the form of cakes and other desserts.
The venue is expected to be packed for the popular networking event. Besides the food, there is a cash bar and entertainment will be provided by the popular Chris Gill and the Sole Shakers.
“It will be jammed,” said Rhodes. “Everyone’s getting off of work and winding down.” A business card is good for admission and makes participants eligible for a drawing to win a cruise. Just don’t leave early. “You have to be present to win,” said Rhodes.
Business After Hours puts the spotlight on some of the area’s favorite menu items and gives newcomers a chance to earn new fans.
Logan Farms Honey Glazed Ham and Market Cafe in Jackson’s Maywood Mart Shopping Center will be a new EXPO participant this year. Sheri Sullivan, assistant to owner Ryan Gnemi, said the goal is to let everyone know what Logan Farms has to offer.
“We’re really trying to get the word out that we’re not just about hams,” said Sullivan. “We do catering and we have the cafe.” Customers can have their pick of smoked turkey, brisket, pork loin, pork shoulder and other meat products, frozen casseroles and more. The cafe offers blue plate specials and assorted sandwiches and poboys along with homemade chicken or tuna salad and pimento cheese.
“So many people have in their heads that all we do are hams and turkeys,” said Sullivan. “We’re really trying to get the word out that we do a lot of other things.”
At Business After Hours, Logan Farms will be serving pulled pork sliders and mini chess squares. “Those are really popular,” Sullivan said.
Two sibling restaurants are returning to the EXPO this year. Mint and Julep, both owned by Mary and Patrick Kelly, are described as Southern restaurants, said Alaena Goodlett, event coordinator at Mint restaurant and catering.
“Julep is a little more casual than Mint, which is more of a special occasion restaurant,” she said.
Julep, open for 10 years in Highland Village, is famous for its award-winning fried chicken that’s tossed in a honey rosemary glaze. Mint, in Ridgeland at Renaissance, has been open for about five years. Its signature chicken and waffles is served with George Dickel syrup. The catering menus are matched to the event, Goodlett said. That can include anything from office parties to weddings.
Goodlett said EXPO goers are likely to find Julep’s fried chicken and an assortment of Mint desserts at Business After Hours. Besides serving the crowd tasty food, the goal is straightforward.
“We hope more people realize that we do catering and maybe get some new customers,” Goodlett said.