NATCHEZ — A new owner plans to breathe new life into one of Natchez’s oldest structures.
Natchez native, chef and restaurateur Regina Charboneau, her husband Doug and their son Jean Luc recently purchased King’s Tavern.
Over the next several months, the family plans to clean up the property and eventually reopen the restaurant as early as September.
King’s Tavern, also known as the Bledsoe House, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and operated as a restaurant and bar from the late 1980s until it closed in February 2012.
The property has been vacant since.
The structure is considered one of the oldest buildings in Natchez and the state, said Mimi Miller, executive director of the Historic Natchez Foundation.
Though the historical marker out front contains an error, local historians believe it was probably built in the late 1790s.
“I’m very, very happy,” Miller said. “I’m glad it will still have some public access.”
Charboneau said the idea to purchase the property came, in part, from a night of boredom.
“It is kind of funny because literally not two weeks ago, Doug and I were sitting on the sofa watching TV, which I rarely do, and Doug said, ‘I don’t want to do this. I need a project.'”
After looking at the building, the decision was set.
“We just love the building,” Regina Charboneau said. “It needs some TLC, but the building speaks for itself.”
Charboneau said her first priority is getting the building where it needs to be.
“It’s amazing to me about historic structures. It’s always the oldest part of the building that’s standing strong, and the newest part needs some work.”
Although for years the restaurant at King’s Tavern featured white tablecloths and steaks, Charboneau said the menu and atmosphere would be different when the restaurant reopens.
“It’s going to be a very simple concept with wood-fired flatbreads,” she said, describing what some people might consider gourmet pizza. “We’re going to embrace the feeling of the tavern.
Charboneau said the restaurant will have three different types of flatbreads per day, and maybe one to two good salads per day.
“I’m making my own mozzarella for the flatbreads. It’s going back to the basics,” she said. “Also, every drink we carry will be craft, hand-made products, like unusual sodas, and if we do tea, it will be interesting teas.”
“Our beers and our spirits will all be craft brands, too.”
Charboneau jokingly warns that suggestions are welcome but will not sway her vision for the new restaurant.
“I absolutely am set in stone,” she said. “I know exactly what I want to do. I know it’s going to work. It’s going to be fun.”
Her track record is pretty good, too — she founded several restaurants, operates Twin Oaks Bed and Breakfast and serves as the executive chef of the American Queen steamboat.
Months from possibly opening, she’s already got ideas about how to market the restaurant.
Since the brand is well known, Charboneau said, she’ll probably keep it as King’s Tavern, but may market it locally as just “The Tavern.”
The Charboneaus’ initial plan is to work on getting the older part of the business opened up and possibly open up something in the former bar portion of the building later.
“Right now our focus is the tavern, but we’re working on another idea for that space, but it will not be a bar,” she said.
In addition to involvement from her husband and one of their two sons, Jean Luc, Charboneau said her employees at Twin Oaks will also be integral to the success.
“Robert Jones and Janet Tyler are my family at Twin Oaks; they will help free up time to work on this,” she said.
In addition to the restaurant, the family plans to allow some limited public tours of the building, which has long been rumored to be haunted.
“We’ll probably do one tour a day at 10 in the morning for all of the people who love all the ghost stories,” Charboneau said. “The other day I had four different carloads of people come up on the first day we had keys to see inside.”