In the spring of 2007 when Jackson restaurateurs Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal opened Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint, the men said their decision to launch the new eatery was driven largely by their desire to be a part of the revival of Jackson’s Fondren District.
Now the leaders of RKBM Restaurant Group are looking to do the same for a resurging, post-Katrina downtown Biloxi after entering into the first licensing agreement in Sal & Mookie’s history.
The agreement provides RKBM with all the intellectual property, recipes, branding elements and trade secrets with which to design, build and operate their own location under the Sal & Mookie’s masthead. RKBM is led by the husband and wife team of Bruce and Rebecca Lacey, alongside business partners Matt and Kandi Helms.
Good said, “What a wonderful way to celebrate our seventh anniversary with the announcement of our agreement to work with Bruce and Rebecca and their team as they bring our ideas to the heart of the Gulf Coast.”
Bruce Lacey said he and his wife, as well as the Helms, had become fans of Sal & Mookie’s before they began to discuss the possibility of any agreement. In addition to the food and ambiance, they appreciated the focus on community that Good and Blumenthal exhibited when they opened in Fondren.
“We are taking all of the unique and wonderful elements of the Sal & Mookie’s in Jackson — the painted wooden exterior, the wrap around deck, the big exhibition kitchen, the kid-friendly viewing area of the pizza ovens, the ice cream scoop shop in the dining room and all the classic New York images and touch points — and are bringing them into a newly constructed building built to post-Katrina code and designed to enhance the business corridor where we will be located,” he added
The new Sal & Mookie’s will be located at 110 Lameuse Street, an area that has seen a flurry of new activity. In addition to new construction at nearby Hard Rock Casino and the coming of the Half Shell Oyster House, the site is just a couple of blocks from the new minor league baseball stadium, which is under construction and slated to open next year.
“We already had a lease on the site before the baseball stadium was announced,” Bruce Lacey said. “That was a plus.”
When the principals of RKBM approached Good and Blumenthal about bringing a Sal & Mookie’s to their site, they got a receptive audience.
Rebecca Lacey said, “When we decided to expand our food service business, the decision was easy. We approached Dan and Jeff and they have been nothing but gracious and supportive. We want Sal & Mookie’s to be an integral part of every Gulf Coast family’s history.”
It is not surprising that RKBM found support from Sal & Mookie’s. Good and Blumenthal had already tasted success with their other Jackson restaurants — Bravo! Italian Restaurant and Bar (which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary) and Broad Street Bakery — when they hatched the idea for Sal & Mookie’s. Still, they took their time. They made a trip to New York to sample some of the city’s best pizza establishments, then spent the better part of a year perfecting the dough and sauce recipes.
They also did their homework on the site for the new restaurant, which was seen as something of a gamble. While the Fondren area was growing, the common perception was that the area’s crime could hurt traffic. Indeed, when they were constructing the flagship Sal & Mookie’s, Good and Blumenthal would visit the site often to find that it had been compromised — sometimes homeless people were found sleeping on the grounds.
However, the men, whose motto is “do the right thing,” were convinced that crime was manageable and the location was perfect for the new concept. It’s offering of high-quality, often handmade ingredients, large selection of beers and its ambiance was an immediate hit.
With that background, Good said he and Blumenthal were eager to help RKBM.
“The Laceys found us, and we worked out a license agreement to allow them to replicate without some of the constraints and costs of franchising,” he said.
With the RKBM agreement in place, the door is now open for more Sal & Mookie’s expansion, according to Good.
“Will we be open to other development opportunities? Of course,” Good said, adding that RKBM has a protected territory on the Coast. “With the licensing of Sal & Mookie’s to the Laceys we can clearly see the path to provide more of our culinary and ‘eatertainment’ to the rest of the state and perhaps beyond. By partnering with quality business people who share the same beliefs in customer service, product excellence and ‘doing the right thing,’ perhaps we can indeed grow Sal & Mookie’s into a regional success story. I guess time will tell.”