MM Shapley’s opened Monday night. The steak and seafood restaurant had been known simply as Shapley’s for 20 years.
That is a name associated with some of the finest dining in metro Jackson.
MM Shapley’s is in the very same place, tucked into a New Orleans-style garden at No. 868 on Centre Street, which meanders northward from County Line Road in Ridgeland.
And it seems that the aim of Mark and Mary Shapley is to essentially change nothing on the menu.
Same for Koestler Prime, a new restaurant in the Renaissance at Colony Park.
It seems that each of the competing restaurants wants to be the same, just better than the other.
Scott and Julie Koestler bought the Shapley assets in 1998 from the founders for $1.69 million, everything, it seemed, but the 8,100-square-foot building, which the Shapleys leased to the Koestlers, who ran the restaurant for two decades.
The Koestlers wanted to move the restaurant. Fine, the Shapleys said in lawsuit filed in federal court in March, but the name “Shapley’s” was not among the assets purchased. The Koestlers disagreed.
A settlement was reached in April. Hence two new names with a common history.
MM Shapley’s is still in the brick Arcadian building with courtyard.
New and improved lighting illumines the grounds, from which the Shapleys hauled away loads of overgrown shrubbery.
Inside, the walls were painted a brighter color, carpet was replaced, new furniture was installed, along with improved lighting. The cooling system, including ductwork, was replaced, said Mark Shapley.
There are six private dining rooms in the restaurant, including the Welty Room, with the famed writer’s photos that demonstrate another of Miss Eudora’s talents. Another features Bob Tompkins oils of Delta sunsets and still lifes.
The booths in the main dining room are still in place and decorated with photographs by Jack Catlette, who calls the Delta home.
The booths are reminiscent of those in the venerable Lusco’s in Greenwood, which used them, with their draw curtains and buzzers, to discreet advantage starting in the founding year of 1933, when the nation – but not Mississippi – repealed Prohibition. (That happened 33 years later, and then only in a patchwork quilt of “dry” and “wet” counties, some of which are still dry.)
The Koestlers made sure to include the booths in the reworked interior of what had been a Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
So there is a family resemblance between the new and old in these two restaurants.
The menus bear the same resemblance.
For fair comparison, we were at 868 Centre on the second night of the soft opening, just as we had been at Koestler Prime on July 12.
And just as we had at Koestler Prime, we had the two staples of the new-old Shapley’s, I an eight-ounce filet and, my wife, Jill, fried shrimp.
The jumbo shrimp were quite to her liking, just as they had been at Koestler’s. (Maybe a skosh bigger this night.) I had a bone-in ribeye at the other place, and while they were different cuts the filet easily made the cut in my culinary book. (“Best ever,” Jill enthused after I shared a couple of bites with her.)
The shrimp were served on a bed of plump french fries, which were served in a side basket with my steak, along with a salad with housemade cracked pepper parmesan dressing for both of us.
We got as a “sharable side,” creamed spinach, which was a tad too creamy, we felt. Nice touch: two butters: one roasted basil and tomato the other sweetened with honey.
Our waiter was Matthew-on-the-spot and other staffers were quick to clear a plate and fill a water glass.
Mark and Mary joined us for post-meal chat.
“We feel real confident,” he said. The kitchen staff is composed of veterans and the wait staff has risen to the challenge, he said.
The couple opened their first restaurant in 1985 where Burgers and Blues is now located, then around the corner, then across the street in the purpose-built structure.
Thus far in the soft-opening period, the word is being spread on a Facebook post and other social media. Paid advertising will come later, Mark said.
“I know we’ve been in the business theoretically since 1985, but realistically we just got back in,” he said.
Nephew Jeffrey Shapley is general manager and Caroline Conn, a former Shapley employee, is assistant manager, returning from New Orleans, where she worked with some of the Brennan restaurants, he said.
“It’s a new chapter that we might not have expected but we’ve embraced it,” Mark said.
Amy, 26, was on hand helping out, while her “day job” is being an engineer. Elizabeth, 23, who lives in Birmingham, was in over the weekend for a friends-and-family dry run.
The girls were the reason the couple put aside an active role in the restaurant business till they grew up.
“So here we are 20 years later,” he said, leaning back with a full laugh.
» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1016.
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