Clarksdale’s Oxbow Restaurant and Catering proves you can revitalize without spending millions
by Becky Gillette
Published: June 3,2012
Hayden and Erica Hall were born and raised in Clarksdale, and went off to get experience in different tastes and styles before coming back home to open Oxbow Restaurant and Catering.
After college Hayden worked at chef Wolfgang Puck’s Asian fusion restaurant The Source in Washington, D.C., and Erica worked on Capitol Hill before they moved to New Orleans, where Hayden got a lot of experience as a sous chef and Erica worked in floral design.
In late 2010, the Halls decided to put their experience into opening a restaurant in Clarksdale.
“We saw a rebirth going on in Clarksdale with restaurants and shops, and we wanted to be a part of it,” Hayden said. “We threw together this restaurant in a matter of two months with a simple concept to show we could revitalize the community without spending millions of dollars. Everything here is what we call found objects. The seats are recycled bus seats and the walls are made out of shipping pallets. Everything has been repurposed.”
Hall said as Clarksdale is becoming “the Blues Capitol of the World,” people who are coming to visit want to see a place that is raw, real and authentic instead of cookie cutter and brand new. The Halls were inspired by living in New Orleans, a town that embraces the beauty in dilapidation.
“There is so much beauty and art around us in the Delta, we decided to just pick it up, dust it off and put it on the wall,” Hall said. “Our concept based on going into this thing was to invest very little money and add on later. It cost me as much to put this restaurant together as it costs some restaurants to build a bathroom.”
While they had experienced the latest trends in food while working in D.C. and New Orleans, would the same types of food be popular in Clarksdale? Sometimes trends take longer to reach Mississippi. So how would a restaurant with no deep fat fryer go over in Clarksdale?
As it happens, quite well. Within six months, the restaurant was successful enough to double in size from 30 to 60 seats. The entire expansion was done with repurposed materials including a wall of “wheelchair shrapnel” recycled from a business that housed a lot of hospital parts.
And the fame of the Oxbow has spread. Recently Andrew Zimmern, who does the program “Bizarre Foods” on the Travel Channel, tweeted to his 4,000 followers that Oxbow has the best tuna taco in the U.S.
“That just blew it up,” Hall said. “People starting coming from all over to try it. Our ahi tuna taco is seared in a hot wok and served with ginger citrus slaw. It is phenomenal. Tuna tacos are our most popular item. They have created a following around town.”
The menu is small, simple and inexpensive with checks averaging about $7.
“In this economy, people want something that is very affordable,” Hall said.
They have only six main items on the menus, and that allows them to do a lot of specials based on what is in season.
“To do local foods, you must have flexible menus because the food changes year around,” Hall said. “That makes it hard to put together a menu with a hundred items. Another avenue here at the Oxbow is getting more flavor from food without adding all the calories we are used to here in the Delta. It is good food that doesn’t have to make your waistline bigger. We have no deep fryer, no microwave, and everything is fully fresh, clean eats.”
He thinks that advertising that they have “healthy” food might put some people off. But people are indeed finding out they can enjoy healthy foods.
“People say they have lost weight, but are getting all the flavor they want,” Hall said. “By using the freshest product, we don’t have to add everything. We let it do its own work.”
A new concept at the restaurant is a farmer’s market, filling a niche in a town that doesn’t have a farmer’s market. Recently they got a
shipment of tomatoes in from Indianola and sold 100 pounds in two hours.
“You might pay a little more for local, but the flavor is unmatched and you are supporting our community,” Hall said.
The Oxbow is only open for lunch for two reasons: 1. It does a lot of catering and rent out their space for parties. 2. It doesn’t want to experience burnout.
“Chefs have a high burnout rate,” he said. “A lot of times in the food business, chefs are working an 80-hour week. We want to enjoy what we do and be a part of the community for a long time.”
The Halls are part of the new school of mom-and-pop restaurants. Erica runs the front, greets people, and is the face of the restaurant while Hayden is in the kitchen cooking.
“We know all our customers,” he said. “Many of them have known us since we were kids. It is really a family-oriented business. We don’t want to expand and franchise. It is all about the relationship of Erica and I have with other people in town.”
Name of Business: Oxbow Restaurant and Catering
Address: 115 Third Street, Clarksdale
Date Founded: April 1, 2011
Owner(s): Hayden Hall and Erica Hall (662) 627-6781
Coolest thing about business: “Authentic found object décor with tasty food that won’t expand the waistline”
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