Young Mississippi restaurateurs carving careers
by Lisa Monti
Published: January 31,2014
If you ask to see the owner at certain Coast restaurants, you may be surprised to find that four of them are in their early 20s.
Consider Jourdan Nicaud. He opened his third restaurant this month at the age of 24.
Brandon Atwell, Frankie Penn and Thomas Young are buddies from high school and they share ownership of Murky Waters Blues & BBQ in Gulfport. Penn recently took a rare day off to mark his 24th birthday. Atwell and Thomas are 23.
The four restaurateurs, all friends, worked as teens in entry-level restaurant jobs and learned to love the business from the ground up. They also share a goal of making their customers happy with good food and good service. And they all work at a seemingly nonstop pace.
“We’re not rivals at all,” said Nicaud of his Murky Waters cohorts. “I eat at their restaurant, they eat at mine. If we need something, we borrow back and forth.”
Nicaud’s new restaurant is Bacchus on the Beach in Pass Christian and it joins his Bacchus Food & Drink and Flyin’ Jalapeno’s, both in Gulfport. He has 40 employees at the three restaurants.
Will there be a fourth? “Who knows,” Nicaud said.
The restaurant business runs in Nicaud’s and Atwell’s families.
Nicaud’s father’s family-owned restaurants in New Orleans and his uncle owns Lil’ Ray’s in Long Beach. When his parents threw big parties, he said, “I learned how to cook for their parties.” He studied culinary arts at Drexel University In Philadelphia.
Nicaud opened the original Bacchus a couple of years ago. “I always knew I wanted to open restaurants and the day I turned 21 I decided to do it.” Around the same time he was able to work out a lease on the former 27th Avenue Bistro downtown location. “It just worked out,” he said.
Being young has its advantages and disadvantages. If he was older, Nicaud said, “I’m sure I’d be a whole lot wiser. The drawback is not having experience, but you make up for experience in hard work.”
Nicaud typically puts in long days overlooking his restaurants and catering operation. “I work every day, from about 8 a.m. until about 11 p.m.,“ he said, adding, “I love it.”
Nicaud said his goal “is making sure every customer leaves happy.” He believes in serving good food in large portions at reasonable prices. “I love to see people enjoy themselves and being part of their special moments like weddings and birthdays. It’s the best job in the world.”
Brandon Atwell, Frankie Penn and Thomas Young opened Murky Waters in April 2013. The three have been friends since high school in Long Beach and Atwell and Penn went to Ole Miss together. As teenagers, they all worked at Bull’s, one of the restaurants Atwell’s family owns. Atwell said, “I always knew what I was going to do.”
Atwell’s first job was washing dishes at age 14. At 18 he began serving customers and during breaks from college he’d pick up shifts waiting tables. Young worked in Bull’s kitchen and Penn waited tables.
The idea for their blues and barbeque restaurant was born the summer after Atwell and Penn graduated from college. “By November we had the location scouted out and we signed the lease. In April (2013) we were open,” said Atwell.
At the time, most of their friends were out having fun or trying to find jobs “We were buckling down to open a restaurant,” Atwell said.
Atwell admits that working with friends has its good and bad moments. “The bad is being around each other so much you get on each other’s nerves at times. But we’re best friends, we do what we love, and the ability to succeed together has been a good experience.”
The three split up the duties. Thomas, the kitchen manager, orders all the food and keeps the kitchen stocked. Frankie is responsible for stocking the bar with beer and liquor and keeping the wait staff schedule. Atwell watches over bookkeeping and financing and works “where I’m needed.”
Even with the duties divided, the hours are long. “I don’t even count hours these days,” Atwell said. “It’s every day, 100 hours a week easily for each of us.”
Said Penn, “A lot more perks come with owning a restaurant (than working in one) but it also has its headaches and aggravation. In this business you have to absolutely love it because you are going to be here all the time.”
Added Young, “It is fun, but it is also very stressful.”
Will Murky Waters multiply? “Absolutely,” said Atwell. but probably not for a couple of years while they build up their flagship business. “Our long-term plan is for each to have his own Murky Waters.”
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