Biloxi’s White Pillars looking for just the right operator
by Lisa Monti
Published: April 7,2014
The owners of the fabled White Pillars restaurant, under restoration on Biloxi’s beachfront, are as picky about who they lease or sell it to as they were when they operated the fine-dining showplace. They trucked in top quality beef, flew in premium duck and went through 1,000 pounds of veal bones every week for stock. The result: exceptional food and top prices.
After spending two years and $2 million renovating and restoring the historic building, the John Mladinich family members are looking for a chef/owner with high standards to match theirs when White Pillars was in full bloom in the 70s and 80s and pilgrims made their way to dine on its signature Eggplant Josephine. It closed in 1989.
Here is how they outlined their goal on Facebook:
A suitable tenant/operator is expected to have documentable experience in “white tablecloth dining” and be well qualified. A suitable tenant/operator is someone whose philosophies of quality and excellence mirror those of the Mladinich family. A suitable tenant/operator is committed to long term success in a location that is a once in a lifetime opportunity. A suitable tenant/operator will be worth the wait.
In other words, Brooks Holstein said, there’s no particular hurry.
Holstein is the son-in-law of the restaurant founders, and his commercial real estate development company, COMVEST Properties, is developing and marketing the White Pillars. His wife, Deborah, is an interior designer and owner of Design Associates who researched and chose the historically accurate fixtures during the renovation. She also created a design “package” for the tenant operator to consider that’s complete with historically accurate wall coverings, fabric and furnishings. The new operator also will be able to tailor the 2,700-square-foot kitchen, which has been left as a shell.
“The thing we’re focused on now is getting the historical registrations for the building through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History,” Brooks Holstein said. About a third of that process is complete.
In addition to that effort, there were problems with the construction that need to be corrected, he said. Water leaked into the main dining room and destroyed the hardwood oak floor and the whole masonry building has to be repainted because it wasn’t done correctly the first time.
Meanwhile the search to find an operator with the proper “passion, experience and expertise” is getting underway with the creation of a database of award-winning restaurants across the country and the world. Holstein admits it’s “a small fraternity.”
They got a test run recently with a chef Holstein wouldn’t identify except to say he was “an internationally known chef,” one of only 78 such culinary masters in the world. “We had a fascinating first walk through,” Holstein said. “He drove by at night and the visual impact of building caught his eye immediately. what was fascinating to hear and very complimentary to Debbie, Architect Steve Zito and contractors was how impressed he was with quality and ambience of the building even though it’s empty.”
One of the first questions the chef asked was the average check amount. Holstein said that 25 years ago, it was a hefty $35.
Holstein said the chef was the type they’re interested in courting but “we have the economic flexibility to wait for the right opportunity.”
Wendy Peavy, White Pillars publicist, is coordinating the search for a buyer, scouring trade publications and newspapers for prospects. She said the rights to both the White Pillars name and the Mladinich family’s award-winning recipes are available for negotiation.
“We’ll start closer to home and work our way out,” Holstein said.
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