Lawyer Bill Luckett and actor Morgan Freeman have decided to end their 10-year run as owners of Clarksdale’s Madidi Restaurant, a fine dining establishment that joined with Luckett and Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club to help make the Delta town a destination for visitors seeking a taste of Mississippi’s blues heritage.
Other commitments have been piling up on the partners — Luckett with his legal practice, building restorations and civic board work and Freeman with non-stop movie roles. The restaurant, which offers up “Americanized French” cuisine, requires more time than the partners can give it, Luckett says.
So now the Madidi needs a buyer.
The buyer gets a turn-key restaurant operation housed in a restored two-story, turn-of-the-previous-century building on downtown’s Delta Street. The ground floor has two sides, one a lounge area with a long mahogany bar and lounge chairs and the other a dining section for 64 (“We can rearrange it to get 100 in there,” Luckett says). Upstairs offers private dining rooms.
Equally important, says Luckett, the buyer gets the Madidi name that people throughout Mississippi and the nation associate with high-end dining.
“Some of the equity is goodwill. We have got 10 years of branding in it. We’re known all over the country.”
The sale also includes furniture, fixtures and equipment. “I own the building which I would sell or lease,” adds Luckett, who is just off an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Party’s Mississippi gubernatorial nomination and ready for new pursuits.
A decade ago, Luckett looked at the century-old building at 164 Delta St. as a restoration opportunity.
“The building had set empty for eight or nine years. We had looked at turning it into residential use, as I have done with other buildings in downtown Clarksdale. But this one did not lend itself readily for it. So I passed.
“Then the owner called me and asked me to take another look.”
Luckett bit and bought the building.
“Morgan and I had started looking at projects together but I decided on my own to do the restaurant.”
Not long after, the Academy Award winning actor walked into the building unannounced as Luckett worked to restore its floors. “He said, ‘Do you want a partner?’ It took me about two seconds. I said, ‘Yes.’”
The partners also teamed up with Memphis entertainment executive Howard Stovall to open the Ground Zero Blues Club at the other end of Delta Street. They have no plans to sell it.
Both the Madidi and Ground Zero have largely fulfilled their stated purpose of breathing new life into downtown Clarksdale, Luckett says.
“Our intention was to get them established and up and running and let them serve as a catalyst for revitalizing Clarksdale and the Delta. It has done that to a degree.”
A decade ago, Clarksdale residents had to go to Cleveland, Oxford or Memphis for high-end cuisine. “We didn’t like to see our population drive 50 to 70 miles to get a fine dining experience,” Luckett says. “We thought we’d provide something closer at hand.”
Ground Zero came about as an answer to blues heritage tourists who would come to town asking: “Where can we hear some good blues music?” he adds.
The partners drew the name from Clarksdale’s global reputation as ground zero for American blues music.
The Madidi name has its origins in the March 2000 issue of “National Geographic” magazine. Luckett spotted a cover photograph of Madidi National Park in Bolivia and knew immediately he wanted that name for his restaurant.
The Madidi needs to be in the hands of an owner who can give it the full attention it needs, Luckett and Freeman concluded in deciding to exit the business. “Morgan is busy making movies. He has no intention of slowing down,” Luckett notes. “I’m doing a lot of board service now. I don’t have time to see a fine dining restaurant operate as efficiently” as it should.
Once a sale of the Madidi is done, Luckett says, “We’ll be good customers.”