Mayflower has been feeding folks in Jackson since 1935
Defining a landmark is pretty simple. It has to have been around a while and it has to have stayed in the same place.
For a business to become a landmark, folks have to know where it is and there has to be something there they’re willing to pay for.
The Mayflower Cafe certainly meets all those criteria.
Since 1935, the Mayflower has been serving folks in Jackson at the same building on Capitol Street. Most of them show up wanting the fresh Gulf fish that has made the restaurant famous.
Celebrities have dined there. A few scenes of “Ghosts of Mississippi” were filmed there.
A recession economy holds no special regard for a restaurant that has achieved true landmark status. People still have to show up hungry to keep the lights on.
According to Mayflower owner Jerry Kountouris, who took over the restaurant for his father, who was one of the original founders of the Mayflower, that’s exactly what has happened.
“Actually, July and August were some of our better months in a year,” he said, with the bustle of the restaurant in the background.
The Mayflower has developed the sort of clientele that remains a pipe dream for a lot of businesses: repeat customers.
Attracting new customers is hard enough. Getting them to return, or the failure to do so, has been the downfall of many a start-up.
It’s that same group of folks who keep coming back that has kept the Mayflower viable for nearly 80 years.
“Our repeat is 50 to 60 percent of our business,” Kountouris said. “In fact, that’s why when you come in here on Friday nights you see everybody shaking hands with everybody else. They’re doing that because everybody knows each other. Actually, now that I think about it, repeat business probably makes up 60 to 70 of what we do.”
A place like the Mayflower simply wouldn’t survive without repeat business because of a couple dynamics. One is that the majority of hotels in the Jackson area are in North Jackson. Business travelers most likely are not going to drive into the downtown of a strange city for dinner. The Roberts Walthall is undergoing renovation, and there are plans on the drawing board for more hotel developments downtown, but for the most part, the hotel business is a few miles away.
“Restaurants up there see more of a transient group than we do,” Kountouris said. “If you come to the Mayflower, you come to a destination. You’re not going to be going to a movie and just happen to pass by here. We’re the destination. We’re not a stepping stone.”
The core group of customers have kept coming through the recession, Kountouris said. There have been fringe effects of the downturn, but nothing that would threaten to close the place.
“Nothing major right now,” Kountouris said. “That’s about as exact as I can get.”
The restaurant business, at best, is unpredictable, especially in a recession. It can make decisions like how much food to order to how many people to keep on staff a moving target.
The Central Business District in downtown has had its share of issues the past two decades, with businesses leaving. There are a lot of developers spending lots of money and time in an effort to reverse that trend.
“You never know in this business,” Kountouris said. “It could turn on a dime, but we’ve been very fortunate. I guess we’ve been here so long, we’ve built up a lot of loyal followers. I’ve threatened to leave here a couple of times but I’ve stuck it out with all the stuff Jackson has seen over the last 20 years. It’s a challenge sometimes.”
Where: 123 West Capitol Street, Jackson
Open since: 1935
Specialty: Gulf fish (red snapper, red fish and speckled trout)
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