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Family business earns way into Top 100

Sweet Peppers Deli is just one of Eat With Us Group’s family of successful restaurants.

Sweet Peppers Deli is just one of Eat With Us Group’s family of successful restaurants.

Eat With Us Group is known better around Mississippi by the Sweet Peppers Deli restaurants

 

Some people might not recognize the corporate name, but if you are a Mississippian, there’s a good chance that you might know its dining establishments.

And it’s probably no surprise that Eat With Us Group is ranked on the Mississippi Business Journal’s 2009 Mississippi 100 list that recognizes the top privately-owned companies in the state.

“It is truly an honor to make the Journal’s Mississippi 100 again,” said Eat With Us marketing director Arma Salazar.  “We are a family business and to be recognized in our home state is certainly special.”

Eat With Us Group is the Columbus-based management team behind a string of 26 successful restaurants in the Golden Triangle area and beyond.  Names like Harveys, Cotton District Grill, Bulldog Deli, Sweet Peppers Deli and Park Heights have been synonymous with tasty meals since 1982 when Myrrl Bean and her son, John, opened their first restaurant with family friend Harvey Seifert.      

Located inside the University Inn, the first restaurant was small but the bar sat 150 patrons, offered live entertainment six nights a week, and Harveys became a popular night spot to see and be seen in Starkville.

It wasn’t always a smooth ride on the path to success, said Salazar.

 “Like many who enter the restaurant arena, there were mistakes made along the way,” she said. “But the Bean family learned by trial and error, and learned from those mistakes that were made.”       

Twenty-seven year later, the beat goes on for Eat With Us and its proven track record of restaurant development.

Salazar attributes Eat With Us Group’s success to two things: operations and marketing.

“We focus on a daily basis on providing a quality product that can reach the masses at an affordable price,” she said.  “Eat With Us prides itself on customer service and hospitality.”      

The Eat With Us mission is simple — create the best dining experience by offering good food and great service no matter the dining concept.  Operating with a progressive approach, the restaurant group’s goal is to maintain the distinctive character of each restaurant, Salazar said.

Unlike the bulk of restaurant franchises, the company has expanded its dining concepts over the years to include various offerings, from the most casual fare to the more elegant fine dining experience.

Salazar cited Park Heights, a Tupelo restaurant that offers bistro-style cuisine with elegant, creative touches in a quaintly upscale environment.  The establishment is situated on a roof-top in downtown Tupelo’s Fairpark district, at the opposite end of the building from the group’s Fairpark Grill.

“Park Heights is sort of trendy, upscale and speaks to the young professionals crowd in Tupelo,” she said.  “The same thing with Jackson Square Grill in Columbus.  It’s patterned after the Cotton District Grill (Starkville) but it has more of an eclectic menu.  The two towns are different, one a college community and the other a military town.

“Both represent a true bar and grill, but each has taken on the personality of their locations.”

Quite possibly, the Sweet Peppers brand may be the group’s most successful. 

In 1997, Bulldog Deli owner Robin Fant joined forces with the Bean family to form a partnership, along with Robert Fort, now the company’s chief financial officer, to open a New York-style delicatessen in Columbus.

It was the birth of Sweet Peppers Deli, a new concept on the deli theme, boasting a fun atmosphere, complete with galvanized metal, neon and, not surprisingly, a pair of garage doors.  The location in Columbus proved to be so successful that the group opened a second restaurant on Main Street in Tupelo.

The group then began to think about franchising Sweet Peppers in 2002, and two years later, Sweet Peppers restaurants opened in Hattiesburg and Cordova, Tenn.  Later, locations were opened in Starkville and Muscle Shoals, Ala., and then a second Hattiesburg Sweet Peppers was added in 2006. A Gulfport store opened for business last January.

Sweet Peppers now offers online ordering of its signature sandwiches and loaded potatoes.

“The technology that we use is probably the most advanced among restaurants in the state of Mississippi,” said Salazar.  “The use of outside resources, such as being a member of various national associations, has been tremendous to our growth.”

Despite a sluggish economy, Salazar said Eat With Us is still receiving inquiries  from individuals wishing to purchase a Sweet Peppers franchise.

“Just this morning I got an e-mail that was asking about it,” she said. “There’s a strong possibility that we’ll be opening more stores in 2010.”

 

By NASH NUNNERY I STAFF WRITER

 

nash.nunnery@msbusiness.com

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