Marketplace celebrates first year in business

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Their first year in business as proprietors of The Marketplace Caf has been all and more than Mike and Anna Byrne expected.

&uot;We’ve always wanted to do this kind of thing,&uot; said Anna, sitting in the spacious, open-air eatery on the corner of Main and Rankin streets.

Big fans whirred in the background, and faint aromas remained in the air from the appetizing luncheon menu of cold and grilled sandwiches, soups, salads and all the trimmings.

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From their original plan to operate only a coffee shop, the business grew, Mike said. &uot;We were going to have coffee and beignets. That was going to be it,&uot; he said. &uot;Then people began to ask us for new things. Some of our regular customers would say, ‘Mike, have you thought of that?’&uot;

The husband and wife were open to all the new ideas and willing to try them, especially because the customer base grew, and many patrons were regular six-days-a-week kinds of regulars.

So from the opening in June 2002 to today, the coffee shop has expanded to offer a lunch menu, and more expansions may come in the future, Mike said.

&uot;We have three groups who come every day, six days a week, maybe just to drink a cup of coffee, gossip and start out the day,&uot; he said. &uot;This was our first election period. It amazed me the number of politicians who came in.

&uot;I do see this place as evolving into a place where someone can get on a soapbox and speak their mind. I want it to be a community gathering place.&uot;

Anna agreed, emphasizing that the caf is family oriented, relaxed in atmosphere and welcoming to all people and all ages. &uot;We love it when the young people come,&uot; she said. &uot;It’s so comfortable. And you don’t have to dress up.&uot;

The Main Street Marketplace, operated through the Alcorn State University Extension Service, leases the space to the Byrnes. During the first year, there were times when doubts clouded their optimism about the business.

&uot;That first summer was so slow,&uot; Anna said. &uot;But it really was good that it worked out that way.&uot;

Mike said the slow first months gave them an opportunity to move carefully into a business very new to them.

&uot;We both love food and love to meet people. We went slow. Our good loyal patients were so patient with us,&uot; he said.

Mike worked as controller at Monmouth Plantation when the opportunity arose to open the caf.

&uot;Regina Charboneau and I worked together at Monmouth. One day she asked if I knew anyone who might like to open a little coffee house,&uot; Mike said. Charboneau has been a leader in organizing and pushing the marketplace and activities there.

&uot;I told her that as a matter of fact, I did. Anna and I had talked about that very thing.&uot;

Anna, a hairdresser, continues to see customers at The Mane Event three days a week. However, the caf keeps her busy, as her forte is organizing the kitchen.

&uot;I’ve worked for 27 years at Cathedral School at the concession stands during football season,&uot; she said, explaining how that experience taught her about planning and organizing all the little things that go along with running a kitchen.

Mike does the grilling at the caf but has another cook on staff, also. Another employee taking orders at the counter rounds out the staff.

The Marketplace Caf is open Tuesday through Sunday, beginning to serve breakfast at 7 a.m. and closing after lunch at 3 p.m.

On Saturdays and Sundays, live music provides entertainment for caf patrons.

Sunday hours end at noon, and only breakfast foods are served on that day. Breakfast choices grew from coffee and beignets to include choices such as

sumptuous breakfast platters with eggs, sausage, bacon and grits; biscuits with cheese, meat or egg; or French toast platters.

Sometime in the future, the Byrnes hope to remodel the kitchen, enlarge it to accommodate the expanded menu they envision.

They will move slowly, however. &uot;The first year is the first hurdle,&uot; Mike said. &uot;Five years is the next hurdle. We’re far enough into it that we know we can make it.&uot;