Downtown staple closes its doors

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 7, 2008

A staple of the downtown community shut its many doors a little over a month ago.

The Marketplace Café, nestled in the heart of downtown, was the brainchild of Mike Byrne and his family.

His son, Eric Byrne, said Mike Byrne’s passion for making beignets led him to want to open a restaurant.

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And in the summer of 2002, Mike Byrne’s dream came true as patrons streamed in for beignets and specialty coffee.

“It was the only place in town where you could get specialty coffee,” Eric Byrne said.

From there, the menu grew and transformed until a full breakfast and lunch menu were added.

But it’s not the food served that is important to the Byrne family.

It’s the memories made there and the service to the community the establishment provided.

“Everyone came,” the family’s matriarch Anna Byrne said.

She said it didn’t matter age, race or religion — the community found a home in the Marketplace.

It was a place where people could come, relax and be themselves.

“You didn’t have to dress up,” Anna Byrne said of the casual atmosphere.

That is what the Byrne family was aiming for in the establishment of the restaurant.

But it was also a safe haven.

During Hurricane Katrina, when Natchez was laden with refugees, Anna Byrne said the restaurant was a place of respite.

“Everybody would come and they would stay all day, even into the night. It was a place where refugees could come,” she said.

The restaurant would crank out food, show the news constantly on its big screen TV and it even had a kids’ corner set up.

“The parents, they were worried to death, so we took the burden off of them for a little while,” she said.

Anna Byrne said some of her best memories come from being able to help New Orleans evacuees.

“I might not have been able to go there and do something, but I helped them feel a little comfort,” she said.

Eric Byrne said he feels like the service they provided will be carried with the refugees for a long time.

“Wherever they are now, they’ll be thinking about Natchez,” he said.

Truly a family-run business, things came to a halt in May.

Mike Byrne suffered a stroke and an aortic aneurysm. He was hospitalized in Alexandria, La.

A month later, he died.

Anna Byrne said without Mike Byrne, the business had lost it’s soul.

“It wasn’t fun anymore,” she said.

What had once been a business bursting with fun and family, had just turned into a job.

The Byrnes made the decision to close the doors at the end of the year.

However, a plumbing problem expedited the closing date, and on Nov. 1, the Marketplace ceased its operations.

Anna Byrne said with the restaurant now closed, people aren’t quite sure what to do.

“People are lost,” she said. “The regulars — there’s a lost feeling to them.”

Now, the Byrnes are left to shut down the restaurant, pack up the memories and move on.

“It’s very hard for us to go up there, everything has a memory,” she said.