New barbecue restaurant opens in Natchez

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 5, 2009

NATCHEZ — Leslie Floyd has been awake for nearly 18 hours. He is tired, his feet hurt and he nearly fell asleep in the bathtub.

But even the brown paper towels on the table can’t wipe the grin off his face.

No, the paper towels aren’t good at wiping off expressions, but Floyd said they do a good job at wiping away excess homemade barbecue sauce at Sugar Man’s Smoke House and BBQ on John R. Junkin Drive in Natchez.

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Floyd said the long days and nights and aching feet are a price he is willing to pay to put food on someone else’s table.

“I just love this. Cooking is my passion,” Floyd said. “I’ve always wanted to open a barbecue restaurant, and now I have.”

The restaurant opened on Wednesday and has seen a constant stream of business since that first day, Floyd said.

“We open at 10:30 and by a quarter until 11 we are slammed,” Floyd said as he left the table to wait on another customer. “And it doesn’t stop for the rest of the day.”

Floyd owns the restaurant with his wife Brenda. And both said they never batted an eye when the idea of opening a barbecue joint was first discussed.

The menu includes beef brisket, chopped pork, chicken and beef, smoked sausage and chicken and ribs.

They also have steak nights on Friday nights that feature a steak, that Leslie marinades for at least 24 hours, baked potato and a green salad.

Brenda said the ribs have been flying out the door like “pigs with wings.”

“We’ve sold 14 cases of ribs in just the first three days,” she said.

The restaurant specializes in smoked and barbecued foods and Leslie prides himself on sticking to what he knows.

“There is no fried food on this menu,” he said. “That’s a different kind of restaurant. We’re fast but we aren’t fast food.”

And the couple doesn’t want to stop with just lunch and dinner. They also want to grow their business to include catering and hosting private parties on the restaurant’s patio.

“I don’t care what size — small or large — if you give me enough notice, I can do it,” Leslie said.

Brenda said her newlywed husband, the couple married in November, has always been a whiz in the kitchen and his transition from home cook to restaurant cook has been seamless.

“Since we got married and before we opened here, I don’t think I cooked a meal,” Brenda said. “And now that we have this, neither one of us have time to cook.”

On top of the grueling restaurant schedule, both Brenda and Leslie work full time jobs. Brenda works locally and Leslie is a project manager in the oil and gas business. His professional life used to keep him on the road for weeks at a time, but now that the smoker fired up full time behind Sugar Man’s, he’s finding ways to spend more time in Natchez.

The building the Floyds are renting to house Sugar Man’s is in a prime location, Leslie said. But the building needed a little sprucing up before it was ready to a restaurant.

And Leslie, because he wanted to be involved in every step, flew home from work in Pennsylvania each weekend to supervise, and do, the construction work at the business.

“My wife took care of the business and getting everything organized during the week, and I came in on weekends and got to work,” Leslie said.

He has even taken a three-month leave from his job to see first hand that the restaurant runs smoothly. Smoothly and quickly, Leslie said.

“As soon as I have a ticket, I’m working on the order,” he said. “Even before they have paid sometimes, they will have food in their hands.”

And finally fulfilling, his dream of opening a restaurant, has Leslie thinking twice about what his “real job” should be. He said after being in Sugar Man’s every day, he’s looking for a way to transition from full time in the oil business to full time in the restaurant.

He said semi-retirement from his normal Monday to Friday job sounds like a good idea even though he could easily work 80 hours a week in the restaurant.

“When I’m here this is happy,” Leslie said. “Even though I’m tired and my feet hurt, I still love it.”

Brenda said it is Leslie’s dedication that sets their food apart.

“The owner is the cook,” she said. “He’s up here doing it himself. He knows what it should be like and he does that.”