Parks infuses Magnolia Grill with new energy

Published 12:08 am Sunday, February 14, 2010

NATCHEZ — The new face in charge at Magnolia Grill isn’t an unfamiliar one.

John Parks recently purchased the Under-the-Hill restaurant from Pat McDaniel. Parks worked as a waiter at Magnolia Grill soon after the restaurant opened 20 years ago.

“Pat McDaniel is the person who got me started in the restaurant business,” Parks said. “Even before working for him here, he hired me at Natchez Landing when he was managing that.

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“He got me started in the restaurant business, so coming back here is just a good fit.”

Parks said approximately two years ago he started hearing talk about McDaniel being interested in selling the restaurant. From that time, Parks said it was hard to shake the thought of buying the place he had loved for so long.

“This is the only restaurant I would ever have thought about buying,” he said. “Everything just fit.”

Parks said he was enjoying a family meal at the restaurant and McDaniel came to his table to greet the Parks family.

“I asked him if he was really thinking about selling the restaurant,” Parks said. “He told me to give him a call, and we struck a deal almost immediately. It was like it was fated for me to have this place.

“Pat said it was just time for someone new. He said the restaurant needed some new blood.”

Restaurant ownership has opened up a new set of challenges for Parks, but he said with all the challenges come a new sense of accomplishment. He enjoys having paperwork to take home and waking up in the morning and heading to restaurant.

“When the restaurant is yours, everything you do is personal,” he said. “That means the decisions I make at the end of the day effect me and my family and staff and the community. It is a lot of responsibility, but it has been a lot of fun too. I get up in the morning and come to work with a smile on my face.”

The biggest downfall of owning Magnolia Grill,0 Parks said, is eating the food on an almost daily basis. He said personally he is a fan of the burgers and said “the grilled catfish sandwich is the best sandwich in town.”

“The only negative thing about owning this place is the weight I’ve put on,” Parks joked.

Magnolia Grill is the first restaurant Parks has owned, but he has worked in different capacities on kitchen staffs and in management positions at a variety of restaurants locally. He said he is applying that experience to an already well-respected restaurant.

“This place has been open for 20 years, and for a restaurant to make it 20 years is a big deal,” he said. “We have people that come in three times a week, so I know the restaurant is well liked. I just want to enhance what people already liked about Magnolia Grill.”

That means there will be a few small changes, but nothing that “takes the feel away” from the restaurant.

“We are just adding to what people liked,” he said. “We are going to have more fresh fish and continue using the top-of-the-line ingredients. Anything we change or add will be small and made slowly.

“What we want to do is keep the same family-friendly environment, but make it quicker to enjoy that family meal here.”

Parks said he considered McDaniel one of his mentors in the restaurant business and hasn’t hesitated to ask questions when they come up.

“He made this place what it is,” Parks said. “He told me he’d help me in anyway he can. He even said if I was short a cook, he’d come up here and cook.

“He has left me hard shoes to fill.”

Magnolia Grill is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It is closed on Mondays except during Spring Pilgrimage.