Local restaurant, bed and breakfast earn accolades

Published 12:06 am Sunday, February 9, 2014

BRITTNEY LOHMILLER/The Natchez Democrat — Tori Martin, left, helps her mother Lorna Martin run Mammy’s Cupboard. The restaurant was featured in the latest issue of Travel and Leisure magazine on their list of the strangest restaurants in America.

Tori Martin, left, helps her mother Lorna Martin run Mammy’s Cupboard. The restaurant was featured in the latest issue of Travel and Leisure magazine on their list of the strangest restaurants in America.

NATCHEZ — Two Natchez businesses are topping national and international lists — one for customers’ unique experiences inside and one for the unique experience customers have outside.

Mammy’s Cupboard is no stranger to international guests, some who travel to the South simply to snap a picture of the outside of the building.

Mammy’s Cupboard, the restaurant on U.S. 61 South built inside a 28-foot tall woman’s skirt, was featured in the latest issue of Travel and Leisure magazine on their list of America’s strangest restaurants.

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Mammy’s owner and operator Lorna Martin said she had no idea the restaurant had been selected until she received an email from the magazine.

“We’ve made a few lists in the past, but being called the strangest restaurant was a first,” Martin said. “I had to read it a few times just to make sure I knew what they were saying.”

Martin began working at Mammy’s in 2001 and took over as owner in 2012, but made sure not to make any drastic changes to the tried-and-true establishment.

A sign hanging on the wall visible from the entrance to the restaurant sums up Martin’s philosophy on what’s kept Mammy’s customers happy over the years.

“Tourists treated same as home folks,” Martin said, reading the sign. “We treat everybody just like they were part of the family.”

In her 13 years at the restaurant, Martin said she’s encountered more tourists than she can count who venture to Natchez just to get a glimpse of Mammy.

From an Oklahoma family with shirts labeled “Mammy’s or Bust” to European travelers stopping on their way to New Orleans, Martin said she welcomes them all inside after they’ve had their time with Mammy.

“They come to see the building, and then we complete their experience when they see how good the food is inside,” Martin said. “It gives us a sense of pride to know that she’s known throughout the world and that it’s something other people enjoy.”

Being included in a list of top 25 bed and breakfast locations in the United States was an honor for Douglas Mauro and Donald McGlynn, the owners of Historic Oak Hill Inn.

But being No. 1 on the list atop houses in California, New Hampshire and Vermont was a complete surprise.

“Those are places known for their B&B’s and here we are in Natchez, Mississippi, on the top of the list,” Mauro said. “We were just hoping to be in the top 10.”

The Natchez house was listed as the nationwide winner of the B&B category in the Travelers’ Choice awards, which is based on public reviews and comments posted on the website, TripAdvisor.

The site relies solely on reviews and rankings from travelers and operates in 34 countries worldwide.

In another list ranking the world’s top B&B’s, Historic Oak Hill Inn ranked No. 3 — just below two houses in the United Kingdom.

“That was also a surprise to be on a list that includes castles and some other amazing places,” McGlynn said. “It’s a real honor for us, and I think it reflects a lot of the hard work we put in here.”

That work begins as soon as guests walk through the doors of the house built in 1835, where the New Jersey native owners immediately offer up a taste of Southern culture.

“Right when they walk in, we offer them either a mint julep, iced tea or lemonade,” Mauro said. “They get a tour of the house, and then we’ll tell them all about Natchez.

“It’s all about making sure they feel welcome and at home.”

A restaurant guide, map of the city and other information on popular attractions around town are offered up even before guests unpack.

The guests can grab a homemade chocolate chip cookie, always available on the kitchen counter, before heading to one of the house’s three rooms.

Those small touches, as well as the 10 different home-cooked breakfasts offered throughout the week, are what Mauro said keeps guests feeling at home.

“We try to make it a whole event for the guests,” he said. “We want them to have a good experience because the main objective is for them to come back or send someone else back.”

But the real benefit and honor of ranking so high on the list, McGlynn said, is the possibility of helping promote Natchez.

“I think it helps put Natchez on the map,” he said. “It’s great advertising for us, but we’re hoping it will really do a lot for Natchez, as well, if people are seeing this and coming here because of that.”

In the last four years since the owners found out about the website, Mauro said many guests have ventured to the house simply because of the positive reviews.

On the website, 465 people have reviewed the hotel with 462 of those people rating it as the top choice of “Excellent.”

In 2012, the house was listed as No. 14 on the website’s list of top B&B’s in the United States.

“It’s amazing how many people come to Natchez from all over the world,” Mauro said. “And a lot of them know us just from that website.”

Other guests of the house, like three girls from Australia who visited the house recently, hear about it simply through word of mouth.

“We asked them if they had heard of the house through TripAdvisor, and they told us they were sitting in a bar in Sydney when someone overheard they were planning a trip to New Orleans,” McGlynn said. “Whoever heard their conversation apparently told them they had to stop in Natchez, and if they did, they had to stop at Oak Hill.

“It’s kind of funny to think people are talking about you on the other side of the world.”