Church Hill Variety to operate restaurant out of old depot

Published 2:05 pm Tuesday, December 10, 2019

NATCHEZ — Natchez officials accepted a proposal for a new restaurant at the former Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Depot at 200 N. Broadway St. from Church Hill Variety LLC during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Church Hill Variety spokesman, Thor Juell said last month that the depot could become part of a developing restaurant chain created through a partnership between Jackson chef Nick Wallace and local film producers Tate Taylor and John Norris — whose projects include such films as “The Help,” “Get on Up” and “Ma.”

Juell said the Broadway Street restaurant would present a farm-to-table dining experience — with fresh ingredients produced on a farm near Taylor’s home in Church Hill.

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Wallace, a Mississippi native, served as executive chef at the Palette Café for the Mississippi Museum of Art from 2013 through 2017 before launching his own culinary business and he was featured on the Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Chopped.”

“I’ve had the opportunity to visit Natchez before and when I saw first saw the old depot my first thought was of the tourists,” Wallace said. “It needs to be a tourist landmark that people want to come to. Regardless of whatever concept we use, the focus of the place would be to celebrate Natchez with high-level service and high-level food. That is how I see the place because it’s a gem. It’s right next to the river and it’s a focal point for the city.”

Wallace said the restaurant would be one that encourages diversity and welcomes everyone.

“With anything that I touch or do in Natchez, the one thing I want to focus on is bringing people together,” Wallace said.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to accept the proposal from Church Hill Variety during Tuesday’s meeting.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell later said city officials would meet with Church Hill Variety in January to negotiate the terms of the lease. The RFP suggests the lease be approximately $36,000 per year with up to $300,000 credited back to the lessee in exchange for any capital improvements made to the facility.

Church Hill Variety submitted one of two proposals received by the city’s Nov. 1 deadline, the other being a satellite venue for the Natchez Convention Center proposed by Warren Reuther Jr. of New Orleans Hotels and Consultants LLC.

Both proposals were evaluated and scored by a committee of six members, including aldermen Dan Dillard and Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, City Planning and Zoning Director Rico Giani, Kejuan Hawkins and Darby Short with Phil Walker of The Walker Collaborative serving as committee chairman.

The committee graded the proposals based on five different criteria outlined in an RFP that had been approved and released by city officials in July, Walker said.

These criteria included a concept and theme for the venue, proposed lease terms, qualifications, financial strength and a timeline for the renovation and reopening of the depot — with the concept being the most weighted, Walker said.

Out of 130 possible points, New Orleans Consultants scored 69 points and Church Hill Variety scored 82 points, Walker said.

While Reuther scored highest for the qualifications and timeline outlined in his proposal, Church Hill Variety toppled his score with their design concept and proposed lease terms, which coincided with the city’s planned use for the facility.

“Their proposal was the most consistent with the RFP and the master plan and provided an active use as a dining venue as opposed to a meeting space,” Walker said during Tuesday’s meeting.