New food service venture takes off for Natchez cooks
That’s how long it took for new Natchez phenom, Sissy and The Continental Cook, to sell out of its weekly offerings on Friday morning.
Sissy and The Continental Cook are Sissy Crawford Eidt Browning and Bryant “Wayne” MacLaurin Canon. The pair has been connected as long as Wayne has been alive. Sissy and her first husband, Henry Eidt, were fast friends with Wayne’s mother and father, Ronnie and Eugenia “Mac” McLaurin Bryant. Wayne grew up with Sissy’s children and was like one of her own.
A long line of good cooks
Sissy has been catering in Natchez for more than 50 years and is much sought after. She is considered one of the finest cooks in the area.
Trained as a nurse — a graduate of St. Dominic’s nursing school in Jackson — Sissy took up catering after having her fourth child.
“Not many people wanted to keep four children. We didn’t have day cares like we have today,” Sissy said.
Sissy grew up around good food and learned to cook watching and helping her Italian mother. A friend, Angeline Hickson, who catered in Natchez “for a long time,” suggested Sissy take it up.
“I come from a lot of good cooks. My grandmother and mother were Italian and I grew up helping cook for large gatherings. It was nothing for us to have 40 people at a meal. That’s what it’s like when you come from an Italian kitchen.
“My father was raised on fried chicken, rice and gravy and green peas,” she said. “So on Sundays my mother made fried chicken, rice and gravy, green peas and spaghetti and meatballs.”
Growing up in Natchez, Wayne has also been around good food and involved with preparing good food all of his life.
“I started working for John Martin Terranova. He hired me when he was the chef at the restaurant Under The Hill where The Camp is located now. John Martin put me in the front of the house to handle things while he was in the kitchen,” he said. “The restaurant was a roaring success.”
Terranova became the executive chef at Dunleith, and took Wayne with him. Terranova died in 2002 at the age of 40 following complications from surgery.
Wayne continued to work around food and in retail until marrying the love of his life, Bob Canon, and “was forced into retirement.” After Canon died in 2015, Wayne and his standard poodle, Tallulah, took off in his beloved GMC Motorcoach and traveled the country.
“I visited every state, every capital, every presidential library,” he said.
Wayne landed back in Natchez about a year ago, and out of boredom after COVID-19 struck, he started cooking and offering dishes to friends.
A surprising success
Neither Sissy nor Wayne expected their business, which offers typically an entree, soup, salad and dessert each week — many sized to feed a family — to take off with the lightning speed that it has.
Sissy and The Continental Cook releases its menu for the following week each Friday at noon on Facebook to a group that is almost 1,000 members strong.
Customers technically have until Monday at 5 p.m. to place their orders, which are delivered for a small fee or available for pick up on Thursdays from noon to 5 p.m. However, menus have been selling out within a matter of hours.
“I started off with eight customers, then 15 customers and now we are selling out every week,” Wayne said. “Getting orders in before we sell out has turned into a sort of competition.”
“One lady told us she was going to take off work on Fridays so she doesn’t miss it,” Sissy said.
Despite the demand for their dishes, the two have no plans for growing their business beyond what they are offering now.
“Because of quality control, we have no intention of expanding. We will not become a factory. We will not have a storefront with employees who come to a counter to give you your food,” Wayne said.
“That would take away the charm,” Sissy said.
“The personal touch is what makes this work,” he said.
The menus Sissy and Wayne create are many times based on legendary Natchez dishes, like the curried chicken salad once served at the former Natchez restaurant, The Annex. Many are recipes Sissy has become famous for, such as her artichoke, chicken and wild rice casserole.
Wayne’s specialties are the desserts, which are earning rave reviews, like his banana caramel pie or the homemade, Frisbee-sized oatmeal cookies.
“What I appreciate most about what we are doing is getting to see and renew the old connections between us,” Wayne said. “I may have heard our customers’ names before, but I now know who they are.”
He said he is enjoying visiting with so many who knew and were friends with his parents. “It’s almost like having mama here again.”