Soul Sessions Podcast: Tyler Alford & Eudora's
Eudora's Mississippi Brasserie operating partner, Tyler Alford, explores the origins of his unapologetically fine dining establishment.
And, Tyler gives us a background on where he's been and the experience he's bringing to the City with Soul's culinary landscape.
Note: Soul Sessions is produced as a podcast first and designed to be listened to. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes the emotion and inflection meant to be conveyed by human voice. Our transcripts are created using human transcribers, but may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
When Fine & Dandy closed at The District at Eastover, the Jackson dining scene was left with a void. Fortunately for all of you foodies, a new concept is ready to serve Mississippi-rooted southern cuisine with a French influence. Hey, it's Paul Wolf, with a front row seat to conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. We call our podcast Soul Sessions. It's the people, places, and events that make the City with Soul shine. Today, Eudora's Mississippi Brasserie operating partner, Tyler Alford, explores the origins of his unapologetically fine dining establishment and gives us a background on where he's been and the experience he's bringing to the City with Soul's culinary landscape. And they've hit the ground running
Yeah. And we are currently in our soft opening phase. We did friends and family, and then we opened the doors on Sunday, just kind of very quietly started taking reservations, but it's kind of been building and building. And we definitely feel that by November 15th, it's going to be pretty hard to get a table. It's been a long time coming. This is my first restaurant that I've been a proprietor for. And having worked for a lot of other people in my past and had the opportunity to make mistakes, been exciting to really avoid some of those mistakes and learn new ones as well.
A lot of times when we see someone opening a restaurant here, we usually know the name: "Oh, that's so-and-so. They've been in Jackson forever." You came seemingly out of nowhere. You have Mississippi ties, you went to Millsaps, but what brought you back?
I'm actually from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It's where I grew up. My dad is from the Delta. He grew up in Greenwood, went to Greenwood High. His brother, Tim Alford, fairly well-known doctor. He lives in Kosciusko. I attended Millsaps; as far as going to class, my GPA would argue otherwise. My favorite class was actually Southern Autobiography, taught by Suzanne Mars, the Eudora Welty scholar. But I did play football for a couple of seasons. And as I was explaining to somebody recently, kind of start to step into adulthood, some places just feel more comfortable to you and you're just like, "Oh, this is my kind of scene. It's my kind of pace." Jackson has always been that way for me. I've always felt that I've had a really close connection to Jackson, the people here. And knowing what was going on here, it was a lot easier for us to make that decision and know we had a built-in network and know that we had a place that we could be comfortable in.
That's fair. Family, familiarity, it all makes you comfortable. It's the people, right? The City With Soul, it is our people. Your pedigree precedes you. We would say, "This guy, he's experienced success." Give me a brief bio of where you've been and what you've done.
When I left Millsaps, I got into bartending to pay the bills. And I would say my first real kick in the teeth was bartending at The Cheesecake Factory in Durham. From there, I was out in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where I got my first little management position at a little Four Diamond restaurant called the Wild Sage restaurant at The Rusty Parrot Lodge, and had a really great mentor there, Ron Harrison, who taught me a lot about management as well as a lot about not being such a jerk. He literally sat me down one day and said, "You have to stop being an a-hole," and I was like, "Okay, that's a good step. I like that."
Then from there, I got offered a job at Commander's Palace restaurant in New Orleans. We had gone down for Jazz Fest and I decided I wanted to do some interviews just to kind of stay fresh. Kind of knew a little bit about the history of the restaurant, but not enough to really ... especially at this point in my career, not nearly enough. I didn't really want the job, so of course they offered it to me. I turned it down originally. And then my friend, Ben Cannon, he told me, he's like, "You have to take that job." He's like, "That is such an amazing opportunity. If your career's in food and beverage, you got to go." Then I ended up getting down there. I went from ... I think it was eight tables by the time I left Jackson Hole, Wyoming to, what, 150, 160 table restaurant in New Orleans. And I was holding on for dear lives. I mean, I call it the Harvard Business School of restaurateuring, because you're literally just thrown in, and you learn so much, so fast.
And then after that, we started looking where we wanted to start a family, and there was an opportunity in Asheville, North Carolina, closer to where I had family. And I took a beverage director position with Tupelo Honey. When the pandemic hit, we took stock of things. And I was spending probably 180 days a year in a hotel room, had a three-year-old at home, three, four-year-old at home. So we had an opportunity to make a change. So Tupelo went one direction and I went the other, and our direction was west.
We sold our home and we bought a tiny home on wheels. And we bounced around the upper West Coast and in Victor, Idaho and Jackson Hole area for about six months. So we kind of parked up in the redwoods. After a while, we realized we needed to stop traveling that way, and I got a job with a group in Bozeman called Okay Cool Group. It was eight locations, seven concepts. And the plan was to open more of the Copper brand, the Copper concept. Turned around one day and realized that I was running two restaurants for somebody else in a town that is great, we love Bozeman, but not one that we felt was going to be a long-term home for us.
And so we came down here for New Year's to visit with family. I got a tour of the space of the district. On the drive home from Mississippi to Bozeman, I wrote an LOI and a menu and I submitted it the moment we got back to Bozeman, to Ted and Breck and that team. And then they called me up probably a week later and I flew down and we talked about space, went to lunch. And then after that, we're off to the races.
Let's talk about the brand you've created. It is familiar, but it's a little different maybe than anything we've seen in Jackson.
A little bit. It is different from some of the businesses and restaurants you see here in Jackson, but it's not very different from what I've been doing or what a lot of my teammates have been doing in our career, as far as high beverage penetration, craft cocktails associated with scratch kitchen and Southern-influenced fine dining in that way. How you present it to the guests and the approachability factor, that's really where restaurants are finding success or not finding success.
And I think for us, as far as trying to create a hospitable environment driven by community, driven by inclusiveness in our restaurant, transitioning to Jackson and saying, "Okay, this is a market that was going to respect this and desired this." And I checked through this morning; we've had 40 consecutive five-star reviews since we've started. And this community's just really been supportive. Everywhere I go, folks are like, "This is the Eudora's guy." And they're like, "Oh, my God." One thing we've heard is, "Thank you. Thank you for coming to Jackson." And that was weird for me at first, I'll be honest. "Thank you for coming to Jackson." I'm just trying to open a restaurant. I haven't even made you a martini yet.
Obvious to those of us who know our native daughter, Eudora Welty, you chose to recognize her in naming the establishment.
It is a tip of the hat towards Eudora Welty, and in our vision, represents some of the romantic classicism that is Jackson. We've had really wonderful conversations with the foundation and the family estate, and are ensuring that we're not treading on any rights reserved or anything associated with the foundation that could be difficult for them. But the name does harken to a very specific style, honestly. We have a beautiful gardens set up throughout the outdoor patio. The inside is very lush and bright. There's a big room just with mirrored painted camellias, is this entire camellia room space. But we also just wanted to tip the hat towards this restaurant being Jackson's.
In addition, Ms. Welty was a phenomenal philanthropist, is very much a community-driven person, seeking to ensure that everyone had access to literacy and that everyone had access to the ability to learn and read and grow that way. And we've really built our company and our restaurant to be similar in our efforts towards the fair living wage commitment that we have, as well as having that inclusive approach to the community, ensuring that everyone has the ability to make an income to support themselves and their family.
Tyler, you mentioned earlier the thank yous that you're already receiving, and it's been a genuine welcome. What do you think is behind that level of gratitude?
I think some folks here are just excited to see that there is new investment, that there is something new and interesting coming. I think Jackson's held a little bit of a chip on its shoulder with all the water and politics things that have always been prevalent here. But I think now you're starting to see this modern movement of business growth and success, and you're starting to see some of these mid-level and smaller corporate units coming in, which I think is going to be great for Jackson. I think the more of that that's happening and the more folks that are interested in being a part of that, the better.
My thanks to Tyler Alford, the operating partner for Eudora's Mississippi Brasserie at The District. We didn't really talk specifics on food or cocktails, and that's because the menu, Southern-rooted cuisine with a French influence, very New Orleans seafood heavy too, will change as the seasons do. So make sure you hit their website, eudoras.com, for the freshest selections.
Soul Sessions is produced by Visit Jackson, the destination organization for Mississippi's Capital City. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettus and Dr. Rickey Thigpen, and I'm our managing editor. You want to know more about the work we do, more about our mission? You can log on and find that information at visitjackson.com. I'm Paul Wolf, and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.