“There weren’t a whole lot of bars and restaurants around the square, but there was clearly a need, and so we dove in at a time when real estate was relatively inexpensive and folks needed something and wanted something,” he says. “People responded to us nicely, and we tried to create food that I knew people would respond to, techniques that were simple but the people loved, and to not shock anybody with flavor and ingredient combinations that they weren’t familiar with.”
Currence and the City Grocery staff focused on flawless preparations of simple dishes, such as roasted chicken, crab cakes, and fresh pasta. He says it helped the restaurant build trust with the local clientele.
In 1998, Currence was the recipient of both Restaurateur of the Year and Chef of the Year awards from the Mississippi Restaurant Association. In 2006, he received the Southern Foodways Alliance Guardian of Tradition award, and he was awarded the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef in the South in 2009.
Of course, consumer opinion of dining has largely changed in the last 26 years, as fast-casual restaurants have eaten into the full-service business and renowned chefs are exploring new opportunities, formats, and dayparts. Currence is no exception, adapting his concepts to a changing market and exploring an underserved mealtime with Big Bad Breakfast. And he’s doing it through franchising, once unheard of in the chef world.
“About a decade ago, we quit doing these eight-course single-seating meals in the restaurant with wine tastings because, for the most part, people don’t want to eat like that anymore,” he says. “If we do a five-course dinner with four small savory courses and a dessert, which 20 years ago would be laughed at as far as a tasting menu goes, that’s a long-format dinner for us.”