NATCHEZ – No one wants to move forward with renovations to the Depot building on the Natchez Cliff more than Tate Taylor and John Norris.
The two and their partners have leased facilities from the town of Natchez and will open The Beti, a fine-dining restaurant, as well as several improvements on the property around the restaurant, including creating outdoor seating and a pavilion with views of the beautiful Mississippi River. .
However, the ongoing COVID pandemic, equipment shortages, labor shortages, and skyrocketing supply and construction prices have resulted in inevitable delays to the project, as with many projects across the country.
“We are about to start building the observation deck. People can expect construction to start in early spring,” Taylor said. “The pergola is being built in Italy now.”
Other parts of the project are waiting for equipment that is not available.
“Some of the restaurant equipment that we need isn’t even being manufactured right now. We have to wait for the kitchen equipment to be produced,” he said. “It will be the jewel of the Mississippi River, but this just takes longer than any of us wanted it to. But it’s going to happen.”
Taylor and his company hired renowned Natchez native chef and restaurateur Jay Yates late last year to be in charge of operations at The Little Easy, Smoot’s and eventually Church Hill Variety and The Beti. Staffing shortages caused problems with plans for everyone.
“We’re missing three more back-of-house staff and three more front-of-house servers at The Little Easy,” Taylor said. “Once we have the manpower, we plan to start doing dinners on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
Yates opened The Little Easy for night service from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
“We’re going to be offering great dinner specials every night. It will be like going to a restaurant in New York in the village, we’re just waiting for people,” Taylor said.
The positions available in restaurants are more than just jobs, Taylor said. These are opportunities to develop careers and apprenticeships with Yates, who has trained a number of chefs and other career restaurant workers along the way.
“He creates a very good culture. They’re having a great time and learning at the same time,” Taylor said. “Jay is currently teaching a young lady who has never cooked in a restaurant before. The great thing about this opportunity is that you get paid at the same time. How often do you get paid to learn?”
Taylor and his partners are building a covered pavilion outside The Little Easy, which will accommodate approximately 40 additional customers.
“It will be available for private events and larger tables, and we will have an additional bar outside. It will have a real and proper roof. But again, we are waiting for material,” he said.
The staff is all that’s holding up the opening of Church Hill Variety, another Taylor restaurant near his Church Hill home.
“It’s ready to go. We have the plates, the knives, the kitchen, but we don’t have the manpower to open it,” he said.
Smoot’s is doing well and will soon be offering plated lunches.
“You can get something a little fancier at The Little Easy, or walk a few doors and get a meat and three lunches,” Taylor said.
The Mississippi Mudbug Festival will be a two-night event this year and over $1 million will be spent on entertainment at bluff events this summer.
“Keep the faith. We swing big. As omicron begins to falter, the commitment has not given up. It only got stronger,” Taylor said.