August 7, 2020

There is a reason why they call it the best fried chicken in Mississippi

A step inside The Old Country Store in Lorman might as well be an entry into owner Arthur Davis’s own home.

Davis is chief cook, manager, hand shaker, singer and storyteller at the famous restaurant, and he loves every minute of it.

The store famous for fried chicken but complete with a large selection of knickknacks rests quietly from the outside, surrounded by just a handful of buildings that share its weathered and faded appearance.

Inside, it’s a different story. Towering double doors take hungry souls to their heaven.

The Old Country Store serves up an all-you-can-eat buffet of Southern staples, such as greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread.

The centerpiece of the buffet is most certainly Davis’s fried chicken, which was originally his grandmother’s recipe from his childhood days in Fort Pierce, Fla.

The crisp and flavorful focus of the restaurant is named on the placemats as “heavenly,” and Davis announces it to customers as the “best fried chicken in the world.”

After they’ve eaten, the customers agree.

“Seriously the best chicken I’ve ever had,” Natchez resident Fayla Guedon said. “The rest of the buffet is good, but the chicken is what you go for. It’s always cooked perfectly, crispy on the outside and deliciously juicy on the inside.”

Other guests agree with the chicken assessment; they come — and come back — from miles away.

And, whether it’s their first or 100th time, diners can count on a number of things, including the fact that those who visit will mostly likely not stay strangers for very long.

“I cherish the visit of each and every one of my guests,” Davis said. “People are coming from every walk of life, and we are getting busier and busier every day. I’m honored to represent my area, and to have people talking about me.”

What makes the experience of stopping at the store so worthwhile, Davis said, is the connection food brings to people.

Natchez resident Amy Marchbanks said her sons frequently request trips to the store for lunch. She doesn’t mind the drive.

“The food is of course amazing, but the whole experience is what draws people back,” she said. “You don’t know everybody, but everybody feels likes family.

“My boys love it for the famous fried chicken, that’s what they go for. It’s eat what you want and how much you want, and it feels like you are at your grandmother’s. There is more to it than just chicken. It feels like they cooked it with love.”

Cheryl Coffey began traveling to the Old Country Store from her home in north-central Arkansas when it was only open one day a week. Now, Coffey has started a mother-daughter trip to the Miss-Lou with her friends. She has been making the seven-hour journey once a year with her daughter, Erin Owens, for the past three years.

“It’s always been an area that when we want to slow down and sit on the river, it’s where we go,” Coffey said. “We think it’s good enough food where you can drive six or seven hours, and (the restaurant) creates a place that you want to be in.”

“We always make a point to come here,” Owens added. “It’s an awesome atmosphere, and the food is awesome. We can just sit and eat and enjoy each other.”

Davis purchased the restaurant in 1996, after a visit to see his sons at Alcorn State University. It was operating as a restaurant at the time, but was struggling and on the verge of closing, Davis said.

“I had always seen buildings like that in my travels, and so when I had to opportunity to buy it, I did,” he said.

Initially, Davis did little to remodel the 100-year-old building, but did start hosting parties once a week and serving food.

“One thing led to another, and it evolved into a buffet restaurant,” he said.

Prior to its restaurant days, the building was a post office and a mercantile.

Now, Davis has four employees. He handles most of the cooking himself, with help.

The menu is ever changing, based on Davis’s tastes for the day.

“We use whatever is available to us,” he said. “I decide based on the love of food and my appetite. I cook all this food for me, and I share it with all of my friends.”

When Davis is not in the kitchen, he can be found mingling with — and singing to — his guests.

“I can sit here and watch it like a movie,” Davis said. “Watching people eat the food, nothing could be more enlightening. That’s what keeps me getting up every morning. It truly leaves me speechless. I love my restaurant that much.”

Hundreds of business cards, layered and stapled to the edges of the store’s shelves attest that Davis’s customers love the restaurant too.

Davis said the business cards, along with the restaurant’s eight-volume guest book, serve as a reminder of the people who have come through.

“We have one of the greatest collections of names and numbers,” Davis said. “One time a guy wanted to buy (the book,) and I wouldn’t sell it. It attracts the customers. (The customers) see who’s coming.”

“We are blessed in every way,” he said. “To have some mediocre restaurant, I can do that, but it isn’t fair to the building. It deserves the best, and I work at making the restaurant among my best. I just enjoy what I do.”

The Old Country Store is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sundays through Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

From Natchez, take U.S. 61 North for approximately 30 miles. The restaurant is on the left just before the exit for Mississippi 552 West toward ASU.