From fine-dining to meat-and-three, director of Oscar-winning ‘The Help’ committed to 4 Mississippi restaurants

Published 5:44 am Sunday, February 13, 2022

No one wants to move forward with renovations at the Depot building on the Natchez bluff more than Tate Taylor and John Norris.

The two and their partners have leased the facility from the City of Natchez and will open The Beti, a fine dining restaurant, as well as make 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, manpower shortages and skyrocketing supply and construction prices have created unavoidable delays in the project, just as it has with so many projects around the country.

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“We are about to begin building the overlook deck. People can expect to see that construction start in early spring,” Taylor said. “The pergola is being built in Italy now.”

Other parts of the project await equipment that is not available.

“Some of the restaurant equipment we need is not even being made right now. We have to wait on the production of the kitchen equipment,” he said. “It will be the jewel on the Mississippi River, but it’s simply taking longer than any of us wanted. But it is going to happen.”

The director of such films as “The Help” which was nominated for best picture in 2012 and won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Taylor and his company late last year hired Natchez native and renowned chef and restaurateur Jay Yates to be in charge of operations at The Little Easy, Smoot’s and eventually Church Hill Variety and The Beti. Shortages in staffing have caused issues with plans for each.

“We are short three more employees in the back of the house and three more waiters for the front of the house 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 nighttime service from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

“We are going to offer great dinner specials each night. It will be like going to a restaurant in New York in the village, we are just waiting on people,” Taylor said.

The positions available at the restaurants are more than simply jobs, Taylor said. They are opportunities to develop careers and apprentice with Yates, who has trained a number of chefs and other career restaurant staffers along the way.

“He is creating a very good culture. They are having a great time and are learning at the same time,” Taylor said. “Jay is teaching a young lady right now who has never cooked in a restaurant before. The cool thing about this opportunity is you get paid at the same time. How often do you get paid to learn?”

Taylor and partners are constructing a covered pavilion outside The Little Easy, which will seat about 40 more customers.

“It will be available for private events and larger tables, and we will have an additional bar outside. It will have an actual, proper roof. But again, we are waiting on materials,” he said.

Staffing is all that is holding up the opening of Church Hill Variety, another restaurant of Taylor’s near his home in Church Hill.

“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 offer plate lunches.

“You will be able to get something a little fancier at The Little Easy, or walk a few doors down and get a meat and three lunch,” Taylor said.

The Mississippi Mudbug Festival will be a two-night event this year and more than $1 million will be spent on entertainment during events on the bluff this summer.

“Keep the faith. We are swinging big. As omicron starts to fizzle away, the commitment has not waivered. It has only strengthened,” Taylor said.