Family-Owned Restaurants Thrive in Downtown Tupelo, MS

Two local families with a long-term commitment to Tupelo are the force behind several downtown dining options.

By Laura Hill on Wed, 10/24/2012 - 15:31

A few years back, John Robbins was in downtown Tupelo on a hot summer day and needed a bottle of cold water. Not an option at the time, it turned out, but his thirst inspired what was to become a local icon.

From that early search for a cold drink, Robbins came up with the idea of a convenience store that could provide necessities for folks in the city’s downtown – and Papa V’s Deli was born.

“There was a service there that was needed,” says Robbins, who now owns two Papa V’s in Tupelo and a third in Verona, and is opening a new Mugshots Bar & Grill in Fairpark in early 2013. “The businesses I have now I have looked at in terms of providing a community service. That’s how I see it.”

A Special Feeling for the Community

That kind of commitment and closeness to a community are something local business owners have a special feel for, says Tupelo resident Bernard Bean. Bean's family business operates 14 company-owned restaurants and 11 franchised restaurants under the Harveys, the Grill, Park Heights, Bulldog Deli, Sweet Peppers and Sweet Peppers Express brands.

“Family-owned businesses not only have a financial interest in a small town, but they have cultural and social interests,” Bean says. “They see their customers not only as a means to an end financially, but as partners in the community. They understand that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’”

Family History

Bean’s Eat With Us company was launched in 1982, when Myrrl Bean, her son John Bean and a partner, Harvey Seifert, opened their first Harveys in Starkville, Miss. In 1989, having expanded into Columbus, the company asked son Bernard Bean to open and manage a Harveys in Tupelo. In 1999 the partnership opened the first of two Sweet Peppers delis in Tupelo, in 2000 daughter Blair Bean Hughes came home from Washington to open Park Heights in town, and Fairpark Grill opened in 2007. The company has grown steadily over time and now includes locations in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.

Robbins and his brother Ben shepherd a family business founded in Tupelo by their grandfather, Vardaman Robbins, in 1938. Papa V, as he was known locally, started his gasoline distribution business downtown, where the Renasant Center for Ideas now stands, expanding into retail operations in 1992 and, in 1997, the convenience store/deli business.

The Robbins’ new Mugshots Grill in Fairpark, remarkably enough, will be located just across the street from where Robbins Oil began. It will seat 225-250 diners and another 100 people outdoors on a covered porch.

Lots of Opportunity Here

The food, Robbins says, might be called “gourmet burgers,” with menu items that include fish, salads, sandwiches and other entrees, as well as a large selection of craft and imported beers. The building, though new, will be designed to “look like it’s been there 100 years.”

“We’re just coming back home, I guess,” says Robbins, who is high on Tupelo’s future. “We’re committed to the downtown area and want to see it survive and grow. There is a lot of opportunity here and we’re tickled to be a part of it.”

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Laura Hill is a former reporter/columnist for the Tennessean and a contributor to Journal Communications publications since 1996. She enjoys travel, food, jazz, Titans football, her grown kids and the...