McAlister’s Deli in Tupelo reopened at its new home today, ending a nearly weeklong drought for fans of the restaurant’s famous sweet tea and sandwiches.
Franchise owner David Blackburn said the opening also ended a nearly five-year search for a new location for the nearly 25-year-old restaurant.
“This is the third-oldest restaurant in the system,” he said. “The first opened Oxford in 1989, followed by Hattiesburg and this one in Tupelo. It’s been very successful, even in the state of the old building never having had an update or remodel.”
The new location is the former Atlanta Bread Co. store – and more recently, Bim Bam Burgers & Wings – and even though the building wasn’t too dated, having been built in 2008, it was thoroughly renovated, repaired and repainted for McAlister’s
Blackburn is CEO of Southern Rock Restaurants, which is the second-largest McAlister’s franchise in the country with 65 stores. He said the money spent renovating the building – a sum he didn’t disclose – almost equaled the cost of building a new store.
But it was money well spent, he added.
“We spent a long time talking about why we’ve been so successful over the years. It isn’t because of the building we had or being nearly 25 years old,” he said. “It’s because of the people we have. We’ve got spectacular people working in our organization… I’m really proud of them. So we really did it for them.
“There’s really no economic reason to leave that profit behind over there and come over here. We’ll probably do about the same amount of sales and profit. But this was really a tribute to our people and their hard work to the brand and to give them something new to be proud about.”
New flooring, lighting, furniture and equipment was installed inside, walls were removed, and new signage, awnings and patio furniture were added as well.
McAlister’s added about 15 employees, bringing the total to 50.
The Tupelo restaurant, which seats about 160 diners, is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. The restaurant’s phone number is (662) 680-3354.
Blackburn, who got in the restaurant business in the late 1970s, bought nearly two dozen McAlister’s Deli locations in 2011 with the formation of Southern Rock. By the end of the year, the company should have 72 stores, making it the largest McAlister’s franchisee in the country.
“People ask how many do we want – well, we don’t really want to think like that,” he said. “We want to be prudent and opportunistic. The brand is doing well and we have a great training mechanism, and as long as we can attract and retain great people, we’ll continue to open new restaurants and occasionally acquire some. We see 100 restaurants in our future, but we don’t know how long that will take.”
Blackburn isn’t unfamiliar with the area, overseeing the opening of O’Charley’s in Tupelo in 1999 as a regional Vice President and seeing company sales records fall in the process. That process was repeated in Southaven.
“I’m very familiar with the area and proud to be a part of Tupelo,” he said. “You can see a regeneration going on here and we think this new location is going to be an amazing addition to the growth and development of Tupelo and the region.
Blackburn also said he’s looking at a second location in Tupelo, perhaps on the west side of the city.
“We’re looking at two or three years down the road to visit that idea,” he said. “We think with all that’s going on in North Mississippi, if there’s one place that can support two McAlister’s Delis, its Tupelo.