For Ron Guerieri, one of the partners at Livingston Mercantile, everything old is new again. Seated at a table at The Gathering, the restaurant side of the property, he explains the venue's concept as a throwback in time that's also part of a "rebirth of Livingston."
Guerieri's business partner, Bowen Eason, first began renting the property from David Landrum six years ago, and he envisioned it as a way to be part of the development of a new community. The complex also includes a gas station, general store and retail area featuring local products.
Eason had restaurant industry experience, having worked for 30 years with the Outback Steakhouse chain. When he and Guerieri, who worked in the coffee industry and had a family history with retail, partnered up three years ago, the two hatched an idea combining all three experiences.
"My grandfather owned a general store outside Belzoni, Mississippi," Guerieri says. "With that (memory), I felt as this community developed, there was a need for people to be able to get convenience items, supplies and gasoline, in addition to having a community place to gather."
The partners see The Gathering restaurant at Livingston Mercantile as a place of community. The open floor plan creates a warm space, with poured concrete floors, a ceiling of reclaimed metal roofing from an old barn and a bar of recycled wood.
A welcoming deck where guests can enjoy incredible sunsets accommodates up to 40 and, come warmer weather, it will have a service bar and live music.
In keeping with southern history and charm, chef Paul Adair oversees The Gathering's breakfast, lunch and dinner service. Adair is a native of northeast Jackson who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York City and worked stints at Eleven Madison Park, a restaurant in the city, and at several restaurants in the Hudson River Valley before returning to Mississippi in June 2013 to be the sous chef at Table 100 in Flowood. His formal training and experience in New York taught Adair "about seasonality and technique," he says, and a mentorship under Joel Miller at The Ravine in Oxford from 2007 to 2010 "got me hooked on local sourcing," he adds.
Adair's fine-dining technique and Mississippi roots meld at The Gathering.
"Everything I put on the menu has to be southern in nature—either through indigenous ingredients or preparation in a southern way," he says.
That may mean a Reuben sandwich made with pulled pork and chow-chow instead of corned beef and sauerkraut, or (at dinner) pork rillettes—a French dish similar to a pate. Adair believes it's important to introduce people to new techniques and ingredients in a way that's not intimidating. That provides a sense of comfort and builds the customer trust he values.
He also takes great passion in everything he does. "I like techniques like braising that take a lot of time, and putting things on a plate properly and with care is really important," he says.
Buying and selling local products is important to Adair and Guerieri. "We want to support our local economy and be a part of our community," Guerieri says.
"When we were planning the restaurant, Paul (Adair) went to these farms and met with the farmers." He cites as examples greens and lettuces from Salad Days Produce in Flora and eggs from The Brown Egg Company delivered fresh from Bentonia twice a week.
Taking local one step further, Guerieri adds that the restaurant recently purchased a young hog, which he will raise off-site. Eventually, it will end up roasted, used in part for a celebration event and in regular menu items.
Diners who want to take some local flavor home can do so via the restaurant's retail store. It features products from some of its vendors, such as the eggs from The Brown Egg Company, as well as private-label Livingston Mercantile products, including all-natural sodas in unique flavors like strawberry-jalapeno and hibiscus lemon. You can purchase syrups and the same locally roasted and ground coffees poured from French presses during dinner service at the restaurant.
The Gathering's owners see it as a key player in the Livingston community and recognize that its success will be a group effort. "I've been lucky to have a good, hard-working team" to open the restaurant, Adair says.
Guerieri echoes that sentiment, adding that though it's been a challenge to find and train team members, the staff is focused on "pleasing customers, making a fun experience and building loyalty."
While he looks back to when Livingston was the first county seat of Madison in the 1800s, Guerieri knows that The Gathering at Livingston Mercantile will be a vibrant part of the town's future.
For more information on The Gathering at Livingston Mercantile (106 Livingston Church Road, Madison County, 601-667-4282), visit livingstonmercantile.com.