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Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Johnny Robbins, franchise owner of Mugshots Grill and Bar, speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony at Fairpark on Friday morning in Tupelo. The restaurant will open in the spring.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Johnny Robbins, franchise owner of Mugshots Grill and Bar, speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony at Fairpark on Friday morning in Tupelo. The restaurant will open in the spring.

By Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

TUPELO – After more than two years of planning, and some stops and starts along the way, a Mugshots Grill & Bar will open in Tupelo next spring.

Officials with the gourmet burger chain, joined by city and county leaders and other guests, broke ground on the 7,800-square-foot restaurant Friday morning.

It will be built in the Fairpark District of downtown Tupelo, on the corner of Main and Monaghan streets.

The building is adjacent to the Renasant Center for IDEAs and is across the street from the Hilton Garden Inn.

“We’re hoping to open by March or April of next year,” said Johnny Robbins, the franchise owner of the Tupelo location.

The restaurant will seat about 210 people, with outside seating for about 60.

Robbins anticipates employing 60-65 people, with hiring to start a few weeks before opening.

The project has been in the works for more than two years, and Robbins was the first franchise granted by Mugshots, said company co-founder Chris McDonald.

“We had five restaurants at the time,” he said. Mugshots, which first opened in Hattiesburg 10 years ago, now has 11 restaurants.

The company’s 12th location will open in Auburn, Alabama, later this year. Tupelo will be the company’s 13th location.

And it has some special meaning for McDonald and his business partners, several of whom also attended Friday’s ceremony.

“Johnny was the first franchise for us to give,” McDonald said. “We’ve always had an eye on Tupelo, and we felt this was the right time with all the growth that’s going on here.”

Robbins said Mugshots was the ideal restaurant to develop, and had been looking to bring something different to the area.

“I ate at the Mugshots in Starkville and I knew it was the right concept,” he said.

To give attendees a taste of what to expect, the company gave away 100 box lunches at the groundbreaking ceremony, with burgers cooked at the Starkville Mugshots.

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

Brooks-Grocery-logoBy Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Although the world’s largest retailer could alter his plans, Brooks Davis still plans to build a Brooks Grocery in west Tupelo.

Rumors have circulated recently that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is looking to build three of its smaller-format stores in the city, including two within a relatively short distance of the proposed Brooks Grocery store. Speculation has been that Davis has shelved his plans, but he said, “I don’t make decisions based on rumors. As far as I’m concerned, until I hear something official, we’re still planning to build the store.”

Last month, Iuka-based Brooks Grocery broke ground on a 27,000-square-foot supermarket, with plans to open next spring on the corner of West Jackson Extended and Coley Road near the Tupelo Furniture Market.

Davis has heard about Wal-Mart’s plans, but reiterated that he will continue to move forward on his project until he hears differently.

Wal-Mart did not immediately respond to a request from the Daily Journal.

However, the city’s Development Services director, Shane Hooper, confirmed that the retailer has made preliminary inquiries about the permitting process in Tupelo. Hooper said the company is looking at building three Walmart Neighborhood Market stores in the city, but declined to say where they are.

“Nothing has been decided, and nothing has been written in stone,” Hooper said, adding that the company has not filed anything with the city officially.

Wal-Mart has said it plans to open as many as 300 small-format Walmart Express and Walmart Neighborhood Market stores across the country this year. The first Walmart Neighborhood Market opened in 1998, and the company now has about 300 of them across the country.

The smaller-format stores include a grocery with fresh produce, health and beauty aids, pet products, cleaning supplies and a pharmacy.

They are about a quarter the size of a Walmart Supercenter, which typically are 120,000 to 180,000 square feet. Neighborhood Markets are about 38,000 square feet.

The proposed Tupelo Walmart Neighborhood Markets would be about 42,000 square feet, Hooper said.

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Mugshots Bar & Grill is expected to be built on this lot in Fairpark, with an anticipated opening of spring 2015. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Friday.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Mugshots Grill & Bar is expected to be built on this lot in Fairpark, with an anticipated opening of spring 2015. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Friday.

By Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

TUPELO – After more than a two-year wait, Mugshots Grill & Bar should be open next spring in the Fairpark District.

The popular restaurant chain, which is known for its specialty burgers, opened its first location in Hattiesburg in 2004. The Tupelo location was originally scheduled to open in December 2012.

“We’re coming,” said spokesman Will Taylor.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held Friday at 11 a.m. on the property, which is adjacent to the Renasant Center for IDEAs on Main Street and across from the Hilton Garden Inn.

“We couldn’t be more excited about bringing the Mugshots brand to Tupelo, and at the same time helping further the development of the downtown area,” said franchise owner Johnny Robbins.

Century Construction is the contractor on the project.

“It’s an exciting time for the Mugshots brand and family,” said Mugshots Grill & Bar chief operating officer Chris Banchero. “We’re extremely excited about taking the Mugshots brand to the Tupelo area and becoming part of the local community.”

Franchise owners Ben and Johnny Robbins formed Slow’s Eateries LLC in September 2011 and the following year bought the land, which had been the planned site for Oby’s restaurant.

When Oby’s franchisees didn’t develop the land, the Tupelo Redevelopment Agency exercised its right to buy back the land for the original sales price of $265,800.

Slow’s Eateries bought the land in October 2012 for $220,000.

Johnny Robbins also owns Papa V’s.

Last year, there was some speculation the restaurant wouldn’t be built, but Johnny Robbins downplayed the talk, citing the price of the land, plus architectural and design fees.

Taylor said more details would be announced at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Mugshots also will be announcing on Friday a partnership with the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society for the company’s “Eat Good, Give Back” fundraising event that will be held before the restaurant’s opening day.

Mugshots currently has 11 locations in three states. Two stores will open later this year and another will open early next year before the Tupelo store opening.

Thomas Wells | buy at photos.djournal.com Don Smith, left, and John Smith Jr. leave today for the National Truck Driving Championships in Pittsburgh. The two drivers, who work out of the Tupelo FedEx Ground terminal, have competed in the NTDC a combined 10 times.

Thomas Wells | buy at photos.djournal.com
Don Smith, left, and John Smith Jr. leave today for the National Truck Driving Championships in Pittsburgh. The two drivers, who work out of the Tupelo FedEx Ground terminal, have competed in the NTDC a combined 10 times.

By Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

TUPELO – John Smith Jr. and Don Smith have driven millions of miles between them for FedEx, and this week they hope to deliver national titles for the company.

The duo are competing in the annual National Truck Driving Championships in Pittsburgh on Wednesday through Saturday.

“This is my seventh time to compete,” said John Smith, who brought home the 2007, 2008 and 2010 titles. “I’ve been in a bit of slump lately.”

For Don Smith, it’s his third try at the crown, and he hopes to be a first-time winner.

“The fourth time’s the charm, I hope,” he said.

The Smiths are among 138 FedEx drivers who are competing in the event, which draws drivers from a wide variety of companies nationwide and several classes.

Four Mississippi FedEx drivers are competing. John Smith Jr. of Mooreville is competing in the four-axle category, while Don Smith of Tupelo is in the step van category. Bobby Lane of Jackson and Don Nehring of Olive Branch are the other two state competitors.

To reach the NTDC, which is sponsored by the American Trucking Association, each driver had to win the state-level driving championship.

In Pittsburgh, the event includes some 450 participants.

Drivers earn points by demonstrating their driving skills and their knowledge of the industry through a written exam, a pre-trip vehicle inspection and a driving course that includes tests of their ability to judge distances, maneuver tight spaces, reverse, park and position their vehicles exactly over scales, before barriers and around curves.

The Smiths have been working together to prepare for the NTDC, bouncing ideas off each other.

“I think we have a little advantage over some of the drivers because we’ve both been there before and we know what to expect,” Don Smith said. “But that doesn’t guarantee you’re going to win.”

Said John Smith, “You want to be in the top five on Saturday, when you take a final driving test. … when you get your packet, you don’t want a score sheet. If you have one, it means you’ll be sitting in the bleachers. If you don’t have a score sheet, it means you’re competing for the title.”

The Smiths said the event will be very competitive from start to finish. Fellow drivers from FedEx, UPS, Walmart and other carriers large and small will be represented by their best drivers.

“This isn’t something you just sign up to do,” John Smith said. “You have to earn your way into the competition… the emphasis is about safety. That’s the main thing.”

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

 

DENNIS SEID

DENNIS SEID

It’s that time again – the fall edition of the Tupelo Furniture Market. And according to market officials, it should be a well-attended event. They say the number of preregistered buyers for the fall market – which officially runs Thursday to Sunday – has exceeded the past two markets.

But more importantly perhaps, officials say, is the number of new and international retailers coming to this week’s market. About a third of the preregistered buyers are coming for the first time, a good sign.

Now will that translate into thousands of buyers and retailers roaming the halls and shopping the 400 or so exhibitors?

We’ll have to wait and see.

You have to admire the efforts of the Tupelo Furniture Market to step up its game to recruit new exhibitors and buyers in a trade show industry that has gotten only more competitive.

Tupelo is no High Point or Las Vegas, to be sure. The All-America City doesn’t have the flash and entertainment of Vegas, and it doesn’t have the deep, vast resources of the country’s premier market in High Point.

But Tupelo always has been quite upfront about its core mission: We’re here to do business, given with a strong dose of Southern hospitality.

It’s easy to get around the city and to get around the market. Everything’s on one floor. No climbing stairs or elevators except when you’re in a hotel.

Now back to some official market-speak about this week’s market:

“We are exactly where we expected to be and extremely satisfied with the results of our marketing efforts and our overall numbers thus far,” said TFM President Kevin Seddon. “After our last event in February, we performed a thorough review of our customer databases, identified areas in which we wanted to improve, and developed a focused plan, specific objectives and tactics that would increase our effectiveness in these areas. However, the results have still been somewhat surprising.

“We knew we would increase our attendance from key states we targeted. We also were confident we would increase the number of retailers that we consider mid- and high-volume sales revenue producers. What surprised us was the number of new retailers that registered for this fall’s market, and the fact that we were able to have an immediate impact on international accounts.”

Of course, you’d expect market officials to be positive. They all are, whether it’s Tupelo, High Point or Las Vegas.

Do we honestly believe anyone will say they expect a poorly attended market or they are disappointed at what they’re seeing? Nope.

And you’ll hear few exhibitors tell you they had a terrible market. It happens, but it’s rare. Few want their competitors to know how their market went. Some will talk about their disappointment and how they had hoped for a better turnout. Still others will talk about having their best market ever.

It’s a game of poker in many aspects. Don’t let your competition know too much. Keep them guessing. And it’s all fun to cover. I’ve been doing this 10 years, and I’ve been playing the game, too.

But here is the absolute truth: Let’s welcome everybody to town because they mean so much to the furniture industry and the economy of Northeast Mississippi.

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@journalinc.com.

news_icon_greenBy Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

TUPELO – While city and airport officials wait for the U.S. Department of Transportation to sign off on new subsidized air service, the agency has ordered current carrier Silver Airways to extend its service through Sept. 5.

Silver said in April it was not going to seek renewal of its two-year Essential Air Service contract, and submitted a 90-day “notice of termination.”

After that notice, the Transportation Department then ordered Silver to continue service in Tupelo, as well as Greenville, Hattiesburg/Laurel, Meridian and Muscle Shoals through this week. The 30-day extension ordered Thursday keeps Silver flying in those cities.

Meanwhile, Tupelo has recommended that Portland, Oregon-based SeaPort Airlines become the next carrier for the city.

SeaPort’s $2.5 million bid provides 30 total flights to Memphis and Nashville per week. Greenville and Muscle Shoals, Alabama – which also has been served by Silver – have recommended SeaPort as well.

Meridian and Laurel/Hattiesburg, meanwhile, will get new air service starting Nov. 1 with Express Jet.

In its order Thursday, the Transportation Department said a decision for Tupelo is imminent. “A new air carrier has not been selected to provide replacement EAS at Tupelo, but we expect that decision in the very near future,” it said.

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Eric Nanney, founder of Challenge Automation, speaks Wednesday as the company unveils its new facility that nearly doubles its former space to 14,000 square feet. "We have a group of highly skilled, highly trained employees, and we need a few more," Nanney said.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Eric Nanney, founder of Challenge Automation, speaks Wednesday as the company unveils its new facility that nearly doubles its former space to 14,000 square feet. “We have a group of highly skilled, highly trained employees, and we need a few more,” Nanney said.

By Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Five years ago, Eric Nanney founded his company, Challenge Automation, in the middle of the Great Recession.

But as successful entrepreneurs often do, starting a business during tough economic times often opens opportunities.

Challenge Automation custom designs and engineers automated equipment. Among the early customers was Tecumseh in Verona. It also was one of Challenge’s first large customers, helping set the stage for explosive growth during the past few years.

“We found a key segment in the market,” Nanney said.

On Wednesday, the company officially unveiled its new facility that nearly doubles the size of its former space. The $800,000 investment also has added six to 10 jobs, and the company now employs 23.

The company was formed in 2009 and formerly operated from a leased 7,300-square-foot building on McCullough Boulevard.

“We started with six employees, and we had a five-year plan to be in our own place and have 18 employees,” said Nanney. “We exceeded our expectations.”

Challenge Automation’s new home is a 14,000-square-foot facility in which it can further expand if necessary. In addition to Tecumseh, other companies like GE and Black and Decker have been some of the clients that have used Challenge Automation’s services. The company also counts on smaller companies, too, that find value in what it does.

“Back when we started, it was great to get these big jobs, but over the years, we’ve realized the importance of having sustained work, and this is the point we’re at now,” Nanney said. “We’re getting more contracts, and we simply outgrew where we are.”

The company still is seeking software engineers, a specialized skill in high demand, Nanney said.

“We have a group of highly skilled, highly trained employees,” he said, “and we need a few more.”

That’s the mantra the Community Development Foundation has been repeating for several years – “more and better jobs.”

CDF President and CEO David Rumbarger said the work that goes on at Challenge Automation is “the future of manufacturing.”

And it was a future that Nanney clearly saw, even during difficult economic times.

“When we first started, some of us were working 40-hour weeks and getting paid for 10,” he said. “But we would get together again the next week and find work to do.”

That patience and persistence has paid off nicely, and Nanney said the outlook for the company is unlimited.

“We’re excited about the future as we continue to grow in Tupelo,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to offer existing industry in north Mississippi, the state and the surrounding area.

On the Web: www.challengeautomation.com

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

BancorpSouth-Launches-Free-Banking-App-for-iPhone-2By Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

TUPELO – BancorpSouth withdrew its applications to merge with two banks, but in a regulatory filing said it expects to “subsequently refile.”

Last month, the company said it needed more time to complete its mergers with Ouachita Bancshares Corp. of West Monroe, Louisiana, and Central Community Corp. of Temple, Texas. BancorpSouth had announced the deals in January and had expected their completion by June 30 of this year.

BancorpSouth said on July 21 more time was needed to get regulatory approvals and to meet “closing conditions necessary to complete” the mergers. BancorpSouth said that its procedures, systems and processes related to some of its compliance programs, including its Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money-laundering programs, were being reviewed by federal regulators. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was reviewing the company’s fair lending practices.

The merger agreements, valued at $325 million in stock and cash, were to have been completed by June 30 of next year.

However, in its filing Wednesday, BancorpSouth said the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis would not consider regulatory approval of the mergers until the Tupelo-based company addressed the issues identified by the Federal Deposit Guaranty Corp.

BancorpSouth said it is working with the FDIC on a proposed order to review and revise its BSA risk assessment, BSA compliance program and related procedures and processes.

Ouachita Bancshares and Central Community Corp. do have the option to terminate the merger if BancorpSouth hasn’t reapplied for regulatory approval by Feb. 28 with the FDIC or the Federal Reserve of St. Louis.

However, BancorpSouth said it is “implementing corrective action” for the deficiencies and expects to meet the requirements of the order in a “timely fashion.”

It also said it does not expect to pay a civil penalty. However, it could face civil fines if either the FDIC or the CFPB or both agencies decide to pursue penalties.

Last month, BancorpSouth Chairman and CEO Dan Rollins said, “We continue to believe our proposed mergers with Ouachita Bancshares Corp. and Central Community Corporation are in the best interest of our shareholders, customers and communities.”

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Crews clear debris from Vanelli's on Tuesday as work continues to clear the building of storm damage.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Crews clear debris from Vanelli’s on Tuesday as work continues to clear the building of storm damage.

photos.djournal.com The owner of the popular Greek and Italian restaurant intends to rebuild.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
The owner of the popular Greek and Italian restaurant intends to rebuild.

By Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

TUPELO – What remains of Vanelli’s restaurant, heavily damaged by the April 28 tornado, is being demolished, perhaps making way for its return.

Owner voz Vanelli has said in several interviews he intends to rebuild, and repeated that message over the weekend on social media.

Vanelli said he was working with insurers to settle a few issues “but things are progressing.”

The restaurant, a popular Greek and Italian restaurant his father opened nearly four decades ago, has been the topic of much speculation as customers wonder about its eventual reopening.

“I understand that it is frustrating to lose something we all had an attachment to, but I am working my way back,” he said. “Think of it like this: ‘It is not wise to buy the new house before the old house is settled.’”

Vanelli has been encouraged by many of his customers, who hope for an opening sooner rather than later. But the details of his plans remain under wraps for now.

“The real story is that I don’t know exactly what resources will be available until all the insurance and other matters are settled and complete,” he said. “I will then be able to best assess what the future holds for Vanelli’s. I am personally committed to returning to the restaurant business in some form but that is all I can say for now, for sure.

“Once again I appreciate your patience and am humbled by your kindnesses and well-wishes.”

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com The restaurant will donate its undamaged outdoor pavilion to the city. Tupelo officials said it will be used at Veterans Park.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
The restaurant will donate its undamaged outdoor pavilion to the city. Tupelo officials said it will be used at Veterans Park.

For several weeks, the restaurant’s website has polled customers about their favorite foods, whether it should serve breakfast, and where it should be rebuilt.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than a third of the votes cast were for Vanelli to rebuild on its current site on North Gloster Street. Seventeen percent voted for the restaurant to reopen in the former Atlanta Bread Co. building on South Gloster, just south of Crosstown.

Meanwhile, as demolition of the restaurant continues, Vanelli has offered to donate its undamaged outdoor pavilion to the city.

In a memo to Mayor Jason Shelton and the City Council, chief operating officer Don Lewis said the pavilion, valued at more than $75,000, would be located at Veterans Park. Vanelli will hire a contractor to move the pavilion, which would be placed on a slab provided by the city. In addition, the city would pay $10,000 to help with the cost of relocating the pavilion.

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

news_business_greenBy Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

BALDWYN – Hancock Fabrics’ plan to go private has been taken off the table, the company announced Monday.

The craft and fabrics retailer announced in April its desire to no longer be publicly traded.

Company officials said the costs of the conversion outweighed the benefits, and the money could be better used to improve its business. Hancock is slowly reformatting its stores, but it is a capital-intensive project for the 261-store chain.

Hancock Fabrics’ plan was to pay $1.20 per share to shareholders with less than 1,000 shares of company stock. It expected to incur a $936,000 cost for the move.

However, officials said some shareholders were splitting their shares to go below the 1,000-share threshold or buying shares through multiple accounts in order to get a pay-out.

“This activity resulted in a significant increase in the expected cost of the proposed transaction, eliminating virtually a full year of the potential expected savings that the company anticipated would have resulted from going private,” the company said.

Hancock expected to save about $640,000 annually after going private.

The proposal was scheduled to go for a vote at the company shareholders meeting Aug. 15.

But, said company president and CEO Steve Morgan, “At this time, the board feels that the expense of the transaction, due to the abuse of the multiple account purchases … has grown to a point that it now exceeds the benefits it would generate for our remaining stockholders. We look at this transaction just like any other business investment decision we would make and have decided not to proceed based on the economics at this time.”

Morgan said the company hasn’t abandoned the idea of going private or some other “alternative transaction” in the future.

But that will happen only if it becomes “economically prudent” and in the best interest of the company and its shareholders, he said.

dennis.seid@journalinc.com