By ROBBIE WARD
Daily Journal Starkville Bureau
STARKVILLE – McAlister's Deli celebrated history Monday, opening its 200th restaurant.
After a grand opening at the eatery in the Stark Crossing Shopping Center, Stephanie Siler had her first McAlister's experience, tasting her first cheese spud.
The steam from the cheesy potato was too much, so she tried the broccoli soup first.
“It's pretty good,” said Siler, director of operations for the Mississippi State University women's basketball team.
A gathering of business leaders stopped by to see the restaurant officially open, adding another eating choice to area residents.
Matthew Bedwell, owner of the McAlister's franchise, said he's ready for business. He certainly knows his product – he joined the company at its second restaurant in Hattiesburg in 1992.
However, Bedwell's first job at McAlister's was washing dishes and making sandwiches before moving into the corporate ranks of the company.
After having worked on that end for several years, Bedwell said he's ready to run his own restaurant.
“It's been a lot of fun to spur some of the growth and development,” he said.
The city's first McAlister's restaurant opens at a time when the list of dining options grows longer. Recently, Sweet Pepper's Deli and Chili's opened, along with an Italian restaurant.
Some citizens may be wondering if all of the restaurants can survive the competition, but Bedwell is ready to do his best to give customers McAlister's-style sandwiches, spuds, soups, that famous sweet tea and more.
“We're a fast lunch kind of place,” he said. “You can get in and out of here pretty fast.”
But he said it still has the feel of a casual dining restaurant.
The latest opening for the deli that began in Oxford in 1989 shows the company isn't losing it's appetite in the restaurant market. McAlister's plans to open 50 more restaurants before 2007. Last year, the company was operating in 19 states and recorded $205 million in sales.