The Haskin Projects

By BETH BUNCH,

Blu Jazz Cafe and Nellie’s Chicken & Daiquiris are a dream come true.

Nelson and Felecia Haskin have gone from 800 square feet to 5,600 square feet and from one eatery to two, all since April 2017. These days they have the best of both worlds – the plain and simple and the more upscale.

The Haskins are the owners of Blu Jazz Café, located in the former Brownstones building, and Nellie’s Chicken and Daiquiris, located in the original Blu Jazz building next to Southbound Bagel.

One has a “funky” chicken wearing sunglasses as part of its logo, while the other has a New Orleans-style flair with an upstairs bar and balcony.

The newest of the two is Nellie’s, which opened downtown in September. Blu Jazz opened in April 2017. It’s still hard for Nelson to believe where they are now in such a short amount of time.

“I never expected this,” he said. “And especially to win Best New Restaurant in Best of the Pine Belt (2018) voting.”

The Haskins also received the Hospitality and Service Award from VisitHburg during National Travel and Tourism Week. This award highlights the successes and contributions of Hattiesburg’s hospitality partners whose efforts have added to the continued growth of tourism in Hattiesburg.

And starting Nov. 5, Blu Jazz will be open for lunch. According to Nelson, they will pare down their regular menu to feature a nice assortment of dishes, including a new shrimp poboy, but on a limited menu. 

“I don’t believe anyone else in ‘downtown proper’ serves one of these,” he said. “We’ve been asked by a lot of customers to add this to our menu.”

Nelson said he understands that when people go out for lunch, most only have an hour, and based on restaurant time that’s only about 40 minutes, allowing 10 minutes to travel to and from, order and pay your bill.

“In order to get fresh food cooked to order and get customers served and allow back to work in a timely fashion, a limited menu will work best for everyone,” he said.

Nelson says he tends to go overboard, so narrowing down the menu has been difficult. He’d rather add than take away.

The original Blu Jazz on Front Street was an intimate 800 square feet. Nelson said it’s hard to believe now that they served such an expanded menu in such tight quarters. And they even had entertainment, to boot.

But that’s what makes the space even more special. It’s small and has a vibe that makes people sitting in close quarters comfortable enough to talk to one another, sometimes across the expanse of the room, which isn’t much.

“I wanted that feeling where people could visit with one another,” he said.

When Blu Jazz outgrew its 800 square feet (it had a following since it opened), and the former Brownstones and Black Sheep Speakeasy location became available, it didn’t take much for the Haskins to move the business just a block up the street. The new old business opened in July, leaving the old building vacant.

Since the Haskins still had a lease on the building, why not use it, and not let that money go down the drain.

“But it had to be something very limited,” Nelson said.

He already had a full-service restaurant and couldn’t afford to manage that type of service at both eateries.

The end result was Nellie’s Chicken and Daiquiris, which serves exactly as its name implies, chicken and daiquiris. You can get chicken tenders in 4, 5 or 6-piece meals served with a small cup of coleslaw and fries or a chicken sandwich. Everything is fresh and cooked to order, as is the Nellie’s “comeback” sauce.

Nelson said the buns are made special by Hattiesburg’s Breadsmith. 

“We have a contract for them to make a special bun for us,” he said.

There are currently three flavors of daiquiris – margarita, strawberry and pina colada - but almost endless possibilities when you mix and match and add a few extra additions here and there. There might be some additions in the future, with Nelson having received requests for things like Bushwhackers, White Russians and other specialty flavors. 

Nelson said with Hattiesburg’s passage of a “go-cup” ordinance in the downtown area, it made the daiquiri craze something fun, like the funky chicken. And he’s always in for something fun and funky.

“People can come in and purchase one drink per person,” he said. “You can’t come in and order four to go. That’s not the way the ordinance works. And you can’t buy a gallon and take it home. The whole feeling of the ordinance is so you can walk around and enjoy downtown with a drink and have a good time.”

The name, Nellie, is not Nelson's grandmother or a favorite aunt’s name, but a nickname of his when in high school/college.

“They used to call me Nellie,” he said.

At one time, when he was too young to truly know what he was doing, he opened Nellie’s Deli in Hattiesburg.

During college, Nelson worked as a server at Chesterfields, when it was located on the corner of 49 and Hardy Street, and then served as assistant manager at the new Chesterfields when was built on U.S. 98.

So he had a lot of background and experience in the food industry, which made his dream of opening his own eating place a reality. 

Nelson, who has worked full time for the National Guard for the last 10 years, isn’t around every day to lend a helping hand. His work comes after hours and on weekends. With the help of his wife and a qualified staff, they are able to keep things running smoothly.

Nelson said his main concerns are good food and a clean facility. 

The most requested dishes at Blu Jazz are Front Street Chicken, Catfish and Pulled Pork Nachos.

Nelson said they adapted to the new restaurant in phases – first opening just the downstairs, then opening the upstairs balcony bar and now for lunch. They also have entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays.

He has a staff of about 20 to oversee Blu Jazz and he likes to recruit students because he knows what it’s like to be a student and need a job to make some money. But because students are considered more transient in nature, he also needed some stability to his staff and added the appropriate employees.

Nelson said some of his favorite times downtown are during festival weekends when the roads are blocked off, like for last weekend’s art walk, where visitors to downtown can just walk around in the streets.

At Nellie’s, when the weather is nice, they open the door and play music outside or set up areas where people can sit outside and eat.

 

Blu Jazz is located at 103 East Front Street, Hattiesburg, while Nellie’s Chicken and Daiquiri is located at 213 East Front Street, Hattiesburg.