Robert St. John can recall that when he opened the Purple Parrot Café in Hattiesburg in 1987, he saw a statistic that stated 95 percent of independent restaurants fail within approximately 5 years.
And for 32 years, the Hardy Street mainstay defied that trend – until just recently, when St. John announced he’ll soon be serving the last meal at the restaurant. The restaurateur attributes the closing to several factors, not the least the way dining has changed over the past few decades.
“Back then, people wore coats and ties when they came to dinner, so dining habits have certainly changed,” said St. John, who also owns Crescent City Grill, The Midtowner, Tabella and Ed’s Burger Joint. “Also when we first opened, if you lived in Canebrake and drove in, we were the first place you came to that could actually serve alcohol and wine. Now if you live in Canebrake, you can hop in your golf cart and head to the club and never even have to get out on Highway 98.
“And the town has changed a little bit too, especially for fine dining. Now at Crescent City Grill, we’re blowing and going, and so the casual market, even in this environment, is strong.”
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic did no favors to restaurants around the country, and St. John said of all his properties, the resulting shutdown hit the Purple Parrot the hardest.
“So it’s really kind of a combination of things,” he said. “The market had changed a little bit, but this pandemic was really the final nail in the coffin of the restaurant, which is rough.
“Thirty-two years is a long run for an independent restaurant. It was the first one I opened, so I feel like it’s one of my children almost.”
However, the restaurant will have a final run from July 28 to Aug. 1 with a farewell tour of sorts.
“I’m excited about that,” St. John said. “Right now, we’re seating Purple Parrot with Crescent City Grill, because we’re at 50 percent capacity. But for those five nights, we’re going to put the tablecloths back on, we’ve developed a really cool menu, we’ve taken reservations – it’s all booked.
“You’ve got to have a final farewell. Back in March, we served our final meal before we shut down for the pandemic, and what we didn’t realize was that it was going to be our last meal ever. That just didn’t feel right; there’s no closure in something that I think has been a huge part of Hattiesburg for 32 years. So we wanted to kind of give it a better send-off than that.”
Fortunately, Purple Parrot may return in the form of a private dining room that will seat 40-50 patrons. The place will be designed to look like the Parrot, from the walls, artwork, sconces and floors.
“That will be our third private dining space in that building,” St. John said. “We’ll probably look at doing some Purple Parrot pop-ups one week out of the month or something like that; we’ll see if there’s an appetite for that.
“Hattiesburg has been very, very good to us over the years. I grew up four blocks from the Parrot, and I currently live six blocks behind the restaurant, so that’s my neighborhood.”
St. John said owning and operating the Purple Parrot has been the greatest joy of his professional career, and being a person who loves restaurants, he couldn’t see himself doing anything else.
“But what I love most about it are the people,” he said. “We’ve seen, I would guess, thousands of engagements, anniversaries, first dates, prom dates.
“When we opened that first prom season, those people are 50 years old now, so that’s pretty cool. We’ve had people who worked for us as servers whose kids came back and worked for us as servers. So that’s the best part of everything, is having all the people we’ve served over the years and all the experiences that we’ve been a part of.”