A barbecue restaurant famous throughout Mississippi has relocated to Petal to bring a taste of its down-home cooking to the Friendly City.
Leatha’s Bar-B-Que, formerly on U.S. 98 in Hattiesburg, relocated on Mother’s Day weekend to 1225 Mississippi 42, in the former Dickie’s Barbecue Pit building.
The restaurant is owned and run by family members Brian Jackson, Michael Richardson and Shareece Stepney.
“Petal is kind of an untapped market, where you’ve got beautiful businesses, you’ve got good people and you’ve got the good product you’re supplying – you’ve got what they call the trifecta effect,” said Brian Jackson, the grandson of restaurant founder Leatha Jackson. “And so we just wanted to branch out toward Petal, and then we wanted to also find a location that we could actually purchase, to buy of our own.
“The location in Oak Grove is on what they call 16th-section land, and you can never own the land; you can only own the buildings on top of the land. So after being there for roughly 20 years, we just decided business-wise to go somewhere that’s in the up-and-coming development stages. Oak Grove is pretty much tapped out – there’s literally businesses within a couple of feet from one another, but Petal is still developing, so we wanted to come out here and get our thing started before we try to compete with about 10 or 20 restaurants that are supposed to be coming out here in the future.”
Diners can expect the same fare that made Leatha’s famous, including pork and beef ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, sausage dogs and chicken.
Sides include fried potatoes, potato salad, coleslaw and baked beans.
“The recipes and everything of that nature, everything is all the same,” Brian Jackson said. “We’re not going to change anything that my grandmother had.
“She started the business back in 1975, so it would be kind of foolish for us to come in and tweak her recipes and take stuff away. You’d be sort of shooting yourself in the foot if you do something that foolish.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lobby is temporarily closed, and the staff is offering drive-thru and curbside service.
“For us to go from being dine-in only with call-in and pickup, to go to just drive-thru and curbside, that has been tricky the first few weeks, because all of our stuff is handmade,” Brian Jackson said. “There’s no microwavable items, so when you come through the drive-thru and place an order, we try to get everything in a five-minute range – no longer than a 10-minute wait.
“We want everything to be fresh – we want our French fries that are hand cut, and everything coming on that plate, as if it would be if you were to go sit down at the restaurant. Once we talked to some of the customers and explained what we were doing, they were all open for it, and they gave us all positive feedback.”
The lobby closure is just temporary, however, as the owners fully expect to have that open in the near future.
“We’re going to redecorate the entire inside,” Brian Jackson said. “We just had a garage built for our grill out back to give it more of a homely look. That’s why we’re taking our time and building it slowly.
“We do eventually want to paint the building to match our color scheme, but all that’s in the future. We’ve got some of the old memorabilia that’s going to hang inside the restaurant. We’ve got a picture of our grandmother … that we’re going to hang on the inside. We’re here to stay in Petal.”
Leatha Jackson started the restaurant in Foxworth before moving to the Hattiesburg location in 2000. Her daughter, Bonnie Jackson, took over in 2009 after Leatha suffered a stroke.
Leatha died in 2013, and Bonnie passed away in 2015.
Over the years, the restaurant played host to guests across the country, including some from as far as Washington or New York.
Other guests included celebrities like Drew Brees, Christian Slater, Matt Lauer, B.B. King, Jason Campbell, Steve McNair, Jerry Clower, Gerald McRaney and Delta Burke.
Leatha’s also was featured on an episode of “Man Food Fire” on The Cooking Channel for its ribs, and the restaurant was listed as one of the stops on the Mississippi Culinary Trail on VisitMississippi.org.