John Currence trades in whole hog barbecue for Delta red sauce

Posted on Nov 2 2016 - 8:01am by Ethan Davis
Logo courtesy City Grocery Restaurant Group

Logo courtesy City Grocery Restaurant Group

If you frequent Lamar Lounge, you have probably been feeling a bit deprived these past few weeks because the restaurant closed at the beginning of October for renovations and a revamp. But the wait is almost over. According to City Grocery Restaurant Group owner John Currence, the new and improved Lamar Lounge, which he’s renamed “Fat Eddie’s” will open on Monday.

Currence said the decision to change from a whole hog barbecue establishment to a Delta red sauce joint came after he and his team realized the old model simply wasn’t working. The restaurant’s update will include a new, Italian-focused menu.

“After three years of running the place, it just became abundantly clear that, no matter what we did, we couldn’t support the financial demands of trying to run a whole hog barbecue restaurant,” Currence said. “Whole hog has a lot of challenges … You really end up with a finished product that costs about five times as much as it would to cook a shoulder.”

In addition to the monetary issues, there were service issues that arose and had to be addressed.

John Currence is transforming Lamar Lounge into Fat Eddie's, an Italian Delta red sauce joint set to open Monday, Nov. 7. Photo by Cameron Brooks.

John Currence is transforming Lamar Lounge into Fat Eddie’s, a Delta Italian red sauce joint set to open Monday, Nov. 7. (Photo by Cameron Brooks.)

“When we took over Lamar Lounge, we didn’t want to change anything about it … We very deliberately took a sort of hands-off approach to the service and the food and feel of the place and tried not to change anything,” Currence said. “We didn’t really fulfill the promise of providing what it is that we have become known for providing, as far as quality of service and caring and warmth. That was something that always struck me: You didn’t feel warm when you walked in here; people didn’t greet you like they do at our other restaurants.”

Currence and his team are taking care to make sure Fat Eddie’s does not repeat the mistakes of its predecessor. The past month’s work will soon reach a head with final decisions on a menu and an official opening.

“We’re working very deliberately through the recipe process. Then, we’ll start training the staff to prepare those things,” Currence said. “We’ll probably do a little bit of service next Sunday night, sort of a soft opening with friends and family, very quietly invite some folks by to check it out. Then we’ll open for good on Monday for supper. We’ll see how long it takes to get our feet underneath us and get some folks hired to run a lunch shift.”

Despite the closing, Currence believes the updates will be far more successful because the new menu will tap into a demand that he has noticed since he has been in Oxford.

“Barbecue, for me, was a little bit of hubris because it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, and I thought that I could. I expected it to work,” Currence said. “I never heard anybody say, ‘We really need a whole hog barbecue place.’ But this is something I’ve listened to consistently for 25 years: ‘We just need an Italian joint.’”

Senior English Major Ariel Young has eaten at Lamar lounge several times before but is excited to see what comes next.

“My friends and I ate there [Lamar Lounge] about once a month, and I always liked it. It was the kind of comfort food that you just crave,” Young said. “But I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with for the new menu because Italian food is my favorite, and I think a more casual place to enjoy a good meal will work really well.”

The physical aspects of the restaurant will not change extensively, and neither will its spirit. Currence still wants to make the establishment a tool for bettering Oxford.

“The intent remains…[for Fat Eddie’s] to be the place where, at the end of the year, we can make a sizable donation to a different charity that we identify,” Currence said. “That’s always been a component of this place. Eating here is giving back to the community.”

Currence believes that this restaurant will reopen and fulfill all expectations his customers have come to expect.

“I hope this resonates with folks a little bit better,” Currence said. “I’m very excited about it. This is the food that I started my career in the kitchen cooking. It’s all very familiar to me and I have a deep love for it. We’re very excited about it and hope that that excitement and enthusiasm carries to the public as well.”

If you are interested in getting some previews of the changes, be sure to visit Lamar Lounge’s Facebook page for more information. This month, a Fat Eddie’s Twitter account also emerged along with a promising recipe test photo. If Currence is right, this will be the new go to place for simple, homey Italian food in Oxford.