Historic eatery to change hands

Published 4:30 pm Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Feb. 23, 1995, the following was served at The InezRestaurant:

• Fried beefsteak

• Grilled or Cajun breast ham

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• Buttered potatoes or rice and gravy, turnip greens, corn, friedokra, pickled beets, yeast rolls, cornbread and assortedcakes.

Sissy Davis died in 2005, but she left a rich and tasty traditionat the Inez that continues today, on the stove and on paper. Herhusband, 68-year-old Don Davis, still has the 21 spiral notebooksin which the master chef wrote down the ever-changing menu everymorning.

For the 21 years of the Davis family’s ownership of the restaurant,the menu has been the only thing that changed. Now, that’s changingtoo.

The Inez Restaurant will open Monday under the new ownership oflocal restaurateurs Donnie Mitchell and Keith White, who own thepopular trio of Broma’s Deli, Mitchell’s Steak and Seafood andHal’s BBQ. The new owners said a few tweaks are coming to thecentury-old dining spot, but for the most part, things will staythe same.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to continue a restaurant inthis building, in downtown Brookhaven,” White said Friday as thedeal finalized. “There’s a neat atmosphere here, and the fact arestaurant has been here since 1904 makes it the oldest restaurantin Brookhaven by far.”

White said the renovation of the downtown area has created”phenomenal” opportunities for the food service industry, with morepeople living and working on the old historic streets than everbefore. Coupled with the many dedicated customers who visit TheInez Restaurant regularly, the chance for growth is great, hesaid.

Mitchell said plans call for hours to be extended, with The Ineznow opening for breakfast and Saturday and continuing into thenight and opening for lunch Sunday. Equipment would be modernized,and the back room will be renovated, he said.

“We’re going to gradually change the menu over time as we see whatpeople want, but we’re not going to replace it over night,”Mitchell said. “We’re going to keep this restaurant a great placeto eat.”

Sissy Davis and her husband, Don, 68, opened up The Inez Restaurantin its newest and likely most successful incarnation on Aug. 23,1989. They had previously run a catering business from their homein Wesson and were ready to expand, so Don approached Paul Jacksonand the late Dub Sproles about purchasing the space.

“They gleefully jumped up, gave me the grand tour and told meeverything I wanted to know,” Don said.

The Inez started small but grew quickly, Don said, as word spreadabout Sissy’s skills and her peculiar menu. There were no permanentmenus, and the next day’s food offerings were decided only hours inadvance. Whatever Sissy wanted, Sissy cooked – and Brookhavenbought it.

“Sissy would tell me what she wanted to cook and I’d run and go buyit,” Don said. “Just about anything my wife tasted, she couldduplicate. She’d go to other restaurants, see what she liked andcook it for the customers.”

Don said doubters told him the restaurant would never survivewithout a dedicated menu. They were wrong.

“People would come by here just to see what Sissy was cooking,” hesaid.

For two decades, the formula worked. Today dozens of Brookhavenitesmake a point to dine regularly at what is probably the mostidentifiable eatery in the city.

“This has always been an adventure,” Don said. “When we came uphere, our attitude was, ‘What are we going to do to have funtoday?'”

Now it’s time for Mitchell and White to have fun. Don has been outof the business for a while with health issues, and his son,40-year-old Ricky Davis, has carried on alone.

“We were always a family restaurant, and it’s just been me the lastfew years,” Ricky said. “I’m just ready to move on.”