Monday, April 13, 2009

The Weidmann's we knew

Since 1870 -- at 210 22nd Avenue. Photo is circa 1953.

Mississippi's oldest restaurant opened with four stools and a counter in 1870. Ignoring for a moment its regionally popular signatures, such as Crab Belvedere, Wiener Schnitzel a la Holstein and Black Bottom Pie, Weidmann's is a marketing landmark in the historical sense.

For example, it is 139 years since Felix Weidmann, a Swiss ocean liner chef, left his kitchen on the open sea and settled in Meridian to create his own taste of the American Dream. "Felix started a tradition here, and we are just carrying it on," said Gloria Chancellor in 1993. She was five generations removed from the original Weidmann. She wistfully remembered growing up in the restaurant with her four sisters.

Traditions, in fact, are so established at Weidmann's that they've become part of the city's official mythology. In Meridian, you know what day it is according to Weidmann's. If they're serving seafood gumbo, it's obviously Friday. This is the sort of stuff marketing stories are built from. Its famous peanut butter is another. The peanut butter tradition began during World War II when butter rationing made it difficult to serve bread with meals. Henry Weidmann, who was then proprietor, took the suggestion of a local customer who said peanut butter and crackers would taste better than nothing.

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