An Interview With Terry Jordan

With one of the most recognizable smiles in the Pine Belt and an infectious personality to match, Hattiesburg’s Terry Jordan is much more than just a bartender. He is a Renaissance man with a passion for reading, fashion, music, food – and perhaps most importantly, his family.

 

It was while taking commercial food classes at R.H. Watkins High School in Laurel that 16-year-old Terry Jordan knew he wanted a job in the service industry. Now, 35 years later, Jordan has had the opportunity to experience some of the best the industry has to offer. And along the way, he’s met and made a LOT of friends.

Back in those days at Watkins, Jordan had the opportunity to take part in competitions through the commercial food classes. Those competitions sent him to Jackson, Kentucky and Washington, D.C. 

It was at Watkins, that Jordan got his first opportunity to take care of others’ dining experiences. Twice a week the commercial food students fed members of the student body. Jordan explained that the class had a kitchen where the students planned and executed the meals. 

“Besides eating in the cafeteria, students could come to a small dining room and for $1 or $1.50 they could eat what we’d prepared,” he said, remembering the experience as a lot of fun.

He would later learn it wasn’t the fact of just taking care of people. It had a lot more to do with detail. 

Born in Milwaukee, Wisc., Jordan’s mother, Mildred, had moved there in the 1950s during the (Great) Black Migration to find new jobs. The migration involved the movement of 6 million African-Americans out of the rural South, driven from their homes by unsatisfactory economic opportunities and harsh segregationist laws, to the urban Northeast, Midwest and West between 1916 and 1970. 

As she started having children, it wasn’t long before Jordan’s grandmother, Pearlie Moffett, of Laurel followed. Jordan is one of eight, but “considers myself an only child, a very selfish only child, because I did not like giving her up,” he said of his Grandmaw. And he didn’t. Jordan lived with his grandmother all of his life.

At age 12 or 13, he and his grandmother, who he affectionately called “Grandmaw” during his younger years, moved back to Laurel, where she’d kept her house and land. 

“My grandmother had raised a family and now she had me,” said Jordan, who looked upon her as his mother. “I loved my mother to death, but it was my Grandmaw, who when you get a glance of something or a smell and it reminds you and takes you back, that’s who I see. Her face, no matter whether we were walking to church holding hands or severe ones like breaking a window and getting in trouble. It’s the same ole thing, but that’s my bright spot. As Jordan got older, Grandmaw would become Miss Pearlie. He had her with him until she was 94. And while she’s no longer physically with Jordan, he says she’s always with him.

 “She keeps me on the straight and narrow most of the time,” he said.

It was Grandmaw who taught Jordan the ways of the kitchen – from washing dishes to his first cooking lesson – making macaroons, no less. She impressed upon her young grandson the need to get things right, following recipes, the details of baking and standing up for what he believed in. But she also went to bat for him when school counselors tried to steer him in a different direction. To reach his life’s mission, he knew college had to be a part of his future.

Jordan’s voice gets very soft and he gets emotional as he talks about this woman, who was poor and from “that side of town” with such love and reverence.

 “She was the kind of grandmother, I don’t know, she led by example,” he said. “That one! She was incredible. I never got to cook for her, but I got to cook with her,” something that would be important in the years ahead.

 

The road to a career

Jordan graduated from Watkins and joined the military, where he served with Army Artillery 13 Bravo for two years (he served in the Army Reserve for 10 years), before coming back and enrolling at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he was studying psychology. He also landed a job at Robby’s Seafood, located across from campus on the U.S. Hwy. 49 Service Road where La Fiesta Brava currently does business. 

“Dan Hunter opened the restaurant,” Jordan said. “I liked that guy a lot and he taught me a lot. I started as a fry cook, battering shrimp, oysters and anything that needed battering, you name it.”

Jordan worked his way up to kitchen manager, waiting tables, the bar, assistant general manager and general manager.

It was during this time when Jordan was entering his final year of college that his wife became pregnant with his oldest son, Nicholas. “I was working full time, taking 21 hours, and plus, I had this coming,” he said. “Life knocked on my door and I answered it. I couldn’t help but go through the door and said, Let’s go do this.”

Jordan lacks just two classes to finish his psychology degree. Does he want to finish? “If I could find the time,” he said. “I know I could find the time, it’s when I want to make the time.”

And Jordan was off to a fun and exciting new adventure at Rocket City Diner, which was located where Newk’s is now.

 “That was a blast,” he said of RCD, where he served as manager. “I mean from 4-year-olds all the way up to 80 years olds, if you could pull them out of their seat or booth, get them up to hula hoop or do a ’50s dance, and dance with them, it was so much fun. We’d put them on the bar and dance with them.

After leaving Rocket City, he worked for Jeff Flathau of Flathau’s Fine Foods and Catering in Petal. “He was another awesome, cool guy. There’s not a manger I worked for that I haven’t learned from,” he said. 

From Flathau’s, he joined the staff at Purple Parrot – Clint Taylor, Hezekiah Wilson, Deidre McDonald, Johnnie Cochran, who was manager there, and others.

Needing to spend more time with his now 5-year-old son and family, Jordan pulled back from management, something he felt he needed to do at the time. “I was going through some hard times in my life and I needed to put all those (management) hours behind me for the time being. I needed to lay them down.”

With too much experience under his belt, their words not his, Jordan jumped straight over the job at Crescent City Grill he’d applied for and went straight to Purple Parrot, a place he really didn’t know existed, even though he’d lived in Hattiesburg a long time.

“It was just like this tiny little niche over in the corner; some of the greatest chefs who’ve come through Hattiesburg worked there,” he said. “They taught me all about what it is to eat, to eat well, which was so incredible. That’s one of the basics to me.”

 

Enter Bartending

Jordan saw this new job as a challenge. He started new and fresh, from the ground floor, waiting tables, learning basic steps of service, then adding to the basic steps, before kicking that up a notch. And he entered the world of bartending. 

“I just fell in love with the industry all over again,” he said.

“We built a clientele that allowed us to do our job as they sat down and said, ‘Feed me.’ And we’d take them through a meal. I’m talking wine, appetizers, soups/salads, entrees, dessert. They give you that much trust, what can you do but run with it?”

Jordan talked about the PP’s extraordinary kitchen, “not to say that any of the restaurants I worked in weren’t, but that was my first,” he said. “I guess you could say Purple Parrot was almost an institution by itself. To tell the truth, it was a learning experience.” And before it was over, it would become almost an art to him.

But another opportunity came knocking and Jordan was eager to open the door. He also started growing a beard.

Hub City businessman Ron Savell was opening Patio 44, a new restaurant on Fourth Street, and Jordan was looking for “a little more.”

“I wanted to create,” he said. “After you’ve been in it so long, you want to create. You’ve seen what other people can do and you want to take your chance and see what you can do. And Ron gave me that chance.”

Jordan said he was given almost total control over putting the new bar together. “Whatever you want, whatever you need, let me know,” Savell told me. “We started designing the bar, but the majority of it was mine, and that was incredible for me. We worked numerous hours looking at different bourbons, scotches, Irish whiskeys, tequilas, rums, talking to Jamie Farris, Vanessa (McLellan), Carl (Coppenhagen), just all these brokers. And we finally decided on a menu, one that I wanted.”

Jordan said he was questioned about the extensive menu, to which he replied, “You said you wanted the best bar in Hattiesburg, one that was well stocked, OK? Give it to me. And he did.”

Jordan worked with Savell for almost five years. 

“He the kind of guy you don’t work for, he’s always right there beside you, working with you,” said Jordan. “If you ask me what kind of manager I would like to be, it would be somebody that I work with. I don’t want anybody to work for me. And that’s the biggest thing, when you meet an owner and a manager that you work with, not for. Ron gave me all the tools I needed to create a bar. I wanted to do something for myself, I wanted to do something on my own, that was my next step.” 

The next step came when Josh Mathias came to Jordan to talk about Conway’s Family Pub, a new establishment farther west on Fourth Street that has opened in recent months. Jordan describes the opportunity as a chance to do it again.

“I always liked bourbon and tequila,” he said. “I always liked those, but never went into deep Irish whiskey, so this was another big chance to learn a new facet. Not to mention that Sam Sorrells was eventually going to brew over there and I could learn brewing (which really excited him). You want to take it where you never stop learning. You don’t. Don’t ever stop. There’s always something new every day that you can just add, I didn’t know that. And you can just pick it up.”

Jordan is also pretty excited about this new staff he gets to work with and toss around ideas.

 

The Hub City Life

Jordan thinks it’s kind of wonderful being in Hattiesburg with all these beautiful concepts and restaurants.

“Even living in Laurel, Hattiesburg had a draw from Waldoffs to all these fine stores or where you took your date for prom,” he said. “You had a draw to Hattiesburg; everybody wanted to come to Hattiesburg and now it’s getting there again.”

He remembers looking back seven to 10 years when all the new restaurant chains started moving in and Hattiesburg had all these restaurants. “Now it’s so many local restaurants and bright ideas,” he said. “These young cats come up and just run with it and that’s incredible for me to watch it happen.” 

Jordan now believes the Hub City is coming back to where a lot of things are happening that are bringing people here.  “And I love being a part of that,” he said. “Love it. Making Hattiesburg a focal point, I love being a part of that.”

 

Smiles!

Making people happy through the drinks he mixes or the food he serves is a top priority for Jordan, who puts himself out there every time he makes a drink, or somebody comes to him and says, “I want to feel this way or that way, or feel like it’s Christmas. Make me something Christmas.”

Jordan can do that, even in the heat of the summer. 

“All the ingredients are there. All I have to do is find them, smell them, and that’s it, the art of it. But I’m not an artist. I’ll tell you what I am. I don’t drink anymore, I don’t consider myself an alcoholic anymore; it’s been more than 15 years since I had a drink. But, if you sit in front of me, I can live through you in the drink that I make you. And I know you’re not going to take that for granted. You’re going to sip and savor, like I should have. Like I should have learned. But that’s another story.

“That’s what it is, that’s basically what it is. That’s my love for it, is to put a smile on your face, make your day a little brighter, just a little bit better. 

“How close can you get to perfection and not just be perfect?” he asks. “You always chase that carrot, but I know it’s all about what you bring to the table. How much are you willing to put yourself out there to take care of customers to make them have a good day? My thing is when you come in the door, everybody has their baggage, EVERYBODY, no matter who you are. My job, I feel, is to make you walk three feet off the ground when you leave. That’s my job, that’s it in a nutshell. To take care of you, that nothing is left out, that when you come in and shut the door behind, you leave all your worries back. There’s nothing but to just come in here and relax and let me take you through the meal.”

Jordan has taken quite a few patrons on this culinary journey with him.

He says these days people are drinking an array of things. 

“A lot of people call it mixology, but I don’t like to call it that,” he said. “I just like to find things that go together. It’s like picking out what you want to wear that day, how it smells, how it tastes, how it feels. (They’re drinking) a lot of cocktails, and by cocktails I mean basic ingredients. People are drinking things on the rocks and tiki drinks. I think the Prohibition and pre-Prohibition drinks, I’m not saying they are fading away, but everything goes in a circle and everything is starting to twain right now.  But it will be back, definitely.”

Does Jordan have a favorite story, customer request, anecdote, something that just sticks out for one reason or another? He has so many his brain can’t slow down long enough to remember a tale to tell. He needs a more specific topic to narrow things down. 

The one thing he can tell you about is one of his favorite couples – Scott and Elizabeth Schwartz of Hattiesburg.

“They are one of my most favorites couples in the world,” he said. “They would come in every Thursday, get there at 6 or 6:30 p.m., and that was their date night. And they still, after all these years, have a Thursday date night. What? That’s insane. You can just about count on him having a Miller Lite and her a glass of wine. With a couple of cocktails, they sit and talk about what they’ve been doing. She likes to travel, he stays home and works, and they get together on Thursday. I’m not envious of it, but it’s definitely on my bucket list. I’ve got to have that.”

Jordan enjoys how they just sit and talk and actually use eating dinner for what it’s meant for. 

“Sure, you say people cook with love and put love into it, that’s what our families did. I could spend two hours on one dinner that’s going to be eaten in 15 minutes. Yeah, you’ve got to love somebody that’s going to put that much into 15 minutes. But when you come in, take the time to stop at a restaurant, say, ‘Let’s you and me go have dinner,’ no phones, no nothing, that’s allright. And that’s something I always look forward to being here on Thursdays, being there and saying, ‘Got you!’”

Jordan’s family, wife Jesse Cubley Jordan, her son, Colin, 14, and their son, James Gray, are his bubble. “I have a 5-year-old who is so incredible,” he says of Gray. “He’s awesome, he’s wonderful. My life is full. Those four people are my sanctuary.”

Jordan wears three “wish” bracelets on his left arm – an orange one for Nicholas, a green one for Colin and a yellow one for Gray. These bracelets are a symbol of love and hope and are meant to be worn 24/7 until they fall off. Jordan said he’d already had a couple of incidents with Nicholas’ bracelet breaking.They are constant reminders of what’s important.

With salt and pepper in his beard, Jordan is 51. “I’m glad to be 51,” he said. “I like being old and enjoy getting older.”

 The family likes to travel, go hiking, swim creeks, float the river and play in the backyard. Jordan even finds pleasure in mowing his grass and doing yard work. He enjoys working out, but admits he hasn’t done it in a while. He did make it to the gym on his day off one day in July.

 “That’s me being selfish,” he said. “Taking the time, which for me is an hour, I haven’t taken it recently, because Conway’s and Patio 44 took up a lot of time.”

These days, Jordan’s oldest son, Nicholas, is now 24 and bartending at Mugshots. 

“I tried to push him away from the food industry,” Jordan said. 

Is Nicholas somebody to maybe come up and feel his dad’s shoes one day? 

“He better do better than I did,” said his proud dad. 

It’s his family and friends, and especially his dear Grandmaw, who have helped Jordan get where he is today – a new adventure with support from every direction. 

Hattiesburg and the experiences it’s afforded him, are pretty special to Jordan.

“It’s an oasis,” he said. “When I moved here from Laurel, even moving here from anywhere, it’s different. I got to Hattiesburg and there’s two major universities, two junior colleges, hospitals, law offices, churches, so you never run out of people. There’s a mix of everything. It does hold a special place. It’s an oasis that I don’t ever think could be duplicated again. It’s very special and I like calling it home. I don’t think I want to move anywhere else. I would like to see other places, but this is where I’m comfortable. Here. I like it here.”

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