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Saint Leo prepares for spring opening

Saint Leo has secured a location just off Oxford’s central square at 1101 Jackson Avenue East.

Set to open in spring 2016, the restaurant will serve artisanal wood-fired pizza, seasonal salads and other offerings.

Saint Leo creators said it will be sophisticated, simple and comfortable — a community-focused spot welcoming guests for lunch, brunch on Sundays, dinner and takeout.

The restaurant is owned and headed up by Oxford local Emily Blount.

The location news follows a successful series of three sold-out, pop-up, preview dinners hosted in Oxford this past fall, with locations including The Powerhouse and the Ole Miss Motel.

Set inside a building that formerly served as Wiley’s Shoe Shop, Saint Leo’s, 1,100-square-foot dining room will seat about 72 guests.

The restaurant is currently under construction and will feature expansive windows lining exposed brick walls and a front entrance opening into a bar area.

The earthy and modern space will exude warmth from Saint Leo’s wood-burning, Pavesi oven imported from Italy. Guests can choose to sit at booths, leather lined banquets or at the marble-topped bar.

Saint Leo’s menu will highlight the purity and simplicity of locally sourced ingredients. Wood-fired pizzas from naturally leavened, from-scratch dough will be topped with house-made mozzarella and ricotta cheeses and the region’s freshest produce and meats.

Salads and pastas made in-house will change often to showcase the best of the season, and most of the small plates and entrees will be finished in the wood-fired oven. Small batch ice cream will complement other from-scratch desserts for a sweet finish.

The drink menu will feature fresh, seasonal, craft cocktails, local craft beers, and a wine list curated by a Napa Valley-trained sommelier.

California flavor

Blount grew up just north of San Francisco and worked in restaurants from an early age.

Her love of good food is strongly influenced by her California roots and time working in New York City. During 13 years in Manhattan, she gained production and management experience in a variety of settings, including working at legendary restaurants Raoul’s in SoHo and Scarpetta.

She has a bachelor’s in fine arts from Emerson College in Boston and received her culinary education at Verace Pizza Neopolitana.

Blount moved to Oxford in 2012 with her native Mississippian husband and their two boys.

Blount is collaborating with Dan Latham to open Saint Leo.

Originally from Madison, Lathan’s early culinary career included six years with Mario Batali’s restaurants Po and Studio del Gusto, plus time making salumi at Babbo in New York City. He then opened L&M’s Kitchen and Salumeria in Oxford, an Italian eatery specializing in house-cured meats and Italian wines.

In 2009, he was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award for “Best Chef: Southeast.”

He served as Culinary Director for Atlanta-headquartered, fast-casual burger restaurants Farm Burger and YEAH! Burger, and most recently, he has consulted for restaurants including Resurgens Hospitality Group (Holeman & Finch, Restaurant Eugene, H&F Bread) in Atlanta, Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, Jim N’ Nicks BBQ in Birmingham, MexiCue in New York City, and others.

Lathan lives in Atlanta with his wife and two children.