Currence revamps Lamar Lounge
Having pit-smoked, whole hog barbecue to serve up to customers seemed like a home-run to restaurateur and renowned chef John Currence, owner of the now closed Lamar Lounge.
Sitting inside the restaurant last week, Currence talked about the rise and fall of the restaurant that drew high praise but lacked in revenue.
“We’ve struggled with making the place work since we took it over three years ago,” Currence said. “I presumed having really good barbecue in a southern town, you’d be fighting people off with a stick. It was a no-brainer.”
Despite being some the best barbecue in the state, according to reviews online, the popular Lamar Burger outsold the barbecue by 4 to 1.
Currence admits some of the fall of Lamar Lounge was due to failed management with the delivery of consistent product and service.
Two weeks ago, Currence decided to stop fighting the uphill battle. He let his employees go and closed the door of Lamar Lounge.
However, the doors won’t remain closed for long.
The restaurant is currently undergoing renovations and changes to its menu.
“One thing we’ve toyed with is doing an old Italian-American red sauce concept,” Currence said. “There hasn’t really been a place like that in Oxford for 25 years. We’re doing to have penne pasta, meatballs, and spaghetti, veal Parmesan – basic, old-school Italian that everyone is familiar with.”
“We’re keeping the burger,” he added with a chuckle.
Other than the menu, other changes include the name. The restaurant will be named “Eddie’s at Lamar Lounge” at first.
“We’ll eventually drop the ‘at Lamar Lounge’ and it will just be Eddie’s,” Currence said.
The name comes from the restored 14-seat 1800s Brunswick bar which was once owned by legendary actor Eddie Fisher.
The inside won’t be undergoing any major renovations, Currence said.
“I like the atmosphere here as it is,” he said.
The wood-burning fireplace, old-school Jukebox, taxidermy and deer skulls should all make the cut.
“We may do a little redressing,” he said. “Doesn’t need a whole lot done to it.”
Currence said some work will be done to the patio to make it more usable when the weather isn’t perfect.
Currence hopes to open in about two weeks, just after the Auburn game in November. Former employees were given the option to reapply and new applications are being considered daily in hopes to have the staff ready for the opening.
Currence said ending what was Lamar Lounge has been a disheartening and humbling experience.
“I didn’t spend as much time here as I’d like to have,” he admitted. “We had some of the best pit masters in the country come through saying it was some of the best barbecue they’ve tasted. And to have it not work, it’s a real heart-breaker.”
Lamar Lounge was a not-for-profit restaurant. The idea was to give the proceeds left after bills and payroll to a nonprofit organization. However, the restaurant never really experienced much profit but Currence made good on his promises. The first year, he donated money to the Good Food for Oxford Schools Program. The second year, he donated to the Oxford City Market to support its dollar-for-dollar match program for people on SNAP benefits. The third year, funds were given to the Move on Up Foundation, which helps promote healthy lifestyles for children in hopes of combating childhood obesity.
“It pretty much came out of pocket,” he said of the donations. “But I’d like to continue doing that. I’m dedicated to helping the nonprofits that make this a better place to live. We have to nourish our community as well as our guests.”
Lamar Lounge was originally built by Fat Possum Records to have a place for their musicians to perform. Currence said despite the talented performers that played at the lounge after dinner hours, rarely did the shows draw large crowds. However, Currence said the restaurant will more than likely host a few live shows from time to time.
In the first few weeks of its opening, the restaurant will serve dinner only starting at 5 p.m.
“We’ll eventually add in lunch hours,” he said.
Currence aims to make Eddie’s a place that will provide the same atmosphere and quality of service and product that he says is inline with his other restaurants, which include City Grocery, Big Bad Breakfast, Boure’ and The Snack Bar.
“It will hopefully be a place that our family and friends will flock to,” he said.
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