Made in Mississippi
FROM SILKY GIN TO BUTTERY POPCORN, 10 BRANDS BORN IN MISSISSIPPI ARE WINNING FANS FAR FROM HOME. MEET THE LOCAL MAKERS BEHIND THEM.
WRITTEN BY CALYN HOERNER
Delta Grind Grits
Stone-ground products grown in the heart of north Mississippi
Sourced from farms across Mississippi and hand-ground in Water Valley, the grits, polenta, cornmeal and masa from Delta Grind Grits are Mississippi through and through. Julia Tatum became the owner of Delta Grind Grits when she bought the small business from her cousin, Becky Tatum. The latter purchased the company in 2008 and grew it to provide grits to over 50 restaurants and businesses. With a product that’s ground to order and shipped the next day, Delta Grind Grits ensures freshness in every batch. Today, the grits are served and sold in 20 states across the nation. They are also featured on the menu in several restaurants around Oxford — Southern Craft Stove + Tap’s Bloody Mary Shrimp and Grits, pictured here, is made with house-made Bloody Mary Mix, Mississippi Gulf shrimp and Delta Grind Grits.
Crop to Pop
Stovetop popcorn sourced from Delta cornfields
The son of a cotton farmer, John Looney raised corn and rice on his small family farm in the Delta. He began trying his hand at growing popcorn after a friend suggested he add the crop to his offerings. While he already knew how to grow corn, the new challenge meant learning how to test the moisture content in corn kernels and adapting a process to dry them. Today, he supplies popcorn to more than 75 retail locations in seven states, with a farm staff that includes only himself, his father and two employees. He plans to continue to experiment with flavors and expand the offerings.
Tupelo River Coffee
Small-batch, craft-style, roasted coffee beans
Peter Vance was not a big coffee drinker when he moved back to Tupelo from Memphis. His wife Kelley, however, yearned for a good cup of coffee like the ones she was able to get at craft coffee shops in Memphis. So, they took matters into their own hands. The Vances did their research by visiting different coffee shops in the area, experimenting at home and watching video tutorials in order to learn how to create their own syrups and roast their own beans. On their mobile coffee cart, customers have the opportunity to try coffees from all over the world that really focus on the flavor of the beans.
Delta Ridge BBQ Sauce
Versatile barbecue sauce in six creative flavors
When Carey File tried the sauce sitting in the middle of his grandmother-in-law’s table, he knew he had discovered something special.
“I had never had anything like it,” File said. “We brought it home with us and gave it to a few friends, who loved it. We decided to make our own and sell a few jars at the farmers market, and it just exploded.”
Six flavors and 662 gallons later, File and his wife, Melissa, cannot believe the success that came from a little table sauce. Today, the couple produces the sauce at home in two-gallon pots. Their recipes begin with a simple spin on traditional barbecue sauce.
“You can separate most barbecue sauces into three categories: ketchup-, vinegar- or mustard-based,” File said. “Our sauces have elements of all three ingredients.”
The formula helps make Delta Ridge BBQ Sauce a versatile ingredient, with fans adding it to stir-fry dinners, sprinkling it on salads and setting it out as a dip. To help satisfy their growing customer base, File and his wife are constantly developing new flavors. Their recently released Sweet & Tangy Watermelon has already sold 24 gallons. This new flavor joins other favorites like Fiery Honey Bourbon, Honey Heat and Smoked Hickory Mustard.
Neon Pig in Tupelo sells Delta Ridge’s sauces and features them with some of its specials. The sauces can also be found in Oxford at LB’s Meat Market, King’s Steakhouse and Oxford Community Market.
Etta B Pottery
Handmade and hand-painted dishes, serving pieces and gifts
An experienced Oxford shopper could easily spot Etta B Pottery in any gift shop. Handmade in Etta, the beautiful pieces produced by Brent DeShea Weathers can be found in 13 states nationwide. Weathers branches out from the traditional with the unique shapes her dishware takes. Because every piece is handmade and hand painted, no one piece is exactly like another. The earth tones Weathers uses in her matte and glossy glazes, as well as the organic shapes of her designs, echo the textures of the Mississippi landscape. The artist is currently expanding her line of gifts, with a spoon rest as her latest release.
Kudzu Kutters Knives
Handcrafted knives for rugged skill and custom style
Hunting and fishing all his life, Randy Lucius always understood the necessity of a good knife. But it wasn’t until his son was gifted a custom knife that Lucius felt the desire to make his own.
“I didn’t even know people could make their own knives,” Lucius said. “I started doing research on how to make my own and taught myself everything.”
After building his own equipment, Lucius began experimenting with different types of handles and blade sizes. In just two years, he has made nearly 70 knives. Lucius puts great care into shaping the grip of each knife, as well as finding the perfect balance for each blade. He believes this is what sets his knives apart from those made in a factory.
“Each knife I make will feel like an extension of the user’s arm,” Lucius said. “You just don’t get that with store-bought knives.”
Taste of Gourmet
Custom mixes and sauces for southern-style cooking
After over 40 years in the restaurant business, Evelyn Roughton could no longer ignore the demand for her dishes to be accessible to the home cook.
“I wrote a cookbook, but people wanted it to be even easier,” Roughton said. “I started off just selling a mix for my catfish pate, and the demand just grew.”
Roughton now ships mixes for her most popular dishes all over the country. Each dish is tested in her restaurant, Crown Restaurant, or at an event she is catering. If she receives good feedback, she develops the dish into a mix. Taste of Gourmet now offers more than 40 items in their online store, from Mama’s Meatloaf Mix to Peach Pecan Pepper Preserves, and the company ships all over the country.
Wonderbird Spirits Gin Distillery
Gin made from local ingredients in the region's first distillery
Jobs in finance, law and business consulting drew Chand Harlow, Robert Forester and Thomas Alexander into big cities and away from their Southern roots. Alexander and Forester, old college roommates, often discussed their yearning for a slower pace. Each wanted to find work in an industry they were passionate about. Forester met Harlow through a mutual friend, and the pair immediately bonded over their dream of starting a distillery.
“Robert called me from Oxford and told me about Chand,” Alexander said. “He said if I wanted to do this thing, we needed to do it now. A lot of stars had to align for this to happen, and they did.”
Leaving their careers, the three men converged in Oxford. Harlow and Alexander were familiar with the area; both were married to UM alumni, as was Forester, whose father had lived in Oxford for 25 years. In the spring of 2019, the trio opened Wonderbird Spirits Gin Distillery, the first distillery in the region.
“We wanted to keep it local,” Alexander said. “The jasmine rice we use for our gin is from Two Brooks Farm in Sumner. We are also the only distillery in North America that uses rice.”
The use of jasmine rice brings a floral character to the gin. It not only makes the gin silky but also is the flavor profile their gin is based on.
Today, Wonderbird Spirits Gin is available all over the state of Mississippi, in liquor stores, restaurants and bars. Fans of the spirit can also order it online through a distribution company called Seelbachs. Harlow, Forester and Alexander, currently the only employees of Wonderbird Spirits, look forward to developing new recipes and flavors in the future.
Wren & Ivy
Stylish yet functional hunting gear
UM graduates B.C. and Kim Rogers are passionate about hunting. They are also aware of the importance of functionality, style and feel of the gear every outdoorsman needs. The couple searched for gear that satisfied them, but they grew restless after failing to find any that perfectly mixed elegance and modern advancements. Thus, Wren & Ivy was born.
Starting with the basics, such as gun cases and rifle slings, Wren & Ivy has now grown to provide nearly everything the outdoorsman might need. The Rogers have expanded their range to include dog supplies, duffel bags and even a gentleman’s grooming kit. Wren & Ivy products are available in stores across the South, as well as online.
Earl Dismuke Sculptures
Commissioned sculptures for public and private spaces
Earl Dismuke is a Mississippi sculptor who is dedicated to enhancing community life through the power of public art, all the while pursuing his passion of creating his own body of work.
Dismuke, a Winona native, is a co-founder of the Yokna Sculpture Trail, a rotating outdoor sculpture exhibition in Oxford, and is also a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission 2019 Visual Arts Fellowship Grant. He stays busy with public arts consulting and installments, and commissioned work for private clients. He believes the original components of every sculpture he creates makes them unique.
“Every piece I make is different,” Dismuke said. “Each one is original. I enjoy incorporating rings into my sculptures, so some of the pieces have the same theme. However, the composition is never the same.”
When working on commissioned pieces, Dismuke creates a smaller example of what he intends to create and shows it to the client for approval. Dismuke displays his art at Studio Waveland in Waveland, and at the Treehouse Gallery in Oxford. He installed a large piece in New Orleans in September.
“On Sept. 24, I installed my sculpture ‘Dingbat’ in New Orleans, at the intersection of Poydras and Camp Streets, as part of the Poydras Corridor Sculpture Exhibition,” Dismuke said. “It was a successful installation. That evening I was able to celebrate with my friends and family at a reception at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. I built this 11-foot sculpture with the help of Darrick and Darrell Vanderford.”
The Poydras Corridor project, presented by The Helis Foundation, is a rotating public sculpture exhibition in New Orleans that was created shortly after Hurricane Katrina, with the mission of lifting the spirits of the people of the city.
Dismuke’s studio is in Oxford, where he lives with his wife, Samantha, and their four children. To request a commissioned piece, contact Dismuke on Instagram @earltheartist, or his website, earldismukeart.com.