Closing TimeJacques’ Cafe In The Park will shutter after tonight

Published 11:45 pm Friday, November 23, 2012

After more than a quarter of a century of feeding Vicksburg residents and tourists, Jacques’ Cafe In The Park will close its doors at Battlefield Inn tonight.

“I feel good,” said Jacques Parmegiani, the namesake, chef and operator. “But, the end has been near.”

A slow economy coupled with two ownership changes in six years at the Interstate 20 Frontage Road hotel sped the decision, Parmegiani said.

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The 68-year-old veteran of the restaurant and hotel industry doesn’t rule out a return to a kitchen at some point, but the Battlefield gig is over, he said.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do,” Parmegiani said.

Owners of the 117-room hotel are expected to renovate Jacques’ restaurant and lounge starting next year. Principals in Unity Hospitality Inc., which purchased the hotel in 2011, did not return a phone message.

The closure ends 10 jobs in the restaurant and the lounge, Parmegiani said. The lounge will remain open until mid-December, he said.

Born in Luchon, a community in the Pyranees Mountains on the French side of the border with Spain, Parmegiani served in the French Army in its airborne division during the Algerian War. A career in hotels and restaurants followed in spurts through the years.

In 1973, he opened Bourguignon on Lakeland Drive in Jackson, where The Quarter retail area is today.

“It means ‘Burgundy,’ and it was mostly woods out there then,” he said.

A half-dozen years in hotel management took him to New Jersey and Jamaica before he came to Vicksburg in 1978. Within a few years, he was making his mark in the kitchen at Tuminello’s restaurant on Speed Street.

“I stayed in Mississippi, and in Vicksburg, because of the history of it,” he said. “I love the history with the battles and the war.”

He opened Jacques’ in 1987 in what was then called Park Inn International, and the next year, he started an Italian-themed restaurant, Giani’s, in a former Dog ‘N Suds building on Washington Street at Lee Street. Giani’s was open for about a year and a half.

At Jacques’, his specialties evolved over time, but it was the steaks advertised as “the best between Memphis and New Orleans” that put the restaurant on the map.

“I’d drive to Dallas to get angus steak when you couldn’t really find it everywhere,” he said.

Then there’s the karaoke set in the lounge. Parmegiani said it started around 1992 as a way to entertain hotel guests and locals alike. The place where people “could become a star,” as the song list books on the table once said, became more than just a nightspot for the regulars who flowed in through the years.

“I first started going to Jacques’ in 1999,” said Cathy Sanford, a staple at the lounge’s tables.

“The regulars soon became like family to me. I’ve celebrated my last 13 birthdays with the Jacques’ crew,” Sanford said. “I’ll always remember the unforgettable moments and cherish the friendships I have because of Jacques’.”

Parmegiani chalks up his longevity in the business to his kitchen staff and servers through the years, a roster that includes his son, Jay, who opened Roca Restaurant & Bar in 2009, and Pat Price, a floor manager for Parmegiani for 30 years, dating to their days at Tuminello’s.

“I’ve worked with Jacques 20 years here and 10 years over there,” Price said. “I guess I’ll go take care of the grandkids.”

Dawn Bell, a bartender and server in the lounge for about five years, expects to stay in food service despite the late hours.

“I think I’m going to stay in it,” Bell said. “Been doing it 18 years.”

Richard Ahlvin, the restaurant’s keyboard player since the start, and for nearly 50 years in all, isn’t as sure where he’ll take his talents outside of his church group.

“I don’t know, really,” Ahlvin said. “It’s kind of the end of an era there.”