By Susan Marquez
Take a step into Starkville Café, and you’ll feel as though you have taken a step back in time to 1945, the year the café was founded by the Britt family. Originally called the Britt Café, not much, but the name has changed in the iconic diner since it opened. Now owned by John Peeples, the café continues to serve generations of Starkville residents as well as visitors to the college town.
“I consider myself the caretaker of this restaurant,” says John, who views the café as a piece of Starkville history. “I’m all about Starkville and the people who make this town. It’s not unusual to see a college student from Mississippi State dining with his father, who also went to State, and even his grandfather, who attended State as well. That’s what makes this worthwhile to me, and it makes me want to preserve this café. That’s my business model. Anyone can make good food; that’s the easy part. The hard part is to maintain a relevant role in the community.”
The Starkville Café is open seven days a week, from 6 am to 2 pm, serving traditional breakfast fare in the morning, including eggs to order, bacon, sausage, biscuits, toast, pancakes and grits, to something hardier, like a 10-ounce Angus ribeye with a side of peppered gravy. And, of course, the coffee is fresh, and no cup goes empty.
The lunch menu is filled with sandwiches, from a Bully burger to the StarkVilly, half a pound of aged black Angus chopped ribeye steak, grilled with onions and peppers and topped with provolone cheese on toasted Gambino bread from New Orleans. There are also plates with barbecue, hamburger steak, country fried steak and chicken tenders; each served with coleslaw or jalapeño slaw, fries and Texas toast.
A place where retired men gather to solve the problems of the world over a cup of coffee, where college kids settle in to study, and harried parents take their children to have lunch before afternoon soccer games; the Starkville Café is a place where generations comingle seamlessly. “We do things old school here,” says John. “We still handwrite orders, and things don’t always happen in a hurry. It’s an old building, and it has an old kitchen. But we make it work. Many folks on our staff have been here 20 years or more. We are thankful for those who are patient with us.”
Like most restaurants, the Starkville Café was forced to pivot to help make ends meet during the pandemic. “That’s when we started BabyDuck’s Fish Camp,” explains John, who once worked for Ducks Unlimited and his mentor, Billy Joe Cross, gave him the nickname BabyDuck in the 1990s because John was the youngest and newest person there. Now John converts the Starkville Café into a different kind of restaurant two nights a week. “We realized there were no fish restaurants in Starkville, so that’s what we decided to do.” BabyDucks Fish Camp serves fried catfish, shrimp and aged Angus rib eyes with sides of fries, coleslaw, corn salad, greens, baked beans and baked potatoes on Thursday and Friday nights.
John and his wife have opened a second restaurant in Starkville, the Camphouse, on University Drive. “We created the restaurant in 2015 as a place that is geared to our age group. We serve adult beverages and good food. It’s also one of the only places in Starkville where people can bring their dogs. We have a big front patio where dogs are welcomed.”
The Starkville Café is located at 211 East Main Street in Starkville. To learn more or view their menu, visit starkvillecafe.com.