FOOD

Catfish You Can Count On

Chatterbox Restaurant in Ingrams Mill, Mississippi has been satisfying DeSoto County’s catfish craving for over 25 years

 

Story by Natalie Troutt   |  Photos by Casey hilder

Being a Southerner means many things. One of those things is knowing good catfish when you taste it and Brenda Hurt, operator of Chatterbox Restaurant in Ingrams Mill, Mississippi, knows good catfish.
Chatterbox was originally opened 25 years ago by Brenda’s in-laws at the time, Rudolph and Jane Bumpous. The Bumpouses owned a small piece of land with a pond on it. All of the wood for the restaurant was collected from that land and was cut in the sawmill that Rudolph owned. Chatterbox was built right on the edge of the pond and was originally single dining room and a kitchen. Additions were made over the years and today, the restaurant is comprised of one large dining room, a smaller dining room, an event room and a small gift shop that contains items crafted by Brenda’s mother, as well as other locals.
The Bumpouses owned the restaurant that was known for its delicious catfish for eight years. Brenda came into the mix when she married the Bumpouses' son, Don. When Jane and Rudolph’s health began to fail, they decided to sell the restaurant. They wanted to keep it in the family, so they offered it to Brenda and Don. Other than raising children, Brenda had never worked a day in her life. Although she was wary, they decided to do it. “How do you follow in your mother-in-law’s footsteps? It was a lot of pressure,” she says.
Brenda spent three weeks mastering all of her mother-in-law’s recipes and learning everything about Chatterbox. In July of 1995, she took over, and despite her worry, the restaurant continued to do well under Brenda’s ownership. Several years into their new adventure, however, Don and Brenda divorced. Brenda kept the restaurant and carried on with the business. Eventually, however, the stress of running the restaurant alone got to her. One day, while driving home, Brenda called her real estate agent friend, Janna Gordon, to discuss the possibility of selling Chatterbox. Two weeks later, Gordon called back and said that she and her husband Dan would like to buy the restaurant. “We had eaten there for 10 years. The food was great, the atmosphere was great. To us, it was a no-brainer,” Janna says.
Eight years later, Chatterbox is a smooth operation. The Gordons have a strictly financial role, while Brenda still runs the restaurant and bakes all of the desserts. “A lot of people thought that since I sold it that I’m not here but I’ve never left,” Brenda says. She also says that she has a wonderful working relationship with the Gordons and she enjoys running the place without all of the financial pressure. Another thing that she is grateful for that came out of the sale of the restaurant was her ability to pay off the college debt that her three sons — Keegan, Kaleb and Kody — had accrued. The boys’ degrees are what Brenda is most proud of. “I so badly wanted all of them to have a college degree and now all three of them do. That’s probably my biggest accomplishment,” Brenda says, smiling from ear to ear.
Brenda, who remarried in 2001 to Dennis Hurt and lives less than a mile from the restaurant, is a self-proclaimed “people person” and relishes the chance to interact with customers. She has a wry sense of humor and does not mind the ribbing she sometimes gets from people after they have become acquainted with her. “People say, ‘Chatterbox… was it named after you?’” Brenda says with a laugh. She has been told that she runs the business like a mother. She employs kids that she knows really need the money and she truly cares about her employees’ lives, as well as those of her customers.
The last eight years since the Gordons purchased Chatterbox have not been all carefree, however. Brenda says things got scary when the economy took a dip back in 2004-2005. Although business has begun to pick up again, Brenda says that it is not as booming as it once was. “There used to be nothing in Olive Branch, nothing in Hernando. Now, everything has grown up around us and people have forgotten about us or they think we’ve closed,” Brenda says. She also says that when the catfish craze happened between 1985 and 1995, everyone wanted to open a catfish place. Now, most of those places have closed and Chatterbox Restaurant is one of the only remaining catfish joints in DeSoto County.
Everything that is served at the restaurant is made from scratch, including the caramel for the caramel pie that is among the 11 desserts that are offered. Menu staples are chicken, shrimp, steak, and of course catfish, which they get from Earl Lakes, a private catfish farmer in Tunica. Over the years, Brenda has added things such as salads (Chatterbox offers a variety — everything from grilled chicken salad to catfish salad), vegetables, blackened catfish and whole catfish to the menu. In the summer, Brenda has even been known to sell homemade ice cream to help beat the heat. Although Brenda and her family have been eating Chatterbox food for many years, they have yet to tire of it. “There’s nothing in here that we have that I don’t eat. We like our food,” Brenda says. Brenda’s youngest son, Kody, who works in the restaurant along with various other family members, adds that it is not just the food that draws people. “It’s not just a restaurant. We know all of our customers. It’s kind of a social gathering as much as it is a restaurant,” he says.
Loyal patrons Chris and Danita Anderson have not only been coming to Chatterbox for years — their daughters, Chasity and Brianna, also work there. Danita believes there is no better place to go when you are craving fish or a tasty homemade dessert. “They have the best catfish around and they also have the best desserts. My favorite is the Hummingbird cake,” Anderson says. Longtime employee Jimmy Vanlandingham, who has been with the restaurant since 1995, also has a deep appreciation for the eatery. “I love working here. I eat the food here every week and I love the people,” Vanlandingham says.
Chatterbox Restaurant, in business for 26 years this July, is open Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Don’t miss the chance to visit DeSoto County’s best-kept secret!

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