Penn’s Restaurant locations are such a common sight throughout the southeastern United States that many customers are surprised to learn that it began right here in Canton, Mississippi. In fact, the Penn family has been part of the central Mississippi landscape for several generations, most prominently as part of the logging and farming industries.
So when Roger Penn—himself a farmer and cattle rancher—and his wife Margaret opened the original Penn’s Restaurant in 1967, their aim was to provide their hard-working community with simple, hearty Southern-style cooking and friendly service.
Today, Penn’s has multiple stores throughout the state, including three buffet restaurants and several quick-service counters, and also operates a bustling catering business. That original tiny drive-in in Canton has been replaced by a to-go location.
But Penn’s is still very much a family business: Roger Penn’s three children each own and operate their own Penn’s locations, and Penn himself can be found most days at the main location and corporate office on Lakeland Drive in Jackson. The company’s focus on simple comfort food and welcoming service has never changed.
“Our food quality, our service, it all goes along with that family owned vibe,” Catering Manager Natalie Wester explains. “People feel like they’re coming to a place where they know somebody.”
Many Penn’s locations today are, in fact, franchises. But the company has incredibly detailed guidelines for everything from décor to operations, all designed to ensure that the experience at every Penn’s Restaurant is true to their original vision. They also maintain a strictly consistent menu across every location, and several of their most popular menu items—including their famous catfish and chicken on a stick—are in fact secret exclusive recipes.
“It’s a home cooked meal,” Wester says. “It’s not just something that you open a bag and pour in and reheat. There are chefs back there cooking those meals, that take pride in what they do.”
“We have cooks that have been with us for 30 years,” Wester adds. “At the buffet locations we’ve had the same group of cooks from day one, and they’re like family now. Mr. Penn’s original cook Ms. Jean Blackman, every now and then when it gets really busy she’ll come in and help cook.”
Celebrating 50 Years
As the company celebrates it’s 50th anniversary this year, they have much to be proud of and thankful for. But, as usual, they’re not resting on their laurels. Penn’s Restaurant remains focused on staying true to their roots.
“We want to really focus on what makes Penn’s ‘Penn’s’,” Wester says, expressing an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. “We can always try to add stuff to our menu, but honestly people just want what we’re known for: catfish, and chicken on a stick. Through all these years of trying new things, that is what people really want.”