photo by Meghan Garner
It’s hard to miss Roosters, situated on the corner of Fondren Place and State Street in the Fondren Corner building. In fact, it seems such a natural part of the Fondren landscape that it’s hard to imagine it being anywhere else. But the original Roosters actually opened in 1984 on Roach and Capitol Street, and it saw many different locations and stages before coming to rest in its current home roughly 14 years ago.
Current owner Nathan Glenn recalls coming of age in the kitchen of the restaurant his father founded: “Instead of babysitters I was in the kitchen, washing dishes. Actually nine [year’s old] was the first time I cooked ‘line.’ They tied the apron up to my neck, stood me on a milk carton, told me when to flip the shrimp.”
With such a childhood, it’s not surprising Glenn would choose to follow in his father’s footsteps. Having been raised in the industry, he chose not to pursue formal education. Instead, he invested his time and money locally and opened a “new and improved” Rooster’s in Fondren. This would prove to be a prophetic beginning of Glenn’s career, which has been characterized by bold business decisions and a commitment to local Jackson development.
It was quite a different neighborhood when Glenn opened Rooster’s in Fondren. “The bankers didn’t want to give us the loan because they thought the area was so bad,” he recalls. Glenn was the first tenant in the newly renovated Fondren Corner—formerly the Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries building—and it required all of his determined creative vision to see the area’s potential. “It was just kinda dilapidated. The front of Rooster’s was all caved in, you had a bunch of homeless people living in the basement, it was just wild,” he remembers.
But Glenn knew that with the hospitals and medical centers nearby, there was bound to be a market for a good cheeseburger. Walker’s Drive-In had just opened a year earlier and was generating a lot of hype, and, with the addition of Rooster’s, the Fondren area finally started to gain momentum. The building’s other tenants included several creative artists who became both customers and partners for Rooster’s, often trading artwork for meals. The restaurant’s unique tabletops are a surviving tribute to this tight-knit community who were determined to see Fondren thrive.
And thrive it certainly has. The Fondren area now boasts over two dozen locally owned restaurants and bars, all of which have a unique approach and more than enough traffic to keep them busy. Glenn dismisses the idea that he was a driving force behind that growth, crediting instead the community network and the timing of their efforts. But it’s certainly clear that Rooster’s location at the heart of Fondren is metaphorical as well as physical.
The first time we ate at Rooster’s we were completely taken by surprise. We expected a decent burger, but from the first bite we was blown away. Don’t get me wrong—this wasn’t a fancy, overloaded concoction. It was just a really simple, really good burger.
In much the same way, my conversation with Glenn surprised me with its depth. It’s easy to be fooled by Rooster’s casual décor and simple menu items into thinking both the food and the vision behind it are ordinary. But Glenn takes pride in using all fresh ingredients. “We don’t even have a freezer!” he laughs. He takes every detail seriously, from the scratch-made jalapeño cheddar buns to the proprietary method for frying chicken.
Similarly, he takes his role in the Fondren business environment seriously. “Part of it is enabling, or being a contribution to small business guys trying to give them some direction,” he explains. “It’s a network about, not so much the quality but about somebody’s…”—he trails off, searching for the right word—”…commitment to it. Fondren is a community that works together.”
This attitude is evidence of Glenn’s general approach, which seems to be continually forward-focused. He’s proud of the heritage and family history behind his restaurant, but his attention is all on what’s next. He just finished a renovation of Rooster’s that opened a new patio seating area, complete with hand-painted signs by one of Fondren’s many creative artists, Henry Collins. He believes delivery services such as Uber Eats will soon arrive in Jackson, so he’s working hard to make sure Rooster’s menu items are ready to package and travel well. And he’s developing an entirely new concept restaurant, which he’s been able to really have fun with thanks to Rooster’s stability and success. “Financially, I’m in a position where I can just kinda go crazy, just go super loud and super wild…just to see what happens.” So Rooster’s legacy as a support system for local development is alive and well.
It’s good to know that the combination of Rooster’s success and Glenn’s vision is continuing to bring new ideas and investment to Jackson. But it’s even better to know that Rooster’s itself is well established and isn’t going anywhere, because we’re not sure we could ever go back to ordinary burgers after experiencing theirs. We highly recommend you stop by to have one on the new patio.
And if you enjoy everything the Fondren area has to offer, be sure to tell Glenn “Thanks!” while you’re there.