By STEVEN NALLEY
Before Donald Lee played in the NFL, before he played football at Mississippi State University, he was a student at Maben High School with a best friend named Lamar Ware.
Ware attended Starkville High School, but his mother Gwendolyn Ware was a teacher at MHS, and he said he met Lee through this connection. While Lee was at MSU, Ware was at Miles College in Birmingham, Ala., and while Lee was in the NFL, Ware was in the medical field, he said. He and Lee have never been out of touch, he said, and they haven’t lost sight of their dream of owning a business.
“Even in childhood, (at ages) 16 (and) 17, we talked about businesses then,” Ware said. “It’s just like living the dream. We’re just excited and glad that we’re able to give the community a nice restaurant.”
Ware and Lee broke ground July 20 on a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s restaurant at the corner of Stark Road and Hollywood Boulevard near Hollywood Premier Cinemas.
Ware, who will become the restaurant’s general manager, said the opening date is not yet firm, and while Lee will own the restaurant, his exact degree of involvement has yet to be determined.
“He definitely will be playing the ownership role,” Ware said. “We specifically don’t know his role as he finishes playing right now, but he will be involved. I’m not going to say day-to-day operations, but he will be involved more as his career ends, after he retires.”
Lee said in a press release that he has always had an interest in entrepreneurship, even though football has always come first.
“Beef’s is all about great food, sports and getting involved in the community,” Lee said. “When I learned that Beef’s was searching for franchisees to help grow the brand near my hometown, I came running.”
Kenny Williamson, who coached Lee in high school and now coaches at East Webster High School, said he is working informally with Lee on Beef ‘O’ Brady’s. He said he and Lee have had the idea for about six or seven years, and when looking at possible restaurants to select, the family atmosphere at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s stood out.
“They call themselves a sports bar, (but) we don’t want to put the main label as a bar,” Williamson said. “It’s a place where families can go and watch a ball game. They’re really big into developing relationships with summer league teams and flag football teams, (and Beef ‘O’ Brady’s is) a place where teams can eat pre-game meals or post-game meals. Of course, they’ll be able to do catering. Teams want food catered to them.”
Ware said the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s chain is growing quickly, developing a “Beef’s 2.0” prototype design for new and existing restaurants. “Beef’s 2.0” revamps the menu with more selections, a brighter setting and increased appeal for children, he said, and this new direction appealed to him and Lee, leading them to choose Beef ‘O’ Brady’s as their franchise.
“The old specs have more of a sports bar environment,” Ware said. “We were just impressed by the move (the corporation) made. We could see where they were going and decided to join them. There’s not many restaurants in this town that have a kids’ atmosphere and a community atmosphere. We have a bar in the restaurant, but our focus is kids and the community.”
Ware said he does not expect Beef ‘O’ Brady’s to exacerbate traffic entering and exiting the movie theatre; the architectural plans for the restaurant show entrances on both Stark Road and Hollywood Boulevard. He said the additional parking at the restaurant might even alleviate traffic, and he may suggest the city of Starkville install a traffic light at the Stark Road-Hollywood Boulevard intersection or widen Stark Road to four lanes.
“That would definitely be up to the city,” Ware said. “Maybe that will be a solution.”
According to Beef ‘O’ Brady’s website, the chain’s only Mississippi restaurants are currently in Meridian and Biloxi. Starkville will be the chain’s first foray into North Mississippi, Ware said.
“We feel that this is a market that deserves a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s,” Ware said.