Wind rustled the leaves of the 100-year-old oak trees that tower over the homes in Belhaven while the sun hung low in the sky. The soft Friday afternoon light streamed through the branches, spilling onto the bright white and blue porch at Keifer’s, a Greek eatery that opened almost 40 years ago on North State Street in Jackson.
Dolmas, hummus and Keifer’s famous pita mozz, a warm pita topped with melted mozzarella cheese and side of feta sauce, seemed like the perfect start for a progressive dinner and historical walking tour. Jane Jones, owner of More Than A Tourist travel agency, started organizing the tours as a way to connect people in the area to the rich history of the Magnolia State.
“We have a history here in Jackson that spans so many decades, and it can be easy to miss the forest through the trees because you pass by it every day,” she said.
Jane has found that, while many people think of a historical tour as something a visitor from out of state would take, many locals are missing out.
“Local tours for locals sums it up well. There are so many hidden gems in Mississippi that need discovering,” she said.
A neighborhood known for charm and standing the test of time makes an easy place to start Jane’s dream of building a touring hub in the area. Her guests meandered through the old streets, tasting a little here and a little there and getting their fill of yesteryear.
“During an event like ours, you’re walking the streets Eudora Welty used to walk and seeing homes and buildings that our grandparents used to frequent, places and events that are unique to us in Jackson,” Jane said. “We’re seeing and learning about the things that make Jackson stand out in the Southeast.”
And, of course, the food. After appetizers at Keifer’s, the group headed south to The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen, a restaurant that opened just three years ago.
“Their short ribs are to die for,” Jane said.
Also on the menu were lasagna, salmon and half-Greek chicken. The evening ended with blueberry cake cobbler or praline tiramisu served up at Lou’s Full-Serv, in the former Jitney 14 on Fortification Street.
Jane has long-dreamed of taking people out of their routines and introducing them to new foods, experiences and cultures. At 19 years old, she began traveling to France and lived there off and on until moving back to Mississippi in 2008. Now 37, Jane’s time abroad stirred a desire to share experiences with people from home. It also gave her a keener eye to find the beauty and riches in her own backyard. She created More Than A Tourist in 2011. She aims to devote her time to helping people experience not only Europe but gain a greater appreciation of their own communities.
“We have so many great restaurants, both old and new, things you can’t find in other cities like Memphis, Birmingham or New Orleans,” Jane said. “It’s neighborhoods like Belhaven and these restaurants that give Mississippi its charm. I want people to experience all the sights, sounds and tastes of that charm, especially people who are from here.”
Dinner guest Sarah Warnock most appreciated how Jane incorporated the history of each stop and loved that restaurant owners shared their own story about their locations.
“Jane really went the extra mile asking us trivia questions about Belhaven and greater Jackson history,” she said. “She included an extra special stop at the former Shady Nook service station on Poplar, where we saw the coolest vintage map of the neighborhood. She’s truly a gem in the crown of Jackson.”
Jane has plans.
“I’m hoping this can grow into a food tour of the Jackson area,” Jane said.
For now, Jane caps the dinners at 12 guests, hoping to create an intimate evening. She also said that while she loves having groups who all go in together, one of the best times is when strangers walk away as friends.
“I love bringing people together,” she said. “A smaller crowd of 10 or 12 fits all sorts, the extroverts and the introverts.
“So many people throughout Mississippi don’t realize what a gem we have right here in the heart of the city in Belhaven,” Jane said.
“The restaurants are top-notch, the people are so warm and friendly, and there is so much history in the community.
“Right now, it’s just places that are walkable,” she said. “I hope it grows and grows.”
Jane also schedules tours for professional groups or clubs throughout the year.
“You don’t have to wait until our next progressive dinner,” she said. “A particular businesses or civic organization may be interested in a particular part of Mississippi history, and we can certainly provide those tours as well.”
Guest Mary Zimmerman echoed Warnock.
“The whole experience was delightful, informative and fun,” she said. “I learned a lot about Belhaven and the city of Jackson. The food at each spot provided just the right taste from each restaurant.”Purchase This Issue