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USM Honors Local Restaurateur St. John as Entrepreneur of Year

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 02:15pm | By: Van Arnold

Robert St. John holds his Entrepreneur of the Year Award alongside USM President Rodney D. Bennett, left, and Dr. Stacey A. Hall, acting dean of the College of Business and Economic Development. (Photo by Kelly Dunn)

“Whether you are an artist, an educator, or a restaurateur, success follows passion every time,” said local businessman Robert St. John upon accepting the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year Award presented to him by The University of Southern Mississippi.

The University's College of Business and Economic Development honored St. John during a special luncheon held Friday, April 26 at the Thad Cochran Center on the Hattiesburg campus.

St. John has spent almost four decades in the restaurant business. Thirty of those years include ownership of the Purple Parrot Café, Crescent City Grill, Mahogany Bar, Branch, Tabella, Ed's Burger Joint, The Midtowner and Midtown Donut – all located in Hattiesburg.

“It is a privilege for the college, and its Business Advisory Council, to honor Mr. Robert St. John in this way. We are inspired by his dedication to economic growth in the City of Hattiesburg and congratulate him on his success in a wide array of business and philanthropic ventures. We are proud to call him an alumnus and now the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year,” said Dr. Stacey A. Hall, acting dean of the College of Business and Economic Development.

In addition to his renowned career as a restaurateur, St. John also is a chef, newspaper columnist, and author of 11 books. A native of Hattiesburg, he has been named the state's top chef three consecutive years and was previously honored as Mississippi Restaurateur of the Year.

“I want to thank the Southern Miss College of Business and Economic Development for this award and the University as a whole,” said St. John. “This award should be sliced up and given to many people. First and foremost, there is no doubt that there was divine intervention to get me to where I have been.”

St. John also expressed gratitude to his mother, Mrs. Dinny St. John; his wife, Mrs. Jill St. John; his children Harrison and Holleman St. John; his business partner, Wyatt Waters; his Chief Financial Officer, Maria Keys; his managers; and his coworkers. 

St. John serves on numerous boards and is the founder of Hattiesburg Hundred, an organization that assists sworn law enforcement and first responders' families in their times of need. He is also the founder of the Midtown Merchants Association.

In 2009, St. John founded Extra Table, a statewide non-profit organization that ships more than 14 tons of healthy food to approximately 40 Mississippi soup kitchens and mission pantries every month.

The Entrepreneur of the Year event is sponsored by the late Joseph Boardman Jr., a 1953 graduate of Southern Miss, who majored in marketing. A past president of the Southern Miss Alumni Association and former member of the USM Foundation Board, Boardman also served 18 years on the Harrison County Development Commission.

In 1972, he was elected to the Hancock Bank Advisory Board and served as a member of the Handcock Bank Holding Company Board until 2007, including chairman of the board from 1987 to 2007. From 2008 to 2009, Boardman served as Hancock Bank Holding Company Board member emeritus.