110 South Second Street
Bay St. Louis, MS 39520
The Mockingbird Café
story and photos by Ellis Anderson (unless otherwise attributed)
The first time they meet the owner of the Mockingbird Café, most people hear her name as “Alison.” She makes it simple for them.
“It’s Alicein. Like Alice In Wonderland,” she says, smiling.
And her smile is so open and engaging, one almost expects the Mad Hatter to round the corner at any moment.
However, the effervescent personality and the fairy tale name belong to an extremely savvy businesswoman. Alicein Schwabacher oversees the Mockingbird Cafe with a holistic approach – one that makes her a pioneer in the state of Mississippi. She and her team believe that a business can be profitable and influence the overall quality of life in a community at the same time.
“We try to promote wellness on all fronts,” she says. “That includes serving fresh foods, hosting revolving art shows, providing a home for Tree House Yoga Studio, and staging live family-friendly music events. We have a free lending library and we’re home base for a weekly Fun Run. It’s all about interacting with your community on a lot of different levels.”
The Mockingbird first opened in 2006, when Bay St. Louis was still digging out from the debris fields left by Hurricane Katrina. To outsiders, it seemed an odd time to open a coffeehouse, but according to Alicein, "we saw a need for a communal gathering place that would offer love, hope, and a place for healing to begin." The historic building quickly became known as the town’s “living room,” where volunteers and survivors shared stories, laughter and tears.
Over the past nine years, the Mockingbird has been featured in national magazines like Southern Living (repeatedly), Coastal Living and Cottage Living magazines and on NPR's Weekend Edition. They’re known throughout the state in artistic and musical circles. Their food is of special note too. Recently, their burgers were named among the top ten in Mississippi. So if visitors to Bay St. Louis were given a “Must Do” list, “hangin’” at the Mockingbird would be near the top.
Visitors can always find interesting locals willing to converse in the lively café. On any given day, you’re likely to find college students who have stumbled on the Bay during their travels, scientists who work at Stennis Space Center, day-trippers from New Orleans and beyond, kids from the nearby schools and lots of artists and writers. The mix of people is as irresistible as the food and beverages served up by welcoming baristas.
About a year ago, the Mockingbird began offering breakfast on a daily basis (7am – 11am M – Sat., 8am – 1pm on Sunday) to resounding community applause. Their made-from-scratch biscuits have been called the best on the coast by more than one Southern food lover (this writer among them). Divine jams made in-house can be slathered on for the full flavor bomb effect (just DO IT!).
Other favorites include frittatas, apple-smoked bacon, and the ever-popular José Loves Me omelet (with black beans, cheddar, avocado and made-in-house pico de gallo). Fresh fruits, robust full-grain grits (not the anemic instant kind) and curry-seasoned home-fries round out a menu that will delight adventurous diners as well as traditional egg-and-bacon folks.
Smith & Lens Gallery, located right next door, schedules their monthly art opening during the same time frame, so that night, Second Street takes on a festival atmosphere. The Night Market concerts are similar to the other evening performances held throughout the month. Adults take chairs and listen or chat with friends, while dozens of children are hula hooping and scooting and dancing their way through the crowd. That’s exactly the energy the Mockingbird crew has been cultivating.
“When you have children, you don’t stop wanting to go have a burger and a beer and watch a band,” Alicein says. “We wanted to provide a place where that could happen. All our events are children-friendly. We have blocks and markers and hula-hoops and black boards to help keep kids entertained while the parents are enjoying conversation and music.”
“Besides, you want outings like that to be a family experience and to cultivate a love of art and music in your children. Then they’re going to grow up and want more of the same.”
“We’re all pieces of the big puzzle, working to make our town loved and successful,” says Alicein. “Our philosophy at the Mockingbird is that kindness is the most important thing.”