Taylor Grocery’s no-frills fish is worth the fuss.

By Betsy Cribb
March 10, 2020
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“There’s nothing we do here that’s complicated,” Lynn Hewlett tells me from across the table, Styrofoam cup of something in his hand. “It’s very simple.”

We’re sitting in Taylor Grocery, the restaurant he owns about 10 miles outside Oxford, Mississippi. When he bought the place in 1997, it was a general store that happened to sell fried catfish on the weekends. But Hewlett ditched the potato chip racks and focused instead on the fish, transforming the popular spot into a bona fide institution that brings in crowds from miles around. It’s open for dinner Thursday through Sunday, and it’s BYOB.

Owner Lynn Hewlett (at right) with his daughter, Sarah Margaret Hewlett

The walls are overgrown with kudzu-like layers of memorabilia—high school composite pictures, license plates, and messages written in permanent marker—but the fish itself is served straight, no fuss.

Restaurant walls covered in memorabilia

“We don’t spend a lot of time decorating the food,” Hewlett says. “We send you out a good, clean-looking plate of catfish. Got a little lemon on it, a little onion if you want. That’s about all it gets.”

If simplicity is the secret to the catfish, Hewlett himself is responsible for the rest. “It ain’t Sunday, but the Lord loves a cheerful giver,” he bellows, waving toward the tip bucket at the edge of the stage, where a duo imported from Oxford plays a bluesy set with a harmonica and a gas-can mandolin. He’d make a fine preacher, based on the congregants who mosey up to answer his altar call. Two of them toss in $20 bills. It seems he’d fare well as a politician too: He makes the rounds all evening, shaking hands, slapping backs, and asking about the babies. And just when I think I’ve seen it all, Hewlett takes the mic for a gravelly performance of “Caldonia,” with his cup still in hand.

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Even so, he’s quick to brush off suggestions that he has anything to do with the restaurant’s success. “I take zero credit,” says Hewlett. “It’s a blessing. My wife and I worked here together for many years. My daughter grew up in this place, and she’ll have it one of these days. It’s a blessing to know that she loves it like I do... It’s in good hands.”

Diners waiting for supper on Taylor Grocery's porch

For now, though, he’s the one running the show. “It does my heart good when a person from Los Angeles who’s never had fried catfish tells me he or she likes it,” says Hewlett. “I appreciate that. But it does me a lot more good when some guy from Yazoo City, Mississippi, who’s been eating catfish his whole life says this is the best he’s ever had. That man knows what he’s talking about.”

taylorgrocery.com, 662-236-1716, 4 County Road 338, #A, Taylor, MS 38673