by Julian Rankin
The eateries of Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal dot the landscape in and around Fondren like firmly planted flagpoles. There’s BRAVO! on the other side of I-55, Broad Street Baking Company anchoring Banner Hall and Sal & Mookie’s in the middle of the neighborhood. Both men are equal parents to all three, but when you hear tell of Jeff and Dan, you’re most likely to hear their names in that order.
“I’ve always been fine with that,” says Blumenthal. “It’s just part of my personality to let Jeff be the front guy. That’s where he gets his energy from – from dealing with people. We’re very much polar opposites and together we make a good whole.”
If Jeff is the public persona, Dan is the machine, the grease, the fire. What moves him, in both figurative and literal ways, is what’s beneath the hood – whether he’s the chef in the kitchen or the wheelman of his Porsche. It’s about the work. The pursuit.
In 1980, before BRAVO! and Broad Street, Blumenthal and Good were just seniors at local Murrah High School. Blumenthal remembers his first car, a sporty 1973 Ford Capri that he inherited along with his passion for machines, from his father.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Blumenthal says. “At one point I had three cars and three motorcycles. It’s that quality of being on the edge. That’s how restaurants work when they’re busy. That’s how it is when you drive fast. Always on the edge of chaos. Always on the edge of crashing.”
After high school Blumenthal left for California where he got a business degree and eventually fell in love with food, throwing himself into the San Francisco culinary scene. Good stayed in Jackson at Millsaps College. They kept in touch and snail-mailed drafts of a business plan back and forth – the seeds of BRAVO!, now their flagship Italian eatery. Good raised funds and Blumenthal returned home to run the kitchen when they opened in 1993. After twenty-one years, much has changed, but they have kept alive that paradoxical dichotomy that makes the partnership strong.
On the wall at the restaurant group’s offices in Fondren are photographs of Blumenthal in Pamplona, Spain running with the bulls. From a distance you can’t pick him out. “It’s pandemonium,” he says of the stampede. “It’s real fast and you have to keep your head about you. Trying not to get gored but also trying not to get run over by the crowd. Two hundred thousand people freaking the hell out and you’re trying to keep your cool.”
Surviving the mania of those narrow Spanish streets is no easy feat, and neither is navigatingÂ the fickle maze that is the restaurant world. Blumenthal shrugs it off, offering a bit of car racing wisdom. “Accelerate through the curves.”
Take a bite of Blumenthal’s creations at Sal & Mookie’s (Taylor St.), Broad Street (Banner Hall) or BRAVO! (Highland Village).