Jack Allin has tried many times to get away from Mississippi.
“I don’t know what I would have done had (my wife and I) not gotten married when we did and moved to New York City,” he recounts. “I grew up here, loved Jackson and maybe would have stayed. But I don’t know if that would have been right.”
Now, for many reasons, the native Jacksonian, after living in New York City, Birmingham and Atlanta, is back, and, seemingly here to stay.
In 2002, after architecture school at Mississippi State University, Allin and his then new bride set out for the Big Apple where he says his first job out of college taught him much about his field. It also set up a decade long contrast and comparison of his hometown.
“What’s so appealing about Jackson is the sense of community here,” he says. “There was a great sense in New York City (we knew the dry cleaner and the bodega owner and they called us by name.) Yet here, communities are overlapping circles. You feel grounded and you’re never far away from someone you know well.”
Fast forward to 2005 and a move to Birmingham and then, in 2008, to Atlanta for his wife’s education. Allin says they toyed with staying in Georgia. But with two children at this point, the young couple knew having their children’s grandparents around was important.
It was for Allin. His grandfather was the late Thomas J. Biggs, a renowned Mississippi architect who saw Jackson as the last frontier of modernism. His work included St. Richard Catholic Church, the Mississippi Arts Center, Davis Planetarium and the Gertrude C. Ford Academic Complex at Millsaps College. “I had been telling people I wanted to be an architect since I was six years old,” Allen recalls. “I still have his old wooden drafting desk with the pin holes where he pinned his drawings.”
Despite the strong influence, another family business was almost his lot. “I had a mid-college crisis and was a psych major for Christmas break,” he laughs, noting his dad’s psychology career. “I ended up taking a year off from design and explored other things. But I definitely see a correlation between the two, architecture and psychology.”
In 2002, when Allin graduated college, he and classmate Michael Boerner were having lunch one day. Boerner was headed for New Orleans, Allin for NYC. “We said, if we find ourselves back in Jackson someday, we should work together,” he remembers.
It was a photo taken inside Fondren’s Babalu Tacos & Tapas, designed by Boerner’s firm with Jamie Wier, Wier Boerner, that set things in motion. “I sent him a picture of some detail I was curious about inside the restaurant and he responded, identifying what it was,” Allin says. “Then he said, ‘we need to talk.’ That was fall 2011 and, by spring 2012, we were back (and I was working with him.) It’s interesting how life takes you on a path. The notion that you can set your sights on something and do it the way you imagined is very unlikely. The greatest success stories are people who stumble into something. My journey has been that — a journey.”
And two short years later, Allin’s name is on the door of Wier and Boerner’s firm, too. He now carries the title of partner, a fact he says is surreal. “One thing I have always known is that I did not want to work for someone for the rest of my life,” he says. “Being the master of my own destiny was important.”
And so it is for Allin and his family’s geography, too. He remembers attending the first Symphony at Sunset in 2001 while still in school. He says he saw tons of young people craving something more than what we had. And now Jackson, Fondren in particular, has skyrocketed. “Fondren has become a node or the node,” he observes. “Here we are, in a cafe that doesn’t seem like it should be here – and I say that in a really good way,” he notes sitting at a table in La Brioche Patisserie.
A decade has gone by since Allin began his migration northward and slowly meandered back south, and he draws parallels to a high school parable. “A music teacher, maybe, sent out a letter about preparation and used the analogy of cutting a tree,” he recalls. “’If you had four hours to chop a tree,’ the letter said, ‘you should spend three hours sharpening your ax.’ That has resonated with me. New York City, Birmingham and Atlanta were the grindstones. I’m moving back with a sharp blade and that’s my takeaway.”
Allin says he and his family love being here. “Jackson and Mississippi are such unique places and are right for people who are creative and dedicated to help to cultivate the community and culture we have. This cafe…this is about place and community and about bringing something here we haven’t had before. I like to think that, as an architect in Jackson, I have that opportunity as well.”