Three weeks into its existence, DeSoto County’s newest restaurant experience, STEAK by Melissa, is enjoying rave reviews from its clientele, according to owner Melissa Cookston, a decorated competition barbecue pitmaster who has won two Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest titles.
With husband Pete, Cookston has opened STEAK by Melissa in the former Boiling Point location on Pepper Chase Drive in Southaven near the Landers Center.
“People are receiving us very well, they understand what we are trying to do and that makes it important for me,” Melissa Cookston said. “People like flavor. We well-season everything, depending on what it is. It’s that balance of seasoning, flavors and sauces that we make in-house that make us so good.”
Considered a full-service, casual-style restaurant, STEAK by Melissa is Cookston’s fourth restaurant concept, to go with the Memphis Barbecue Co. in Horn Lake and restaurants in Fayetteville, N.C. and Dunwoody, Ga.
When the owners of the Boiling Point put the restaurant up for sale, Cookston saw an opportunity to feature high-quality steak done at a place where everything is made in-house and nothing comes pre-packaged, yet STEAK by Melissa provides an atmosphere where a dress code is not required.
“There are a lot of unique things on the menu, but it’s a very casual atmosphere,” Cookston said. “It’s not just the birthday and anniversary place. It’s the ‘hey, it’s Tuesday night, let’s go here and have dinner and have a good steak’ place. They’ll come here and have a good, quality piece of meat."
Cookston said the menu also includes fresh seafood and dishes from her cookbooks, “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” and “Smokin’ Hot in the South.”
Although she studied to be a paralegal, Cookston quickly learned she enjoyed being in the kitchen more and creating food that reflected her Mississippi upbringing.
“The first part was spent in the Delta and then my teenage years were in Northeast Mississippi,” Cookston said. “I migrated here right after college for my mom to open Baptist-DeSoto. She was an emergency room nurse, so she came up here to help open that hospital.”
Cookston’s formative years are reflective in what she tries to accomplish in the kitchen.
“The Delta is a special place,” Cookston said. “It’s the home of blues music, the artwork is so colorful and the food’s very flavorful, so I would say my food is very intertwined with my Delta upbringing. The comfort food kind of comes more from when I lived in Northeast Mississippi when my grandparents were raising their own food.”
The restaurant has a lunch menu that reflects the Southern style, with meat and two sides.
STEAK by Melissa also offers Cookston the chance to offer a trio of rooms for catering and private parties for groups ranging from 50-100.
“This had the space I had wanted with the different rooms that I could use for catering concepts and for stuff that’s non-menu, specific to people's means in whatever it is they are looking for,” Cookston said. “Eventually I will be able to, in the next couple of weeks, block a room off that will seat 100. The Ruleville Room will seat 65-70 and the Mezzanine will seat about 50, so that really piqued my interest for sometime in the future doing some catering.”
A source of pride for Melissa and Pete Cookston comes in that all menu items are prepared in-house and are not brought in a pre-packaged form from another location.
Another source of pride comes in the ability to offer full-time work to its employees, a rare commodity in the restaurant industry.
“We have approximately 100 employees here,” Cookston, who lives in Hernando, said. “Between here and Memphis Barbecue Co., we have about 250 employees, so it’s not bad for DeSoto County.”
Pete Cookston added they’ve been very pleased with the success of Memphis Barbecue Co. and the economic infusion it has brought, which STEAK by Melissa will also bring to the area.
“We’ve been so proud of Memphis Barbecue Co.,” Pete said. “That was a building that was closed for years and now it is by far the highest volume restaurant in that area. A lot of tax dollars are going back to Horn Lake and DeSoto County. A lot of employees are making their living and don’t have to get second jobs because they can come in and get full time work there. We’ve always been real proud of that.”
Plans are to add a butcher shop next to the restaurant for customers to purchase their own high-quality meat product and similar items.
STEAK by Melissa is in a 9,000-square-foot building at 4975 Pepper Chase Drive in Southaven.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.