Something to CelebrateHow Michelle Rounsaville took a few family dinner-table staples and launched one of Oxford's top catering companies.
BY DAVID MAGEE
PHOTOS BY ANN-MARIE WYATT
It all started with Baby Girl, a North Mississippi church lady who made chicken salad and old-school pimento cheese for family and friends as everyday sustenance.
Baby Girl has been gone for almost three decades now, but her granddaughter keeps the flavors flowing at My Michelle’s, Oxford’s catering company and restaurant located at 1308 North Lamar (Suite 4).
Created by owner Michelle Rounsaville more than six years ago, My Michelle’s grew from a family tradition of food and cooking that started with her grandmother named Baby Girl and included an aunt who thrives in Italian and a mother who loves having family in the kitchen while cooking.
Today, My Michelle’s is a close companion in Oxford with tailgating, weddings, football games, comfortable lunches and more.
“We still can’t keep up with the chicken salad production,” says Rounsaville, daughter of longtime Oxford resident and Ole Miss sports scribe Chuck Rounsaville. “We put it out in the grab-and-go box Monday morning and by Tuesday it is gone. The recipe belonged to my late grandmother, Baby Girl, who was from Byhalia. She has friends and relatives who come to Oxford to buy it because they still want it all these years later.”
A graduate of Oxford High School and Ole Miss, with a degree in hospitality management, Rounsaville went to culinary school in Vail, Colorado and settled back home, working in restaurant jobs in every capacity including general manager at Oxford Steak Company and PRIME Steakhouse.
After several years out of the food business, and at a moment of professional transition, she was at lunch with her father one day in 2010 when he asked the big, leading question – as if he already knew the answer and was ready to provide encouragement.
“He asked me, ‘What do you really want to do?’” Michelle recalls.
She took her last paycheck from work and went to the grocery store, buying ingredients for all the dishes her family had been making for years, including poppy seed chicken, Rotel chicken spaghetti, lasagna, meatball mozz pasta, and, of course, chicken salad and pimento cheese.
“I sent an email out to about 10 good friends and said, ‘this is what I have made if anybody is interested and here are the prices and I will even deliver it to your home,’” Michelle says.
Within six days everything was sold out. The empty deep freeze sent her back to the grocery store and My Michelle’s was underway. Months later she moved to a permanent location and was selling grab-and-go dishes to the public.
With her business growing fast Rounsaville had the opportunity to expand into the catering business while learning from one of the best in town.
“I bought (restaurant) equipment from Nancy Nations, and asked if she would stay on and teach me everything she knew on the catering side,” Michelle says. “She stayed on as manager and basically mentored me.”
Rounsaville also bought Nation’s serving pieces that she had previously purchased from Susan Barksdale, who owned the old Barksdale-Isom house bed and breakfast.
“We still use pieces that say Barksdale-Isom on them,” Michelle says. “That’s pretty cool since they went from Susan to Nancy and now to me.”
My Michelle’s was growing fast, emerging in catering at the same time Oxford and Ole Miss were experiencing growth. The company began serving customers like CBS Sports and ESPN when the networks had staff in town for Ole Miss games.
“Verne (Lundquist) and his wife had Thanksgiving dinner at My Michelle’s,” Rounsaville says. “They were so sweet.”
My Michelle’s began catering everything from large weddings to small graduation lunches for old friends, and new friends, and three years ago My Michelle’s was ready for the next step, adding a restaurant and continuing to grow the business.
Rounsaville asked longtime friend Trey Bridger’s to join the company as head chef so she could focus on the business.
“He’s so talented,” she says. “We collaborate on menus, but he’s behind so much of the food we do.” Rounsaville says Bridgers has close connections within the food community, including area farmers, and works much of the local sourcing they do for the menu.
“We buy local when we can buy local and we use a lot of healthy grains like quinoa,” Rounsaville says. “We also use every part of a vegetable. We’re going to roast fresh carrots and cut tops and make pesto out of it.”
And when it to comes catering, the presentation is part of the process. “I’m a big believer that with catering people eat with their eyes first so it needs to look appealing,” Rounsaville says. “So especially with big events I am particular about how the food looks and how it is displayed.”
But the most enjoyable aspect of My Michelle’s for Rounsaville is the connection with the people in a community she has always called home. Living in downtown Oxford, within walking distance to the Square, and catering events for those she has known all her life and those who feel that way because of a shared passion for Ole Miss and the community makes work rewarding.
“I love the way food brings people together,” Rounsaville says. “There’s no time family or friends are closer than around the table. I just feel blessed to be a part of so many celebrations in Oxford. That’s my favorite thing about it.”
Menu for the My Michelle’s photo shoot:
Smoked Pork Tenderloin topped with Homemade Raspberry Jam
Wilted Swiss chard*
Roasted Purple & Regular Sweet Potatoes*
On the table family style –
Homemade Sweet Potato* Biscuits
Homemade Beer Bread Muffins
Nutmeg McCarty Bowl – Fresh Spinach Salad with Crumbled Blue Cheese, Strawberries*, Roasted Pecans, and Housemade Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
Cobalt McCarty Bowl – Marinated Fresh Green Beans with Grape Tomatoes, Sliced Radishes*, Crumbled Feta, and Housemade Lemon Basil Vinaigrette
Nutmeg Casserole Dish – Fresh Strawberry Cobbler* topped with Sweet Potato* Biscuit Crust