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  • Bob Arnold

Grafton makes restaurants work

By Bob Arnold

Grafton makes restaurants work
John Grafton (third from left) with his Magnolia Blues staff.

When the McAlister’s Deli at Hattiesburg hired University of Southern Mississippi (USM) student John Grafton as a dishwasher back in 1991, he was pursuing a degree in sports management and aspired to a career in the business, administration, marketing, and management of sport programs and facilities.


In short order, McAlister’s moved their new dishwasher into other areas of the restaurant’s work in the kitchen and serving customers, and with the new and varying jobs, Grafton discovered a career path more to his liking.  As management positions opened, he decided to quit college to become a full-time restauranteur.  He has never looked back.


“I started with no knowledge of the business and loved it,” he says.  “There was something different every day.  You worked with different people and met many others.”


Today, Grafton is general manager at Magnolia Blues in Brookhaven.  Area restaurant connoisseurs say chances are Grafton has left his mark directly or through people he has influenced at smooth-running eateries that local customers enjoy.


A McComb native, Grafton thrived on sports growing up there, was the team manager of both the football and baseball teams at McComb High School (MHS) and coached in the local summer baseball league for kids when he was going to MHS.


Grafton graduated from MHS in 1988 and received an Associate’s Degree in sports management at Southwest Community College at Summit, Mississippi, in 1990, before continuing his abbreviated studies in the discipline at USM cut short by his new found love of the restaurant business.


For 20 years, Grafton continued his career at McAlister’s, playing a central role in its expansion throughout Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana charged with managing the openings of new restaurants with responsibility for interviewing, hiring and training workers; labor programs and employee incentives; ordering food and supplies and brand marketing.  He also served as general manager at the Hattiesburg, Oxford and Ridgeland restaurants of the Atlanta-based chain and a Southeast regional manager.


Grafton points to training as one of the great joys of his work.  “People come to the job with little or no knowledge, and you see the finished product,” he relates.


From 2011 to 2015, Grafton was owner-partner of eight Louisiana McAlister franchise restaurants at Monroe, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Shrieveport, Baton Rouge and Bossier City


“I took a two-year break from restaurants from 2015 to 2017 to help a friend with a mobile home business as a travelling manager of mobile home lots, but returned to McComb in 2017 and 2018 to manage a PJ Coffee franchise,” Grafton recounts.


In 2019, Georgia Blues turned to the veteran restaurant manger to operate its Brookhaven location.  Grafton thought he had finally retired in 2022, but a friend who was a regular at Magnolia Blues recommended him to its owner Carl Craig when it needed a new manager.  “I couldn’t resist the temptation to come back to restaurant management, and this has been one of my best gigs with wonderful people, a great atmosphere and supportive town folk,” he says.  “The hours are 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. five days a week, but I get up every morning ready for an enjoyable work experience.”


Grafton lives on South Jackson Street in Brookhaven with his Boxer-Weimaramer mix puppy Mocha, recently acquired from Brookhaven Animal Rescue League.  His mom and dad, a brother and three nieces live in McComb, and another sister and nephew live in Humboldt, Tennessee.


What are your hobbies?

Golf and poker are my pastimes.  I play most of my in Pike County at the Fernwood and Percy Quinn courses.  You can find me at the poker tables at Vicksburg and Natchez casinos, in tournament play particularly.  Upgrading and renovating my Brookhaven house will become a focus of my time in the future as well.


Do you have a special interest in music. 

I like all genres and live music played at Magnolia Blues on Wednesday Open Mic nights and by the great variety of local talent in their weekend gigs


How about movies or theater?

My favorite movies are Step Brothers, Caddy Shack and Varsity Blues, and I enjoy the acting of Bradley Cooper, Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell.


What would you do with the winnings if you won the lottery?

I will take care those who have taken care of me, but after winning, I will be pretty much be gone.  People will ask:  “John who?  Where did he go?”


How would you change the world? 

People need to lighten up, have a sense of humor and smile more.


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