Main Spotlight: Culinary Destinations as Downtown Development Engines

August 13, 2019 | Main Spotlight: Culinary Destinations as Downtown Development Engines | Case Study: Starkville, Mississippi | By Jennifer Gregory is the President of Downtown Strategies at Retail Strategies |


Farm to Fork Dinner, Courtesy of Starkville Main Street. Photo credit: Logan Kirkland

“Farm to table” has become a national trend, but in Starkville, Mississippi, it’s been happening for years - it’s part of what makes the city unique. Residents and visitors have come to expect locally owned restaurants to push the envelope with unique menu items, locally sourced ingredients, and unusual partnerships. This is large part due to a rebranding and marketing campaign that the City’s Visitors & Convention Council and the Starkville Main Street Association collaboratively launched in 2010 to reposition the community as a culinary destination.

One of the cornerstones of this effort has been the Starkville Community Market, the city’s certified local farmer’s market. Named the best Farmer’s Market in Mississippi by Mississippi Magazine in 2015, the Starkville Community Market has not only provided access to locally grown and made goods, but it has also acted as a business incubator, with at least two market vendors creating brick and mortar businesses based on their success at the market. It’s common to see local restaurateurs shopping every week with farmers and growers at the Starkville Community Market. It’s part of the character of their restaurants and their business plan - to support local.

Starkville Community Market, Courtesy of Starkville Main Street. Photo Credit: Laura Daniels

To further leverage this strong local food culture, Starkville Main Street launched Savor Starkville, a multi-faceted promotional campaign aimed to highlight the authentic farm to table characteristics of the city’s locally owned restaurants, the entrepreneurial spirit of the community, and the true economic impact of the Starkville Community Market. The campaign employed a variety of strategies to promote the culinary industry in Starkville. They created hand-illustrated culinary maps of favorite Starkville dining spots, produced an Emmy-nominated video that aired in major markets around Mississippi, and placed custom media kits in hotel rooms of ESPN and SEC Network broadcast talent visiting the community for football games. They even hosted a live farm to table dinner event.
File_2_-_Holiday_Culinary_Map_Double_Truck_Print_Ad.jpgHoliday Culinary Map. Courtesy of Starkville Visitors & Convention Council. Artist Credit: Haley Montgomery, Small Pond Graphics

Tourism and Main Street entities collaboratively built on this brand with a culinary display and promotional pieces at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival. Parts of the Savor Starkville campaign were recognized with the Outstanding Creative Fundraising award from the Mississippi Main Street Association and with the Tourism Promotion of the Year award by the Mississippi Tourism Association.

The campaign has also created a true economic benefit. Restaurant Business Magazine’s August 2015 issue ranked Starkville fifth nationally in its “Best Places to Open a Restaurant” market index. Alongside larger beach and resort markets on the list, Starkville was one of two small towns gaining prominence as one of the best markets for restaurant growth. The list was part of the 2015 Restaurant Market Index, an annual ranking of growth by market compiled by Nielsen, a global provider of data insights.

File_5_-_Atlanta_Food___Wine_Festival.jpgAtlanta Food & Wine Festival. Courtesy of: Starkville Visitors & Convention Council. Photo Credit: Jennifer Prather

Several food-centered events that the Starkville Visitors & Convention Council and the Starkville Main Street Association produced over the last eight years are now woven into the fabric of the community. These events include Pumpkinpalooza, the community’s fall festival that has received national media attention in outlets like ESPN and entertains crowds of nearly 10,000 people each year; unWINE Downtown; Bulldog Brunch and Browse; the Holiday Bazaar; SOUPer Bowl; Starkville Restaurant Week; and the King Cotton Crawfish Boil, just to name a few.

All it takes is a quick tour of Starkville to see that the community is truly booming. Commitment to downtown revitalization has encouraged hundreds of millions of dollars of private development within the core of Starkville, providing housing, retail, restaurants, and even a state-of-the-art convention center on the edge of Mississippi State University. Streetscapes are being improved, sidewalks and bike paths are being added, and physical connections from Mississippi State University to Downtown Starkville are being strengthened and enhanced.

Through the creativity of the Savor Starkville campaign, along with its consistent messaging and brand awareness, Starkville, Mississippi will be known as one of the original Farm to Table communities in Mississippi for years to come, and its downtown will continue to thrive and evolve.

Courtesy of: Starkville Visitors & Convention Council

Author bio:
Jennifer Gregory is the President of Downtown Strategies at Retail Strategies, the nation’s leading consulting firm for retail recruitment and community development. Jenn comes to Retail Strategies with over a decade of community development and downtown revitalization experience.

Jenn was named a “Top 50 under 40” professional by Mississippi Business Journal in 2016 and serves on a number of boards and commissions in Starkville and throughout the State of Mississippi.