If you’re looking for something to eat or drink in Downtown Hattiesburg, Nelson Haskin Jr. can hook you up.
Haskin is the man behind Blu Jazz Café and Nellie’s Chicken and Daiquiris.
It has been almost two years since Haskin opened his first restaurant in a tiny 800 square foot space in downtown Hattiesburg, but he is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
In April 2017, Haskin opened Blu Jazz, a restaurant that quickly gained popularity and outgrew its limited space. Once the Black Sheep Speakeasy closed, Haskin seized the opportunity for a larger space and moved Blu Jazz up the street.
Still wanting to utilize the old space, Haskin decided to turn it into Nellie’s Chicken and Daiquiris shortly after the move.
Most recently, Haskin acquired Southbound Bagel Shop to add to his restaurants, which are all located on Front Street in downtown Hattiesburg.
“I’m just trying to live,” Haskins said. “[I’m] just trying to do some cool stuff. I like restaurants.”
Haskin said he got his start in the restaurant industry while working at Chesterfields when he was in college.
“I was waiting tables and making tips. I just thought, ‘Man this is cool,’” Haskin said. He said he eventually started managing the kitchen.
Haskin said it was his background and experience in the industry that initially sparked his interest in wanting to open his own restaurant. When considering locations, Haskin said he wanted to start a business in downtown.
“I like it downtown. It fits me,” Haskin said. “I like the vibe. It gives me the freedom to walk. I like walking. In big cities and places like New Orleans, you can park and walk to a bunch of different places. You don’t have to drive all over the place.”
Haskin was introduced to Chris Hackbarth, the original owner of Southbound Bagel Shop when he was looking at opening Blu Jazz next door in the old Skylight Lounge location.
“We became friends, and over time we got to talking,” Haskin said. “We just talked before it went public. He said, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about selling this,’ so that went on for a couple months, and then next thing I know, I got a bagel shop.”
Although Haskin has a background working in restaurants, he has also worked for the National Guard for the past 10 years.
“I’m military-minded,” Haskin said. “Whenever there is a change or turnover in the military, you don’t change anything for the first 100 days.”
Haskin said he wants to keep Southbound the same because it is already a successful business.
“I just let the employees keep doing what they’ve been doing and learn from them,” Haskin said. “One thing that Nellie’s Chicken and Daiquiris has taught me is to keep it simple.”
One employee who has continued to work at Southbound Bagel Shop through the change is Natalie Perry.
“I’ve only been his employee for a little over a month now, but I genuinely regard him as an excellent employer,” Perry said. “It’s not just the new equipment or the fact that he gave the place the new life it desperately needed; he listens to us. He genuinely cares about his employees.”
Haskin’s impact has been felt by those who live and work in the downtown area.
Downtown resident Harry Goff met Haskin soon after he had taken over the iconic Skylight Lounge.
“I’m so proud to have him investing in downtown Hattiesburg and continuing the revitalization taking place,” Goff said. “I consider him a dear friend and wish we had a dozen more Nelson Haskins Jr.’s investing in downtown.”