Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant opened its doors at 110 Rue Magnolia in the Biloxi Historic District on 7 May 1964 and has subsequently achieved national acclaim as a fine-dining establishment, serving political leaders, celebrities, and guests from all over the world. Mahoney herself became a local celebrity and was invited to share her dishes at the White House.
Located in a home built by French colonist Louis Frasier in 1737, the main restaurant features a Cajun- and European-inspired seafood menu enhanced by memorable local flavor. An Irish pub that offered an intimate, laid-back atmosphere, and a twenty-four-hour café that served beignets, po’boys, and other comfort foods were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
The original proprietor, born Mary Antonia Cvitanovich on 1 July 1924 to Yugoslavian parents in the seafood business, graduated from high school and attended community college in Perkinston for a year before returning to the Gulf Coast. She married Robert F. Mahoney on 25 November 1945. Six years later, the couple took advantage of an opportunity provided by Arkansas businessman A. B. Minor, who needed someone to manage his newly purchased Tivoli Hotel. There, Mary Mahoney gained experience in the hospitality industry. After several unsuccessful business ventures, she, her husband, and her brother, Andrew Cvitanovich, purchased the Old French House, which still served as a residence, and planned to turn it into a restaurant.
The old home, which had previously served as headquarters for colonial governor Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, needed renovation. The Mahoneys consulted with friends, family, and business associates to determine how to preserve the structure while creating an inviting atmosphere for dining. Mary Mahoney started the restaurant with furniture and table settings gleaned from secondhand stores, a necessity after the expensive renovation of the old home. Menus were typed by Mahoney and stapled into legal-sized folders. Mahoney surrounded herself with family, trusted friends, and talented employees recruited from other local establishments, and the restaurant soon became a hit, garnering local and ultimately national renown. The Old French House is mentioned in two of John Grisham’s novels, and Mahoney catered a party for Pres. Ronald Reagan on the White House Lawn.
The house and restaurant have survived not only Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Katrina thirty-six years later but Mary Mahoney’s death in 1985. The Mahoney family continues to operate the establishment, which shares its lot with another longtime survivor—Patriarch, a live oak believed to be more than two thousand years old.
- Lee Eschler and Linda Eschler, Mississippi Gulf Coast Restaurants Post Hurricane Katrina (2009)
- Edward J. Lepoma, A Passion for People: The Story of Mary Mahoney and Her Old French House Restaurant (1998)
- Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant website, marymahoneys.com