The History of the White Pillars Restaurant and the Mladinich Family

Brothers A. Jake and John Mladinich were no strangers to either hard work or hospitality when they purchased Gunston Hall. As boys, they had grown up on Point Cadet and worked alongside their parents on their father’s shrimp boat, the “Winchester”, as well as in the oyster and shrimp processing plants on the Biloxi’s beachfront. When A. Jake went to work for his uncle, Anthony “Ching” Peirotich, at his drive-in restaurant, “The Flame”, the Mladinich family began to make their mark on the Biloxi hospitality industry.

A. Jake found that he was well suited for the restaurant business and, in 1950, he and his wife June opened their first restaurant, “The Fiesta”, on West Beach Boulevard.  “The Fiesta” proved to be a success and enabled the Mladinich family to pursue other business ventures, including “The Hot Stop”, “19th Hole Lounge”, the “Cabana Beach Motel”, the “Sea and Sirloin”, “Trader John’s Lounge” and the “Le Chateau Apts.”

A. Jake and John had a vision, beginning in the early 1960s, for an upscale steak and seafood restaurant with “old southern charm.”  They began a search for a building suitable for their vision and in 1962 they purchased a historic building known as “The Old French House” on Beach Boulevard in Biloxi.  Their plans for that building went unfulfilled and they later sold it to Bob and Mary Mahoney, who established “Mary Mahoney’s Old French House” restaurant, which has become one of the most renowned Gulf Coast restaurants and remains in operation today.

 

 

In 1966, the Mladinich family acquired Gunston Hall and began plans to convert it to “The White Pillars Restaurant.”  They were months away from opening the restaurant when Hurricane Camille swept the Gulf Coast and damaged or destroyed several of the family’s businesses.  Gunston Hall sustained little damage, however, and the family was able to open the restaurant for business in June of 1970. 

 

When the property was purchased, the original parcel was not intact. During the 1950s the front lawn, fifty feet north of Highway 90 was sold and developed as a Philips 66 Gas Station. With the back of a gas station at the front door, the Mladinich family added a New Orleans style enclosed courtyard across the house’s front portico to shield the view. This became the popular  “patio garden room”. The house’s original structure was kept intact creating seven dining rooms. By enclosing the porte-cochere, formal garden and carriage house were converted into a lounge, home of White Pillars storied bar.  Originally a fixture in Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel, the bar had recently been salvaged from Pete Martin’s Magic Door Lounge in downtown Biloxi. The lounge’s east wall featured five sets of 150 year old French doors from the Ursuline Convent in New Orleans.

 

The White Pillars was described as “perhaps the most magnificently furnished establishment of its kind in Mississippi”. Authentic Sheraton, Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Duncan Phyfe antiques were accented by crystal chandeliers, embossed wall paper and 19th century style draperies. A pair of  Adams mirrors dating back to 1830 adorned the main dining room. In the lounge was a Baroque period mirror from a medieval castle in Germany and tall English “pier mirror”. The lounge was also home to a 200 year old Dutch painting of a semi-nude woman.  In the foyer was an old armoire from Georgia that had been converted into a wine cabinet as well as brass menu stands that were once information stands in the Bank of England.

 

The restaurant was a family affair from the very beginning as A. Jake, John, and their respective wives, June and Virginia, all contributed to its operation.  The White Pillars soon gained a reputation for its delicious food, its “graceful service” and its genteel setting in the historic Gunston Hall. The menu featured an array of flavorful and full-bodied cuisine that was unmistakably characteristic of the Mladinich’s creative food knowledge and dedication to quality. At the time its culinary distinctions were arguably some of the most elite in the South, earning the restored southern mansion the “1989 Distinctive Dining Award” from Travel Holiday Magazine.  Editorial acclaim for the restaurant came from the Gourmet Magazine, Bon Appetite, Master Chefs Magazine, Southern Living Magazine, and Travel South Magazine. In 1988 and 1989, White Pillars was honored by The Wine Spectator  for having one of the most outstanding restaurant wine lists in the world.


 

The White Pillars closed for business in 1989. The building remained vacant for over twenty years and managed to survive Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with minimal damage. The parcel in front, a pawn shop by the time it was razed by Katrina’s wrath, was purchased by John Mladinich.  In 2008, he began renovating the White Pillars, a process overseen by Pat Kennedy, the great-grandson of Dr. and Mrs. Folkes.  John’s health prevented him from completing his plan for White Pillars revival that year but the idea was never far from his mind.

In 2012, the John Mladinich family began rehabilitating the White Pillars with intentions of leasing the building to another restaurant operator. The removal of the canopy that enclosed the patio garden room exposed Gunston Hall’s beautiful pillars and portico to the Biloxi beachfront for the first time in almost fifty years.

Sources:

  • “White Pillars”, by Marguerite Scholtes Cramer, art and Photos by Tex Hamill, Down South Magazine, Sept. – Oct. 1970
  • Sun Herald Archives
  • Obituary of John M. Mladinich, by Wendy Barthe Peavy

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