By Heather Gausline Tate | Photography courtesy of Blake McCollum
Tupelo has a new king in town thanks to renowned chef Mitchell McCamey, who has turned a former fillin’ station into one to the city’s most popular eateries.
For decades, Tupelo has been known as the birthplace of Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n’ roll. However, a new king came to town in March 2018 when King Chicken Fillin’ Station opened its doors. The restaurant is gaining distinction as nationally known chef and butcher Mitchell McCamey’s third restaurant in Tupelo.
Located in the old Belden Cash Grocer and gas station on the west side of town, King Chicken is a blend of restaurant and convenience store, selling gas, beer, and malt liquor. Built during WWII, this is “one of those archaic places you want to bring your friends to visit,” McCamey explains. Its quirkiness adds to its charm, with its vintage structure, porch for outdoor seating, and sole-working gas pump. McCamey quips that it almost doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up and is constantly evolving.
When McCamey’s partner first found the business, the chef was not immediately sold on the idea of converting a 1944 service station into a restaurant. Its aged style, although rich in character, challenges McCamey’s more modern, minimalistic preference. Nevertheless, like its namesake and its town, King Chicken continues to make an impression.
A City and Its Chef
Rising in recognition as a culinary destination, Tupelo is no longer just the mid-point between the larger Birmingham and Memphis metropolises. Restauranteur McCamey is without a doubt involved in the establishment of Tupelo as a “foodie” mecca. Originally from Okolona, located just 20 miles south of Elvis’s birthplace, McCamey returned to his home base after years working in restaurants in the West and in larger Southern cities. His first Tupelo projects –downtown Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen and Neon Pig – have received national attention.
Even more recently, Tupelo made the list of The Daily Meal’s Top 50 Foodie Towns in the U.S., and McCamey’s first two restaurants were mentioned. Not to be overlooked by his forerunning projects, King Chicken was featured in Budget Travel’s November 2018 article, “5 Best Southern Food Cities You Haven’t Tasted Yet.” McCamey articulated that while 50 percent of his clientele at his first two restaurants are travelers, King Chicken continues to draw primarily a local base.
Although he thinks Tupelo has changed a lot in the last five years, he still considers the town to be a “last frontier” with its smart, no-nonsense residents.
“I care about this town so much. Tupelo has made me better,” McCamey explains. In turn, his slow-food background and determination to source locally is positively impacting his community. In January he taught a butchering class, one of his areas of expertise, to the Lee County community.
“I really care about people and feeding them,” McCamey says. Tupelo keeps inspiring McCamey to do more: “I enjoy the challenge of being progressive and giving the people what they want.”
Chicken and More
McCamey’s classic culinary background allows him to break a lot of the rules as he enjoys blurring concepts and having fun feeding his clientele. King Chicken naturally has classic Southern fried chicken on its menu, but it also has grilled and smoked chicken, salads, and smoked burgers. When asked to pick a favorite dish from his menu, McCamey selected the “Mitchwich,” a smoked chicken sandwich with a North Carolina barbecue twist, paired with bacon, cheese, slaw, and king pickles, making it what the chef calls a complete sandwich.
Fish Fridays, Saturday brunch, and Saturday Steak Nights also add to King Chicken’s uniqueness. And locals love the chicken and biscuits every morning, starting at 6 a.m.
McCamey’s vision was to diversify his clientele with this restaurant, and it has indeed evolved from solely chicken! Once a little country store where customers could do everything from get gas to cash checks, King Chicken still appeals to a blue-collar community.
“At the end of the day, I feed people,” states the self-proclaimed blue-collar chef himself. Whether they are Elvis fans, factory workers, Natchez Trace travelers, locals, or foodies, they are all the same to McCamey who welcomes them all.
Not one to bask in the success of his established restaurants, McCamey is currently getting ready to launch his next eatery in Tupelo, a yet-to-be-named taqueria for the downtown district. Opening this spring, the concept for this restaurant, featuring California tacos with lots of healthy options, will be fresh and fun.
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