New restaurant owners commit to keeping Oby's unaltered

After 43 years as a Starkvillle dining staple, Oby’s cajun food restaurant, located at 504 Academy Rd., is seeing a change in ownership.

In 1976, Starkville native Don O'Bannon opened Oby's, a New Orleans-style eatery. The 55-seat restaurant quickly became a local favorite and grew into the 175-seat restaurant customers frequent today. After 43 years in business, O'Bannon retired and sold his company to Ayer Spencer and David Calhoun. 

Spencer attended Mississippi State University from 1990 to 1994 and said he always had a love for Oby's during his time spent at MSU. Spencer and Calhoun became friends at college and have been franchising since 2001 when they began working with O'Bannon. Spencer and Calhoun worked with O'Bannon until 2005 when they opened the Oxford Oby’s location. 

Spencer said O'Bannon talked about retiring throughout the years, and Spencer asked to be the first to know when O’ Bannon decided to sell Oby’s. 

"A couple of years ago, we started talking about it," Spencer said. "We had been back and forth over the years. Finally, I think he got to the point where he was serious and wanted to retire. David and I said that this was our baby and we weren't going to let someone else get it, it's going to be ours. We made it work and got down here last week to get acquainted with everybody. We are looking forward to the opportunities it presents."

Davis Edwards, a senior communication major, said he likes the restaurant and hopes it will have the same feel to it.

"I was a little skeptical about the new ownership deal," Edwards said. "I was worried things would be different. I haven't been to the restaurant since the new owners, but I can't wait to go."

Since the change in ownership, questions have been raised if anything was going to change. Spencer reassured customers that nothing is going to change.

"95% of our menu is the same," Spencer said. "I don't plan on changing anything there. Like they always say, 'if it isn't broken, don't fix it.' It has been successful in Starkville for a long time ... Your favorite menu items and other things are not going to change."

Spencer did mention he hoped to expand the catering services of the restaurant.

"If we do anything, we are going to streamline it to make the operations go a little bit quicker. We are going to focus on the catering side of the business. It is something that we have done well within Oxford, and I think that Starkville should carry the same opportunities," Spencer said. 

Savannah Sims, a freshman psychology major at MSU, said she loves the atmosphere of Oby's and is excited to see what the future holds for the restaurant. 

"Everybody is always really friendly, and there are always a good amount of people there," Sims said. "Oby's is my absolute go-to on the weekends."

Spencer said he believes there has to be something special in a restaurant for it to survive in the dining business for 43 years.

"You have to be doing something right, and Don has always put emphasis on quality," Spencer said. "If it is a product he doesn't like, it doesn't matter how much it cost him, he would get rid of it. He pays attention to the details, and that's so important. It is staying in business that long, taking care of your people, from the people that work for you to the customers. We understand not only the value of the customers, but the employees as well. If the employee is happy working for you, then that makes your job a lot easier and motivates them to take care of that customer."

Spencer said he wants to reassure people he and Calhoun know the value that Oby's holds throughout the community of Starkville.

"I don't want people thinking that since the ownership changed, that concept is going to change," Spencer said. "We definitely plan on keeping it going along as it always has."

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