From Left: Brandon Atwell, Frankie Penn, Thomas Young
Washing dishes, cooking in the back kitchen and waiting tables are all ways college students earn extra money. However, few are able to turn those late nights and long hours into a successful business. Meet alumni Brandon Atwell (BBA 12) and Frankie Penn (BBA 12), owners of Murky Waters Blues and BBQ in Gulfport.
Atwell, along with Penn and a third partner and longtime friend, Thomas Young, decided to start the restaurant after working behind the scenes in the industry for many years.
“We all three had this vision of working together and trying to start a business,” said Atwell. “By the time we graduated college we decided we had enough restaurant experience to give it a shot.”
A native of Long Beach, Miss., Atwell began working for his parent’s Biloxi restaurant, Bernie’s, during his high school years and later their Gulfport restaurant, Bull’s.
“My parents own a few restaurants on the Coast,” said Atwell. “I kind of grew up in that whole atmosphere. I started washing dishes when I was 14, working my way around the kitchen, and by 18 I was the head cook at Bernie’s.”
After graduating from Long Beach High School in 2008, Atwell and Penn both enrolled at Ole Miss. While Atwell had his sights set on obtaining a business degree, Penn, a member of Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity, initially had other plans.
“I was an accounting major my freshman year and I hated it,” said Penn. “I decided to switch my major to business. I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur and one day be my own boss.”
Penn worked for Atwell’s parents, John and Lisa Bull, as well as a barbecue restaurant in college.
“I had a little experience cooking barbecue so I was able to add a few insightful touches to what we are doing now with Murky Waters,” said Penn.
Atwell and Penn graduated from the School of Business Administration in May 2012 and in a few months had a building lease and financing in place for the restaurant.
“By November 2012 we had started scouting buildings in downtown Gulfport and found one we really liked,” said Atwell. “So we said OK let’s see if we can find some financing for this. We were able to get a loan and now here we are.”
Murky Waters Blues and BBQ opened its doors in April 2013 with the vision to bring something to the Coast that was true to Mississippi.
“There’s nothing more Mississippi than blues and barbecue,” said Atwell. “The whole concept of the restaurant is to keep the menu simple. We’re not trying to make some crazy dish or specialty, just simple Mississippi down-to-earth barbecue.”
Atwell and Penn both agree that the whole concept of the restaurant would not have been possible without the guidance and skills both gleaned from Atwell’s parents.
“My stepfather, John Bull, is the one that taught me everything I know about the restaurant industry,” said Atwell. “If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be working in a restaurant.”
One of the most enjoyable aspects for both is having the opportunity to work with friends every day. While Atwell, Penn and Thomas occasionally butt heads, at the end of the day the trio is thankful to share this adventure together.
“It’s not about us, it’s about the restaurant and making it a success,” said Penn. “I truly enjoy working with both of my really good friends. I love my job and making customers happy. People say if you ever have to work at your job then you’re doing something wrong. I never work a day in my life because I come here and I do exactly what I love doing.”
For the three friends, the future of Murky Waters looks bright, with the ultimate goal of opening multiple restaurants.
“I know Brandon and I would love to open a restaurant in Oxford,” said Penn. “That’s been one of our prime objectives since we figured this business out. I never thought when I went to Ole Miss that I’d be where I’m at now.”
Brandon Atwell and Frankie Penn are Members of the Ole Miss Alumni Association.
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