Published on September 11th, 2019 | by Elizabeth Tettleton0
The American Dream: Wood-Fired Pizza and Football in Vaught-Hemingway
DISCLOSURE: Elizabeth Tettleton works at The University of Mississippi as an event assistant with Alumni Affairs and is the niece of John and Laurabeth Ferguson who own Fergndan’s Woodfired Pizza.
There’s been pizza in the Ole Miss Football stadium before, but not like this.
This year, John and Laurabeth Ferguson have expanded the reach of Fergndan’s Woodfired Pizza to Vaught-Hemingway, and have added over 16 new staff members to keep the Café on Highway 30 plus two locations in the stadium fired up for every home game.
“We’ll be offering a limited menu in order to serve as many people as possible, and we’re located in sections A and L. We’ll have whole 10-inch Ferge’s and Dan’s in the stadium,” Laurabeth Ferguson said. “Those two pizzas are our most traditional offerings: Cheese (The Dan) and Pepperoni (The FergE).”
Laurabeth and John also noted that they are offering the only option in Vaught-Hemingway that can be truly “shared” with another person. It’s simpler, although maybe not easy, to share slices of your pizza with someone else, but not so much a bite of your hotdog.
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: Food Trucks
When Fergndan’s opened in October 2016, they were a food truck-only enterprise and wanted to focus on a quality product with approachable and familiar toppings. Laurabeth and John wanted family at the crux of their mission and atmosphere. In fact, their managers are their three children and their marketing and social media assistant is also a family member—their niece, Rachel Tettleton. Many of their employees are siblings to one another.
ADDING TO THE FAMILY: Second Wood-fired Oven
After several months of success, the Ferguson’s purchased a second oven (nicknamed “Mushu”) and a catering trailer in June 2017, allowing them to vend or cater at multiple sites at once. Whether catering at sorority functions, athletic events, Yalobusha Brewing Company music nights, or in the Chaney’s or Castrol parking lot, their name was gaining traction and people were rapidly recognizing the familial smiles and addictive flavor of their pizza and associating it with their iconic orange and red tents.
Fergndan’s next stop on the journey was purchasing a spot for their ultimate goal: a brick and mortar restaurant.
A FIRM FOUNDATION: Commissary and Café
Fergndan’s originally shared a commissary kitchen with Tarasque Cucina (John and Lauren Stokes) and YoknapaTaco (Jake Sessums), but the landlord decided to sell the location they rented. They purchased in November 2017 and began renovating a home, not far from theirs, to use as their commissary kitchen immediately and ultimately as their current restaurant location.
July 7, 2018, Fergndan’s opened its doors at 176 Highway 30 East. I, myself, was also a part of the opening team and had the opportunity to learn some pizza-making skills, try my hand at dough throwing, and worked several of their special events in the early days.
FERGNDAN’S EXPANDS INTO SWEETS: Bremma’s Sweet Treats
Fergndan’s, pronounced similarly to Ferdinand’s, is a portmanteau of their two son’s nicknames: “FergE,” or John “William” Ferguson II, and “Dan,” or James McDaniel Ferguson. In similar fashion, they combined their long-time employee and pastry chef graduate (Brooke Mardis) and their youngest child’s (Emma Grace) names into Bremma’s Sweet Treats when it opened its baked good offerings up to the public in January 2019. Boasting hand-piped specialty cookies, filled bundt cakes, scrumptious cheesecakes, and wedding cakes to order, it’s Oxford’s best-kept pastry secret you need to go try.
2019 has been a good year for the Oxford culinary scene, and the Ole Miss campus now gets to share in that growth as well. We’ve watched Vishwesh Bhatt crowned with the James Beard Best Chef South Award, saw Snackbar hit a landmark birthday, witnessed new openings of Emily Blunt’s Saint Leo Lounge and Clint Boutwell’s Julep (the same folks that brought us Oxford Grillehouse), and Oxford will soon see other exciting developments (*winkwink* The Sipp on South Lamar).
“For us, there is no offseason,” said Adam Martin, general manager of Centerplate, the company that curates the food, beverage, and hospitality program at the football stadium. “We constantly strategize all year about how to enhance the in-person experience for the fans who come to dine and spend time with us. It’s all about the excitement, the quality of the food, and providing lasting memories. Adding a local favorite like Fergndan’s to our food lineup certainly helps us achieve those goals.”
I’m elated for my family to have this opportunity to join Centerplate in offering a local, family-run pizza option for the attendees of our seven home games. And honestly, what could be more convenient after working on campus all day than arriving at the stadium and grabbing a delicious, freshly made pizza to devour as I watch the Rebels play? See you there this Saturday in line at sections A and L!