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For Mary Mahoney’s, the future is female

Restauranteur’s legacy lives on through family

As the saying goes, “You haven’t been to the Gulf Coast until you’ve been to Mary Mahoney’s!”

So iconic is the upscale Biloxi restaurant that author John Grisham has referenced it in several of his best sellers. Other famous fans of the local landmark include the late Jimmy Buffett, actor Denzel Washington, golfer Jack Nicklaus, Food Network star Tyler Florence and country star Lee Greenwood — just to name a few. Even U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush once enjoyed Mahoney’s top-notch cuisine.

Mary Mahoney

Surprisingly, Mary Mahoney didn’t know much about the business when she bought a historic property, converted it into a restaurant and opened on May 7, 1964. At the time, she’d been forced out of the hotel lounge she ran and took out a $13,000 loan to buy the property, which dates to 1737.

Nonetheless, she surrounded herself with friends and family who would guide her — including her brother, Andrew Cvitanovich, whom she’d asked to leave the shrimping industry to join her in the venture.

“In the early 1960s, it was a true struggle for women to be successful in a man’s world,” says Mahoney’s granddaughter, Nicole Pitalo Carlisle. “She encountered many who told her she would never make it. Mary had true grit and determination that would never let someone hold her back.”

“In the early 1960s, it was a true struggle for women to be successful in a man’s world,” says Mahoney’s granddaughter, Nicole Pitalo Carlisle. “She encountered many who told her she would never make it. Mary had true grit and determination that would never let someone hold her back.”

Despite Mahoney’s passing in 1985, a strong female presence remains at her namesake establishment. At any given time, visitors will find anywhere from one to 10 of the family members working, six of whom are women. Multiple generations of female Mahoney relatives, including her daughter, nieces and granddaughters, handle group sales, online orders, hosting, bartending, office management, dining-room setup, laundry and everything in between.

“To call Aunt Mary family was a true honor,” says her niece, Andrea Cvitanovich Osman, who spent her childhood summers working in the restaurant’s laundry room. “As family, we all had the privilege to know her, and to witness her zest and love for people was a blessing and a gift I have tried to emulate.”


As her restaurant gained prominence, Mahoney’s name became synonymous with hospitality — which she delivered while donning her signature butterfly glasses and flowing dresses. Whether she was greeting the pope — as she did His Holiness John Paul II in 1979 — or a regular patron, she treated every guest with warmth and enthusiasm.

“Her favorite part about the restaurant industry was never knowing who you might come in contact with and what interesting facts she would get to know about someone,” Carlisle recalls. “To meet new people every day and learn about their talents, family, background or even the city they came from, always fascinated her.”

Mahoney’s generosity left a lasting impression on her granddaughter, Caty Mahoney Hulett, who recalls that her grandmother cosigned to help a woman she knew buy a house and gave money to an employee who was struggling. The staff rewarded her kindness with loyalty, and many team members have been with the business for decades.

Above, the women of Mary Mahoney’s — from left to right: Joanna Cvitanovich McAdams, Caty Mahoney Hulett, Stacy Mahoney Schmidt, Eileen Mahoney Ezell, Nicole Pitalo Carlisle and Andrea Cvitanovich Osman. At right, Mary Mahoney

“To this day, we are still very good to our employees,” Hulett says. “There’s so much turnover, especially in the restaurant industry, and one of the things I’m most proud of is how our employees have stayed with us through the years.”

Although the founder’s larger-than-life personality is now absent, her family has preserved the character and charm that have defined Mary Mahoney’s since its inception.

“I believe our continued success as a business can be attributed to the many generations and memories that have been created here,” says Mahoney’s daughter, Eileen Mahoney Ezell. “We have become a landmark that locals choose to celebrate life milestones, such as birthdays, graduations, engagements, showers and family and class reunions. People who visited the restaurant as children on vacation with family now come with their own families — creating new memories for new generations of patrons.”

One notable example is journalist Anderson Cooper, who was in Biloxi reporting on Hurricane Katrina. While visiting Mary Mahoney’s, he recalled coming there with his father as a 10-year-old boy.

Stacy Mahoney Schmidt was present when her grandmother catered a party at the White House and recalls how she walked the restaurant every night, visiting with guests. To this day, Schmidt adds, “There’s always a family member here.”

“Anybody can hire a management company,” she says. “Not every restaurant has a family still involved after 60 years.”


None of Mahoney’s descendants would deny having large shoes to fill. Her generous spirit extended to the wider community, and in 1982, she was the first woman to receive the honor of Mississippi Small Business Person of the Year. She also was the first woman to serve as president of the Biloxi Chamber of Commerce, acting as an ambassador for the community she deeply loved.

“I’d hope to be an inspiration to a lot of young people who do not have the knowledge, but who have the desire,” she once said. “Sometimes desire can be more important than anything else!”

In a 1985 interview with a WLOX reporter, Mahoney didn’t attribute her groundbreaking accomplishments to any particular skill or quality of hers. In fact, she didn’t think she’d achieved anything that was beyond the capabilities of other females.

“Actually, I think a woman could do anything at any time if she just had a little bit more courage,” she’d opined, “and it was one thing my father always taught me, that I could do anything I wanted to do if I was willing to sacrifice for it.”

Mahoney’s female relatives have taken these lessons to heart and accepted the challenge of living up to her example. The restaurant industry isn’t for the faint of heart, says her niece, Joanna Cvitanovich McAdams, and Mary Mahoney’s staying power is a testament to the strength and resilience of the founder and her family.

“We all take pride in holding true to everything she believed in when she started,” McAdams says. “We strive every day to make her proud of the path she helped carve out for us as women in the industry today.”


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