The Louisiana Travel Association usually tags a Rising Star of the Year who is making an impressive career start. At 27, Morgan Moss proves that speed doesn’t have to kill; it builds. After a successful career in motorcycle racing that earned him a national championship at 14, the St. Francisville native has returned to his roots at The Myrtles Plantation with a desire to both nurture his family’s tradition and ignite a travel destination path for more than ghost hunters and thrill-seekers.
Moss was among 16 groups and individuals honored as recipients of the 2019 Louey Awards, which honor and showcase people and organizations who have made outstanding contributions to the Louisiana tourism industry. “It is our privilege to honor those in Louisiana’s tourism industry who work diligently every day to showcase our great culture to the rest of the world,” said Jill Kidder, LTA president and CEO. “Their work attracts more than 47 million visitors to Louisiana a year, stimulating the economy of the entire state.”
Moss may be the baby of the Loueys, but he has been around the Myrtles as long as it has been owned by his family. His parents purchased the Myrtles in 1992, managing and developing it for about a decade before the family moved to North Carolina to let Moss pursue his motorcycle racing dream. His parents agreed to let him quit school and be home-schooled if he won a national dirt bike championship. He attained his career goal at 14.
The Moss family was absentee owners of Myrtles Plantation for 12 years. “We spent very little time in the operations,” Moss said. “There was not a lot of growth, and the business was good, but stagnant.”
Tragedy brought the family back to the property in 2013 when the renowned Myrtles gift shop was hit by a fire. The gift shop was the most historically significant building on the property, and it was built in 1794, Moss said.
Moss’ father came home and planned to hire someone to rebuild, but contractors wanted to tear down the remains and build a new structure. “We didn’t want to do that because of the historical value of the building, the materials and the space that it was in — it was priceless in that regard,” he said.
The elder Moss decided he would take over the project himself, and board-by-board, he would restore the historic gift shop.
“My dad dove off into the restoration of our gift shop and rebuilding that and getting that back up to speed, Moss said. “I saw it wearing him thin, and I was about a year out of my motorcycle racing career and looking for my next chapter in life and what I was going to do.”
At 22, Moss got involved in the construction process. He said he didn’t know anything about construction or hospitality from the management side of it. What he did bring to the table was knowledge of the business from the consumer side of hospitality. Amazingly, years of traveling the world as a competitive motorcycle racer paid dividends and Moss started to inch into the family business.
“Travel is travel, whether it is business or leisure,” Moss said. “It’s the same experiences; moving into someone else’s culture and seeing what is unique and what it has to offer.”
“I think from an early age, I was able to wrap my head around what that meant,” he explained.
When the Moss family moved back to St. Francisville and started the management and restoration process, the Myrtles was still an active bed-and-breakfast with a restaurant and lots of guests. “I was seeing all of that and I had ideas, as the wheels were turning in my head, of ways we could make their experience better,” Moss said.
Not long into the restoration process, the gift shop manager left the Myrtles. Morgan describes this period of time as a “forced rebirth of the Myrtles.” The manager was gone and documents were lost so it was a clean slate and good entry point for Moss. “I decided to jump on the moving train there and get involved,” he said. “I spend my first year just working my way through each department.”
He briefly stepped into his mother’s role as office manager but realized the Myrtles was a growing operation, and someone needed to manage employees and refine the product.
Defining and refining the Myrtles became a mission for Moss, and the property saw both change and financial growth. A few years into the refining process, another fire struck the Myrtles and this time, The Carriage House restaurant and several guest rooms were devastated by flames.
Rebuilding again, Moss put a plan into action to advance the Myrtles and the experience it offered. “Six months before the fire, I realized I had bigger hopes for the restaurant and in the culinary world and beyond this property,” he said.
That’s when the research started.
In the “knowledge-soaking” stage of his development, Moss joined the restaurant association, met restaurateurs, attended travel and trade shows, and studied the projects of specific chefs. An interest in the wood-fired concept was born as the young man with big dreams gathered concept goodies to bring back to St. Francisville.
Moss was a key player in the design and development of the newly-opened Restaurant 1796. The name is reminiscent of the year the Myrtles was established, mixing an amount of old and new on the same plot of land.
The masterpiece in the making reflects Moss’ creative mindset of several time periods.
"We are really proud of how this building has a lot of salvaged architectural pieces in it,” he said. “With the beams, and the wood, and all the old bricks — we are really proud of how this all took shape.”
The Travel Rising Star honoree is anxious to create a tourism destination, but his idea of branding requires more patience and less speed. Moss circles back to their minimalist approach on branding. He and his staff are committed to spending much less time on branding and more effort on the visitor's experience. The property that has been called one of the “Most Haunted Homes in America” gained the brand through people who came, saw and spread the message.
“We got our budget and the Myrtles is our playground,” Moss said. “What do we want guests to enjoy; what do I enjoy when I come on to the property?”
Projects will grow in the fertile Feliciana soil — like the plan for fruit and vegetable gardens with an open-air pavilion. “We will get into agritourism where the restaurant is getting its produce right here on the property,” Morgan said. “We will use the agritourism element to get more school groups and give people more reason to come on the property.”