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‘Fish in a Bag’ anchors menu at Scranton’s in Pascagoula

A long-time favorite restaurant in Pascagoula, Scranton’s, managed to reopen only three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Coast August 29, 2005, even though the building had taken on three feet of water with the storm. The restaurant that had been a popular downtown eatery for 23 years soon became a beacon for locals and visitors alike looking for some normalcy — and great food — in the aftermath of Katrina.

“After the hurricane our business tripled,” says Richard Chenoweth, who is manager and part owner of the fine dining restaurant. “Right now we are doing double the amount business of before the hurricane. I think a lot of people discovered us after the hurricane. They were forced to discover us because there wasn’t a lot of competition.”

Scranton`s Restaurant is located at 623 Delmas Avenue in the former Central Fire Station and City Hall.

“We offer an historic one-of-a-kind atmosphere and a unique menu with a true Southern flair,” says Chenoweth, who has two silent partners in the business, Jack Pickett and Merle Ivy.

Visitors are sometimes surprised to find such a gem tucked away in the heart of Pascagoula.

“I have visitors who come and say, ‘I just can’t believe you don’t have people lined up outside this door waiting’,” Chenoweth says. “I tell them it is just a local’s restaurant. It is kind of like off Broadway.”

Getting noticed

But the excellent food combined with an appealing atmosphere hasn’t escaped notice. Chenoweth won the Restaurateur of the Year in 2006 from the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association. And this year he was named SBA Small Business Person of the Year for Mississippi.

“It has been a pretty good couple years,” Chenoweth says.

After the storm, Chenoweth opened up his freezer and started cooking for any and all. He says he had to cook for his family, so he might as well cook for 100 as for 20.

“We lived down here for the first two weeks after the storm,” he says. “We just started pulling things out of the freezer. We started with steaks and worked our way down to bologna. Then we started to work on dry goods. For the first two weeks after the storm, we fed everybody who came by. We had cops, national guard people and relief workers.”

Chenoweth was nominated for the SBA award by Pascagoula city manager Kay Kell. Kell was impressed by the work done by Scranton’s to get back in business so quickly, showing you didn’t have to wait around on insurance or help from the outside to get back into business.

Into the business

On August 2, Scranton’s marked its 25th anniversary in the same location, a place that has made it a natural gathering spot for political and business lunches and dinners. The restaurant got its start after Chenoweth and one of his partners had worked their way through college working at restaurants. Pickett worked at Poet’s in Jackson and Chenoweth worked at the Warehouse in Oxford.

“Both of us had a lot of experience,” Chenoweth says. “I was selling insurance when I got out of college, and saw the old fire station was up for rent. One thing led to another and we ended up opening up as a restaurant. Pascagoula just didn’t have anything except the Longfellow House. Pascagoula needed someplace to go. It was popular from the beginning because there wasn’t a nice place to go to in Pascagoula at the time. We started the business with $32,500, and any money we made, we stuck back in the business.”

Scranton’s is perhaps best known for its Fish in a Bag. Red snapper is cooked with potatoes, broccoli, onions and green peppers seasoned with Old Bay, garlic and butter, and cooked in a brown paper bag. All the flavors meld together and the steam keeps the bag from igniting in the 500-degree oven.

Chenoweth is happy to tell people how to make the dish as they are can’t believe something can be cooked in a paper sack.

“It is fun to entertain with it,” he says. “We tell them how to do it. People are amazed. But they can never make it taste quite as good as ours.”

Another mainstay is blackened grouper, healthy as well as tasty. Stuffed shrimp and stuffed snapper, which have been on the menu for 25 years, are also very popular.

Shrimp and grits is another offering that gets rave reviews.

Even after all these years, Chenoweth hasn’t tired of the food his restaurant produces.

“I eat the whole menu,” he says. “I still love the red beans and rice after 25 years.”

Other than great food, what is the recipe for Scranton’s success? Long hours and hard work.

“I think basically what has made me successful is working my tail off and having great employees,” he says. “I’ve had some people who have worked with me 15 years. The core group of employees has been with me 10 to 15 years. You are always going to have turnover in the hostess, waitress and bus areas. But even in my bus area, I have guys who have been there three or four years.”

Scranton’s is open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. It is closed on weekends when the restaurant does a lot of catering.

“Catering is a big part of the business now,” Chenoweth says. “We have done this so long that now I’m starting to cater weddings for the children of parents whose weddings I did.”

Scranton’s has done so well that it has attracted competition. A new restaurant is opening up across the street. But Chenoweth has no fears.

“Competition is good for you,” he says.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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