Early opening after storm inspired city
Richard Chenoweth, owner of Scranton’s Restaurant and Catering in Pascagoula has been in business long enough to have been struck by lightning twice.
For nearly thirty years, Scranton’s has offered delicious Gulf Coast cuisine from their signature Shrimp & Grits or Eggplant Lamberto to their seafood gumbo and she-crab soup. Housed in the historic Pascagoula firehouse and city hall, a site that burned down twice along with the rest of the city in the 1920s, Scranton’s was first opened by Chenoweth in 1982, having previously served as a gymnastics studio and leotard shop.
Hurricane Katrina wasn’t Chenoweth’s first brush with bad weather as a business, owner- he has also lived through Hurricanes Frederick and Georges. “Most hurricanes have always hit at night,” he said. “The eye passes over and I go to sleep and sleep through the rest of it.”
Five years later after remembering what the powerful storm did to his town, Chenoweth said that if Hurricane Katrina come ashore at night, there would have been an enormous amount of fatalities. “We heard so many tales of people floating out their windows, getting picked up by other people, floating to trees, getting pets out,” Chenoweth said. “They were able to do this in the light of day when you could see. It’s scary enough when you’re fighting a hurricane in the dark when you got all that debris floating and flying around you.”
The Chenoweths got up early on August 29 and headed to their restaurant on Delmas Avenue. Calls started coming in from friends saying that their homes were flooded. In no time at all, Katrina’s storm surge had moved further inland and began coming underneath the front doors at Scranton’s.
“Somebody said to me, ‘Is this normal?’ and I said, “Hell no,'” Chenoweth said. Within 45 minutes the fast moving water and swept through Scranton’s and ruined all of Chenoweth’s refrigeration equipment except one top-mount full of steaks and seafood. Five feet of water went through Chenoweth’s house which fortunately was insured. “My house used to be four houses from the beach, now it’s two houses,” Chenoweth said. “The water was up to my neck outside the restaurant. There were dumpsters floating in the parking lot.”
Despite all the water, the Chenoweth’s lost neither their home nor their business. After Chenoweth’s wife and daughters returned home from Moss Point where they had evacuated, the family dragged all their Scranton furniture out into a nearby alley to dry out. Chenoweth said he remembered their cell phones had trouble getting signals for days and the electricity that was able to be restored would often overload since the power lines were so dry and salty.
Scranton’s Restaurant opened three weeks after the hurricane and was the first locally owned eatery to do so. It served as a gathering place for the Pascagoula recovery. “Everybody became good neighbors,” Chenoweth said. “Chevron and Northrop Grumman were helping with fuel and even babysitting services. Everyone needed a respite at the end of the day and we would meet and compare notes. You’d run into people that you’d hadn’t seen or heard from.
Scranton’s fed first-responders, volunteer workers, even strangers off the street. “We’d work our way down through that one surviving freezer from the steaks to the bologna.”
Chenoweth said the general manager of Chevron said that Scranton’s became an inspiration for the town during the storm. “He said you showed people that (recovery) could be down and it needed to be done,” he said.
The next several months brought a flood of business to Scranton’s, leading Chenoweth to reconsider to close permanently. He said that businesses that were struggling before the storm, including one restaurant owned by his friend, were doomed to never reopen following the storm.
Today, Scranton’s amount of customers is back down to pre-Katrina levels but Chenoweth said he is grateful there are still “butts in the seats.” When asked if there are any lessons that he learned from the devastating hurricane, his answer is quick. “Don’t wait on the insurance companies,” he said.
MORE ON … Scranton’s
Year Opened: 1982
Reopened: Sept. 2005
Key to Survival: “(After the hurricane) all my suppliers said tell us whatever you need. We didn’t owe them money and had always been straight with them. After the hurricane our business shot up. We got people that had never been in our restaurant that became regulars.”