What’s for dinner? Whatever you want

by

Published: May 23,2005

From Brandon to Flowood to Pearl and even Richland, the restaurant industry in Rankin County is flourishing. A mix of new locally-owned restaurants and of chain eateries new to the market continues to spring up throughout the area, taking advantage of increased disposable income levels and high traffic counts in new shopping areas — and observers say the county’s market potential is nowhere near being fully developed.

Tom Troxler, executive director of Rankin First/Rankin Chamber of Commerce, said that hot spots for restaurant development in Rankin County include the ever-growing Dogwood area in Flowood, the under-construction Bloomfield area in Pearl, all areas around Brandon and the U.S. 49 areas through Richland and Florence. “It’s a combination of all the growth that’s happened in the county, but also that people have more disposable income and less time to cook,” Troxler said.

The growth down U.S. 49 is the most closely tied to increased residential development, according to Troxler.

“They’ve been underserved out there. The area’s population continues to increase, spurring new locations for familiar restaurants such as Xan’s Diner.”

Brandon continues to gain new eateries — the newest entrant is Giorgio’s Italian Restaurant, opened in March by George Gray, owner of longtime Rankin County favorite Eldorado Steakhouse. Located in the old Crechele’s building, the restaurant offers lunch Tuesday through Friday and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, with a brunch menu available on Sunday.

Gray said he looked at various concepts and settled on an Italian menu developed by Eldorado chef Tony Jenkins because the closest good Italian restaurants were in North Jackson.

The decision to locate in Brandon turned on the family’s ties to the area. “We moved to Brandon in 1979, and it is home for our family. The reception from the Brandon people has been fantastic.”

Lyana Dang noted she had also received a warm welcome from the Brandon area since taking over the Shanghai II Chinese management in April. “I like the atmosphere of a small city, with everybody knowing everyone else and taking care of each other,” said Dang, who moved from Dallas to pitch in at the family-owned restaurant after the previous owners decided to retire. The new management consists of Dang’s mother, father, brother, sister-in-law and two nephews, while chef Tony Pham continues to oversee the kitchen.

All the new home construction and retail development in the area led her to believe that the restaurant was a good long-term investment. “It’s going to bring more residents to the area and it’s going to help me with the business,” said Dang.

Play ball

The recently-opened Trustmark Park in Pearl, home to the Mississippi Braves, brought the first wave of new traffic to the area, while construction continues on the long-awaited BassPro Shop, with a grand opening scheduled for November.

Pearl Mayor Jimmy Foster said that 23 restaurants are already located in the surrounding area, and that number could easily double over the next five to seven years. “We’re talking about over two million visitors per year for the BassPro Shop alone,” said Foster.

Observers are anticipating the outcome of a possible election to determine if the area surrounding Bloomfield and Trustmark Park will become the West Pearl Restaurant Tax District — a distinct area, bounded by U.S. 80, Biederman Road, Whitfield Road and the western city limits, where restaurants will be assessed a 2% tax to defray the costs of infrastructure development around the newly-built stadium.

The bill allowing Pearl to hold the election passed the 2005 Legislature and was signed by Gov. Haley Barbour. Foster said the next step is for the Justice Department to approve the pre-clearance application to hold the vote, a process that typically takes up to 60 days. After that, the Board of Aldermen sets the time for the election, Foster said. The earliest he anticipates any election on the issue is August.

The decision to limit the 2% tax to restaurants on the west side of Pearl was about fairness, Foster said. “The reason we did a district instead of going citywide is that with the amount of traffic and visitors in that area, the restaurants in that area are going to get an increase in revenue,” said Foster, noting that restaurants closer to Brandon to the east likely won’t see increased business due to the stadium’s draw. Only one restaurant owner has complained to him that not applying the tax citywide was unfair, Foster said.

Jason Boyles, president of Bloomfield Equities, LLC, indicated that restaurant developers haven’t been deterred from looking at Bloomfield by the prospect of the restaurant tax. “Any restaurant that locates in Pearl understands that they will benefit from the traffic around Trustmark Park,” said Boyles.

Liquor vote’s impact?

A 2004 vote to continue a ban on liquor sales in the county seems to not have impacted the amount of restaurant development in Rankin County — although it likely made a difference in what kinds of restaurants are choosing to open in the area, some officials admit.

Boyles indicated that the vote likely deters some fine dining eateries from coming to Rankin County, noting that the high margins from liquor sales makes such establishments more profitable than they would be otherwise.

“I don’t think it’s had a negative effect, as evidenced by the increase of new and existing restaurants opening everyday,” said Troxler.

A good problem to have

Flowood has so many restaurants undergoing construction that Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads says he can’t keep up with them all. “I know that sounds terrible, but when you have such an explosion, you can’t keep up with which is going where!” Rhoads said.

Under construction in Dogwood Promenade are new branches of Abner’s, KFC, McDonald’s, O’Charley’s and Backyard Burger, Rhoads said. Also on its way to the Lakeland Drive area is Oby’s, a longtime staple of the Starkville restaurant scene, and Fire Mountain, a new upscale dining concept by the company that owns Ryan’s Steakhouse. With Lakeland Commons still under construction, retail development continues to spread in the area “They’re just feeding off of each other, whether it’s retail or residential,” said Rhoads. “There’ll probably be 12 (restaurants) opening in the next six months.”

And none of them will open too soon to suit residents, according to Rhoads. “You get out of here on Friday, Saturday, Sunday or even any other day during the week, and all of these restaurants are full,” said Rhoads. “The quicker they get built, the happier I’ll be.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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