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Ginger Watkins, owner of the Hickory Pit on Canton Mart Road in Jackson, has limited service go takeouts and drive-throughs.

Virus forces restaurants to tighten up or close across Mississippi

By JACK WEATHERLY

Restaurants across Mississippi are either running abbreviated service to try to avoid closing because of the coronavirus pandemic – or have already closed.

“Sales started plummeting early last week,” said Pat Fontaine, executive director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association.

The public’s fear of the contagion and statements and mandates by federal and local government have “kept people from dining out,” he said

Revenue has spiraled downward by as much as 50 to 75 percent, Fontaine said in an interview.

“You lose money if you open your doors.”

Some are doing their best to not open their doors for dining in. Whether it is a case of dining in is prohibited or is limited, you cannot operate at a profit, he said.

“That’s in Jackson, that’s in Hattiesburg, that’s in Vicksburg, in Natchez – across the state people are cutting their losses.”

The National Restaurant Association has asked President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a financial aid package for the industry that employs 15.6 million workers.

The package sought would amount to $410 billion in loans and other assistance.

A number of Jackson area eateries have already taken at hit and had to close.

That includes The Broad Street Bakery and Cafe, Sal and Mookie’s and Bravo in Jackson, all owned by Jeff Good and Dan Blumenthal.

The shutdown does not affect the Sal and Mookie’s in Biloxi, which is licensed and separately owned. Another licensed Sal and Mookie’s had been scheduled to open in May.

Derek Emerson, owner or co-owner of Walker’s Drive-in in Fondren, Parlor Market in downtown Jackson and CAET and Local 463, both in Ridgeland, said Thursday was the last day for the three eateries.

Each of those restaurants had been averaging about 50 customers a day, Emerson said. Break-even for Walker’s was about 300 a day and CAET and Local 463 the figure was 400, he said. The three restaurants employ approximately 150, Emerson said.

Crechale’s, a seafood and steak restaurant that had been operating at 3107 Highway 80 in Jackson since the mid-’50s, is temporarily closed, owner Bob Crechale says in a recorded telephone message, vowing, however, “We will reopen.”

David Conn, one of the owners of the 4Top Hospital Group, which has six restaurants in metro Jackson and 15 total, including six in Nashville, two in Memphis and one in Huntsville, Ala., said the group will operate on takeout basis for now. Conn was mistakenly referred to as Bob Conn in an earlier version of this article.

The group employs 1,150, Conn said.

“We’re just trying to [keep] our employees working and safe,” he said. The group will try doing delivery to hospitals and other places, he said. “We’ve  been fortunate to keep a reserve.”

“We’re going to regroup on Monday and see where we are,” he said.

The restaurants in metro Jackson are Char and Saltine in Jackson, Amerigo in Ridgeland and Flowood, and Anjou and Sombra in Ridgeland.

Ginger Watkins has owned and operated the Hickory Pit on Canton Mart Road in northeast Jackson since 1979. Starting Friday, the eatery will start offering drive-through and takeout service only, she said.

A hand-made sign dated 1992 hanging over the counter says: “Life is Uncertain . . . Eat Dessert First.”

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About Jack Weatherly