Jackson Restaurants urges customers to come as water crisis threatens businesses

Photo credit: Chris Valentin

With continued boil water advisories and reports of flooding, restaurant owners are reporting a 40% drop in revenue, raising fears for businesses equal or better in the COVID era.

Jackson restaurant owners are urging the public to come in and dine as business has again been hit hard by the city’s water crisis.

“It’s been astronomical,” said Steven O’Neill, managing partner of The Manship in Jackson. “In business, boil water advisories aren’t that bad. We have been dealing with them for years. This time it’s different, with the failure of the infrastructure. The problem we now face is public perception.

O’Neill said that in his years in the restaurant business in Jackson, he had never seen customer traffic be impacted as much as in the past six weeks, due to a situation like this one. He said that usually when there’s a problem in Jackson, whether it’s crime, water or something else, there’s always a steady stream of diners choosing these restaurants to visit.

“Now we have diners from other areas who just won’t come back to Jackson because they don’t feel safe,” O’Neill said.

John Miller of Johnny T’s Bistro and Blues said he also saw a decline in patrons, especially when the water infrastructure came into question, causing patrons to choose elsewhere.

“You have to fix the problem and then instill confidence in the consumer,” John said.

While water issues are still prominent in the city of Jackson as a whole, restaurants have gone out of their way to ensure that customers don’t have to worry about their health when they come for a meal.

“Every restaurant I know of is doing everything they can to make sure everyone has the best and safest experience possible,” O’Neill said.

At Johnny T’s, he said, they try to make it visible when opening ice packs or grabbing canned sodas for customers, just so they know they’re following the recommended guidelines while the boil water advisory remains in place.

The measures include buying ice and water outside for preparing meals and washing hands, as well as canned and bottled drinks that diners can buy with their meals.

O’Neill said that due to inflationary influences, the costs of these things are significantly higher than what is normal for these goods. He used the phrase “1,000% more”.

“It’s probably costing us $300 more a day to provide ice and drinks, and more on weekends,” John said.

He said extra wages had to be paid now because they had to open earlier to boil the water.

O’Neill added that paying a staff in these difficult times, to ensure they can stay when things return to busier times, is proving to be an even bigger challenge with the massive loss of income.

Jackson’s restaurants can employ up to 60 people. If these establishments were to close, it would only cut off the income of hundreds of people, increasing the impacts of poverty on even more Jacksonians.

“Everyone really came together here and became a team player,” John said. “Not only do we use the water we buy for the service, but our employees are welcome if they need it or know an elderly person who might need it.

John encouraged the public to come to dinner, to be patient and kind to the workers who are there because everyone is exhausted.

“Give us patience, be kind to those who work, eat local, support local, it’s really important right now, to make the effort to support local restaurants,” John said.

In an effort to encourage the public to keep these businesses thriving in the face of water challenges, Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann will visit several businesses in the Fondren area on Friday evening.

“It’s happening TODAY (Friday 9/9)! We can’t visit all of our restaurants in Jackson at once, so we’re starting with these 5. Let’s all pitch in to help our restaurant industry through this crisis “, Hosemann said on social media. “If you can’t join us today, consider visiting a restaurant in Jackson this weekend.

“I think what the lieutenant governor is doing is fantastic,” John said. “It’s a joint effort by everyone. We have to overcome this and come back better than before.

“I implore people to come and dine at Jackson. We can’t do this for months, we can barely do this for a few weeks and we’re now on week six,” O’Neill said.

As restaurant owners beg customers to visit, they seek other means of economic assistance. O’Neill said they were advised to take out emergency injury loans in the event of a disaster. Visit Jackson also offered a grant program where applicants could receive up to $1,000 in assistance. O’Neill said that, while appreciated, this amount will not cover more than a third of a week’s expenses for many of these restaurants.

O’Neill said he fears what will happen if those restaurants don’t come out this season.

“If these restaurants disappear, you will see an increase in poverty with people losing their jobs. and the Tri-County area will ultimately suffer greatly if Jackson ceases to be what it is,” O’Neill said.

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