Jackson, Miss. (WLBT) — With the worst of Jackson’s water crisis now in the rearview mirror, restaurant owners have a message for patrons: Come back, the water is fine.
“We just want people to know it’s safe to come back,” said Mimi Grisby, an employee at Broad Street Baking Company & Cafe.
Grisby was not talking with WLBT. Instead, she was speaking to people in the metro area, as about one in five or six restaurant employees featured in an ad for the “Y’all Come Back” ad campaign.
[Click here to watch.]
Recently, restaurant owners, advertising executives and community leaders came together to launch a promotional effort, urging people to eat at Jackson’s restaurant again.
Rebecca Garrison, executive director of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation, was one of several community leaders helping with the work.
“There are 28 locally owned restaurants and bars in Fondren. When our hospitality industry is in crisis, the entire business district is in crisis,” she said. “Our restaurants…were ready to serve up their delicious food and good times , but our friends from the suburbs were not coming. We knew we had to do something to let people know we wanted them back.”
In September, Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosseman and Secretary of State Michael Watson both led a tour of the Jackson restaurant to help boost the business.
Meanwhile, the lieutenant governor’s chief of staff, Leah Smith, worked to enlist support from the Sirlot Agency and Spot On Productions to help create and prepare the campaign.
Advertisements began airing on local television in late October, weeks after the water crisis left thousands of customers without running water. The spots are also posted on social media and the Visit Jackson website.
Owners say it’s too early to tell whether the campaign has paid off. However, they applaud all the efforts, saying they are still recovering from the slowdown in business due to the shutdown of the capital city’s water system.
“I can tell you now that we are back in equanimity” [with] All three of our restaurants,” said Jeff Good, co-owner of Broad Street, Bravo! Italian restaurant and Sal & Mookie’s New York pizza and ice cream joint. “I can’t talk to other people [but] I have a feeling they’re going to say the same thing.”
Being back on par, he said, doesn’t make up for lost revenue and lost employees. “They just decided it was too much to continue to know if” [they’re] Will be able to come to work. And they were able to find employment quickly, just going across the river to Flowwood,” he said. “And I understand it.”
Restaurants were among some of the hardest-hit businesses during the crisis. This summer, after the state issued back-to-back boil water notices to customers on the city’s surface water system, restaurants were forced to use bottled water, paper plates and plastic utensils to help keep customers safe. Had to spend thousands of dollars extra to send.
However, David Cohn, owner of four metro area restaurants, said that business at two of his Jackson locations, Four and Saltine, didn’t really drop until Jackson’s water crisis made national news.
“When we had to boil water and [the system was] Still working, we were fine, we worked through it,” he said. “But this last bout on the national news, it hit the hardest.”
Today, business in two locations is down about 15 percent on average, while business is booming at its two other locations outside the city: Amerigo Flowwood and Amerigo Ridgeland.
He believes that some customers are wary of coming back to Jackson, while other patrons have simply gotten into the habit of eating elsewhere.
“We just have to get them out of that habit and get them back to Jackson,” he said. “It’s coming back though. We’re working hard on it.”
National and international media flocked to Jackson in late August and early September after equipment failure at the Obie Curtis Water Treatment Plant prompted Governor Tate Reeves to temporarily take control of the city’s water system.
The Mississippi State Department of Health took over management of the water treatment plant, while the National Guard and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency were deployed to distribute potable and non-potable water.
A few days later, water pressure was restored for most of the city’s residents and businesses, and on 15 September, the state-imposed boil water notice, which had been in effect from 29 July, was finally lifted.
Steven O’Neill, managing partner at Manship Wood Fired Kitchen, has seen a “slight rebound” in business, thanks to the success of Jackson State University football. However, he added that the numbers have still not returned to pre-crisis levels.
O’Neill hopes the ad campaign will help drive the numbers. He is also looking forward to the holiday season, which usually brings more business.
“I tell people that the food in Jackson is as safe as anywhere else,” he said. “You know, the water quality is being tested [MSDH] And being tested by the EPA,” he said. “So, know they’re not afraid to put us under boil-water notices across town.”
Now, the owners are looking to the future, and are waiting to see what happens once the governor’s state of emergency ends.
Reeves’ emergency declaration is expected to expire on November 22. At that point, Jackson will again take over the operation of its water system.
The city is currently seeking a private company to take over the management of its two water treatment plants, well water systems and advanced storage tanks.
Offers are due on November 7. However, it is unclear whether Jackson will meet the deadline for being a contractor by the time he leaves the state.
“I just have to let the leaders take the lead,” said Andy Neesenson, general manager of Iron Horse Grill Downtown. Like other restaurants, Iron Horse Grill also experienced a downturn, but thanks to JSU Football, business has returned. “I can’t focus my anxiety on the what-ifs. I just want to live in the moment.”
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