Miss Jackson. (WLBT) — With many hoping Jackson’s worst water crisis is now in the rearview mirror, the restaurant owner has a message for customers: 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 did not speak to WLBT. Instead, she was talking to people across the metro area as one of about five or six restaurant workers featured in the ads for the “You’re All Back” campaign.
[Click here to watch.]
Restaurateurs, advertising officials and community leaders have come together in recent days to launch a campaign calling for people to eat at Jackson’s restaurants again.
Rebecca Garrison, executive director of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation, is one of several community leaders helping with this effort.
“Fondren has 28 locally run restaurants and bars. When our hospitality industry is in crisis, the entire business district is in crisis,” she said. “Our restaurant…was ready to serve reliable good food and good times, but our friends from the suburbs weren’t coming. We knew we had to do something to let people know we wanted them back.”
September, Lieutenant. Governor Delbert Hosemann and Secretary of State Michael Watson both gave tours of the Jackson restaurant to help boost the business.
Meanwhile, the Lieutenant Governor’s Chief of Staff, Leah Smith, worked hard to enlist the support of the Cirlot Agency and Spot On Productions to help create and produce the event.
In late October, weeks after the water crisis left tens of thousands of customers without running water, local TV stations began airing ads. The attractions are also posted on social media and the Visit Jackson website.
Owners say it’s too early to tell if the campaign is paying off. However, they both applaud the efforts, saying they are still recovering from a slump in business brought on by the near shutdown of the capital’s water system.
“I can tell you now that we have returned to equality [with] All three of our restaurants,” said Jeff Good, co-owner of Broad Street, Bravo! Italian Restaurant and Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint. “I can’t talk to other people. [but] I have a feeling they will say the same thing. “
However, he said restoring parity would not make up for lost revenue and staff turnover. “They just decided to go ahead and wonder if [they’re] will be able to come to work. They can get a job pretty quickly, just cross the river to Flowood,” he said. “I get that. ”
During the crisis, restaurants are among the hardest hit businesses. This summer, restaurants had to spend thousands of extra dollars to deliver bottled water, paper plates and plastic cutlery to help keep customers safe after the state issued continuous boil water notices for customers in the city’s surface water system.
Still, David Conn, who owns four metro area restaurants, said business at his two Jackson locations, Char and Saltine, wasn’t really down until Jackson’s water crisis became national news.
“When we have to boil water and [the system was] Still operating, we’re fine, we got through it,” he said. “But the last game on the national news, it took the biggest hit. ”
Today, business at those two locations is down about 15 percent on average, while his two other locations outside the city are booming: Amerigo Flowood and Amerigo Ridgeland.
He believes some customers are wary of returning to Jackson, while others are simply getting into the habit of dining elsewhere.
“We have to get them out of this habit and get them back to Jackson,” he said. “Though it’s coming back. We’re working on it.”
An equipment failure at the OB Curtis water treatment plant prompted Governor Tate Reeves to temporarily take control of the city’s water system in late August and early September.
The Mississippi Department of Health took over management of the water treatment plant, while the National Guard and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency distributed potable and non-potable water.
A few days later, water pressure was restored to most of the city’s residents and businesses, and on September 15, the state-mandated water boiling notice, which had been in place since July 29, was finally lifted.
Steven O’Neill, managing partner of Manship Wood Fired Kitchen, has seen a “minor rebound” in his business, thanks in part to the success of the Jackson State football team. However, he said the numbers had not returned to pre-crisis levels.
O’Neill hopes the ad campaign will help increase the numbers. He’s also looking forward to the holidays, which usually bring more business.
“I tell people it’s as safe to eat in Jackson as anywhere else,” he said. “You know, water quality is being [MSDH] And it’s being tested by the EPA,” he said. “So, know that they’re not afraid to put us under a citywide boil water notice. ”
Now, owners are looking ahead and waiting to see what happens when the governor’s state of emergency expires.
Reeves’ emergency declaration is expected to end on Nov. 22. At that point, Jackson will once 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 system and overhead storage tanks.
Proposals are due on November 7th. However, it is unclear whether Jackson will meet the deadline for contractors to be in place when the state pulls out.
“I just need to let the leadership take the lead,” said Andy Nesenson, general manager of the Iron Horse Grill downtown. Like other restaurants, Iron Horse Grill has experienced a downturn, but business has picked up, thanks in part to JSU Football. “I can’t focus on assumptions. I just need to live in the moment.”
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