‘We can’t bounce back from this one’: Latest water crisis final straw for Fondren restaurant

Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 3:50 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Jackson’s latest water crisis has proven too much for one Fondren restaurant, which announced it would cease operations after Saturday.

On Tuesday, owners announced that they were closing Barrelhouse after six years in business.

Owners and managers thanked their customers and the community for their support, but said COVID-19, coupled with the latest water crisis, was just too much to handle.

“Sadly, we can’t bounce back from this one,” manager David Moncrief said in a statement. “We’ll see you at Happy Hour somewhere.”

Moncrief said Barrelhouse, located in the 3000 block of North State Street, has endured a number of economic setbacks in recent years, from the COVID-19 lockdowns to the numerous city water outages.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve had 150 days on boil water notice here at the restaurant. In the last two years, we’ve had 40 days in this restaurant with zero water pressure,” he said. “You can’t cook food; you can’t let folks go to the bathroom. If we have zero water, there’s almost no way to open.”

He said the restaurant dipped into its rainy-day funds during COVID, in part, to pay employees even during the lockdown.

The city’s multiple water issues decimated what was left. “Bringing in port-a-potties and buying ice every day,” he said. “Buying the things that it takes to make up for some of those things, we couldn’t do.”

“Even if we could have opened during those weeks, we would have been lucky to make half our revenue. So, it made financial sense just to not be open.”

Hayden Boyd, manager of At the End of All Music, a record shop located next door to Barrelhouse, was unaware of his neighbor’s decision.

“They were a great restaurant here in the neighborhood. I always enjoyed going there,” he said. “But it’s a tough place for a restaurant to try and survive, especially with no water. And it seems like it’s a problem that keeps happening.”

A sign on the front door of the music shop informed customers that it, too, had no water, and that there were portable toilets located nearby.

“It kind of gives us something to have to navigate through... for employees to use the restroom, washing hands... it’s very crucial to wash your hands, especially when dealing with people and money. It can be a problem, but luckily, we’ve made it work.”

Some homes and businesses in the capital city have been without water since before Christmas. That’s when a severe cold snap came through the area, bringing with it more than two days of sub-freezing temperatures. Those temperatures wreaked havoc on Jackson’s already fragile water system, leading to broken pipes and complications at the city’s main water treatment plant.

On Thursday, businesses along the strip reported fluctuating pressure, with Barrelhouse having no pressure during WLBT’s visit.

To help accommodate business owners, employees and patrons, the Fondren Business District has brought in portable toilets.

“We got permission from Dr. Edney, if we could provide port-a-potties then the restaurants would be able to open,” said Rebecca Garrison, executive director of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation. “And they were put in place through yesterday.”

Garrison was referring to Dr. Daniel Edney, the state health officer.

“Yesterday, we read that today water would be restored, so I had port-a-potties removed because we don’t have a budget for port-a-potties,” she said. “I thought it was safe to remove them. And then I call this morning, and it’s going to be tomorrow before [they can be] delivered.”

On Monday, the city said pressure should be restored for most, if not all, customers sometime on Tuesday. However, that was contingent on the city having a good night at the water treatment plants and not experiencing additional breaks within the distribution system.

The city had not sent out an update on water by Tuesday afternoon, and Ted Henifin, the city’s water manager, was not immediately available for comment.

Moncrief said Barrelhouse owners only made the decision to cease operations recently.

“The hardest part of it is, this is a hard conversation to come in and tell someone that they don’t have a job anymore,” he said. “And that’s really the worst part of it. The second worst part of it is just the customers and the community that we’ll miss.”

“We really loved being a part of this community and really, you get to know everybody, and they get to know you, and that goes for every restaurant here in Fondren and in Northeast Jackson,” he added. “Those relationships will be missed.”

Barrelhouse has 27 employees. The district is compiling a list of workers and will help them secure jobs at other restaurants in the area.

He urges people to continue to support other establishments in the area and is encouraged that Jackson is now getting federal help to address its water system needs.

“If I had to say anything to them, it will be, ‘why did it take so long? Why did it have to take us getting national attention to finally get some help?” he said. “We’ve been struggling with this problem for years, and this problem is decades old... It’s just unfortunate that it’s taken so long to really get things moving. We’re grateful that they are moving, but for some of us, it’s too late.”

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