Furloughs at Robins impact local restaurants

bpurser@macon.comOctober 2, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- When the federal government partially shut down this week, Ken McCall immediately felt the impact.

At his Watson Boulevard restaurant, McCall’s Tastes to Remember, business dropped off by 50 percent after about 4,000 civilian workers from Robins Air Force Base were furloughed and sent home.

McCall, among the local restaurant owners near the base who depend heavily on patronage from federal employees, said he sent two of his workers home early Tuesday because of the steep drop in business.

Wednesday brought a better crowd, with business down about 30 percent. But McCall expects receipts may remain off by as much as half.

“If people aren’t coming in and having lunch with us, that, of course, is dollars that we’re not generating,” he said. “In turn, I have to cut employee hours, which impacts what they get paid.”

Richard Martin, owner of Martin’s BBQ on Armed Forces Boulevard directly across from Robins, said in spite of what appeared to be a brisk lunch business Wednesday, his sales have been down at least 20 percent the past two days.

“Most of the people who come here for lunch work at the base,” Martin said. “If things are going fine at the base, we’re doing fine. If things aren’t fine at the base, things aren’t fine here.”

John Mitchell, owner of John’s Mexican Restaurant, also on Armed Forces Boulevard, said he hasn’t seen a dropoff in business yet, but he expects to feel the pinch from the furloughs.

He recalled the recent sequestration when thousands of base employees were furloughed every Friday for several weeks.

“It was excruciating,” Mitchell said.

Down the street, David Tran, manager of Monsoon Thai & Vietnamese Restaurant, said he had been concerned about the restaurant’s grand opening Tuesday, but the crowd was pretty good, he said.

He and the restaurant’s owner, both from Portland, Ore., took over the restaurant just two weeks ago. As a result, he said it’s hard to gauge the shutdown’s impact.

However, Tran noted their interest in the restaurant was fueled by its location near the base.

Tran said he’s hopeful the dinner crowd and offerings from the take-out menu will offset any loss of business from furloughs.

Mitchell, from the Mexican restaurant, said he’s also hopeful the dinner crowd will help carry his restaurant. He noted that John’s Mexican Restaurant has been around since 1953 and that he has regular patrons from other midstate cities, not just those who work at Robins.

Meanwhile, McCall said he plans to promote his business with Facebook and offer specials in hopes of luring the lunch crowd his business relies on so heavily. Tastes to Remember isn’t open in the evenings or on weekends.

“I just wish Congress would get their act together and pass a budget so we can get back to our normal lives,” McCall said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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