For Middle Georgia restaurants, Tropical Storm Irma brought both blessings and curses.
Many restaurants reported spikes in sales from evacuees who’d booked up hotels fleeing the storm and needed to eat. Those along the interstates were especially busy with evacuees who stopped in while fleeing or returning home.
Many restaurant owners and managers also reported an increase in customers due to widespread power outages.
But other restaurants, which lost power or suffered damage in the storm, experienced financial loss.
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Tina Dickson, owner of Ingleside Village Pizza, was among them. Her thriving restaurant remained without power Wednesday.
She was able to save her meats and cheeses because she’d thought ahead and bought a 9,000-watt generator last week and had three of her standing coolers plugged in and keeping temperatures down.
But all the produce and the pizza dough went into the trash Wednesday, and as if that’s not enough, Dickson may not be able to reopen until Friday or Saturday, she said.
First, power has to be restored, and then the health department requires a new inspection for all restaurants that lost power for more than two hours.
“It’s going to hurt quite a bit,” said Dickson, who still managed to laugh as she took it all in stride.
Joe D’s on Ingleside Avenue isn’t expected to reopen until Monday after losing power during the storm.
“We’ve lost about a week of business,” said owner Joe Mullendore, who said he had to throw away everything perishable, and he will have to restock once the power comes back on.
“But it could be a lot worse,” Mullendore said. “My buddy, who’s up here from the (Florida) Keys, he lost everything.”
The Grow restaurant on Riverside Drive also took a financial hit from Irma.
“The power being off, we lost everything – all of our perishables, our walk-in cooler,” said owner Saralyn Collins. “We were out of work for two days, and we had five catering jobs canceled due to the weather that we had already bought supplies for. So, it just put us in a little bit of a cash crunch.”
Her plea for help on Facebook brought in a throng of customers when the restaurant reopened Wednesday. Some even gave donations to help offset the loss. Collins said she plans to share some of the cash with her employees.
“I’m so grateful and humbled,” she said.
Fincher's on Houston Avenue remained closed Wednesday after a tree fell and the restaurant lost power. But the restaurant’s other location on Gray Avenue remains open — having only closed early Monday at the storm’s peak.
“There’s definitely been an increase in business from evacuees and from people who lost power all over town,” said Bob DeSmet, manager of the Fincher’s on Gray Avenue.
Susan Weaver, manager of Fresh Air Barbeque on Riverside Drive in Macon, said business picked up from Irma. The restaurant remained open for the most part, closing at 3 p.m. Monday during the worst of the storm.
“We’ve seen a lot of people who were traveling through,” Weaver said. “A lot of people who also came in to eat had lost power, and we also had had a lot of Georgia Power and law enforcement guys come in.”
Pat Braski, owner of the Chick-fil-A on Watson Boulevard in Warner Robins, reopened at 7 p.m. Tuesday — an hour after the citywide curfew ended and on a day when there was widespread power outages.
“Our business was up probably 40 percent for the day in that location, so it was a big jump,” Braski said. “When their power went out, they came out to eat.”
Additionally, since his Chick-fil-A location on Ga. 96 was closed for remodeling it may have sent more customers to the Watson store, he said.
“Of course, our interstate stores were absolutely swamped because of all the folks going back from where they escaped the storm from,” Braski said.
David Clark, owns and operates Chick-fil-A restaurants off Interstate 75 on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard and on Bass Road.
“It was crazy busy,” Clark said of Tuesday. “A lot of people around here did not have power. A lot of evacuees left maybe on the same day. … We’ve not had quite as much today as Tuesday, but we’ve had more than we normally do.”
At Lil Benny’s Smokehouse on Wimbish Road on Wednesday, telephone lines and the internet were still down. That meant the restaurant couldn’t accept debit or credit cards, but did accept cash and PayPal, though the latter was not preferred because it slowed down the ordering process.
“I am blessed to have only those two problems,” said owner Benny Burks, who noted that his restaurant never lost power. “It could have been so much worse.”
The restaurant remains open for business.