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Restaurant owners cautious as they welcome back dine-in customers

For years, Sally Bullard created a comfortable dine-in experience at Main Street Market that welcomed a packed house just about every weekday for lunch. That all changed with the COVID-19 pandemic.

She, along with restaurants throughout Vicksburg and Warren County, were quickly forced to convert their businesses to focus on take-out and curbside services to conform with government restrictions in response to the spread of the virus.

They adjusted. And now, as many of those restrictions are being lifted, she and others are not jumping back into the “old way” of doing things too quickly.

“I can tell you what we are not going to do. We are not going to open Thursday for dine-in,” Bullard said Tuesday after Gov. Tate Reeves and Mayor George Flaggs Jr. announced earlier in the week that restaurants can once again welcome dine-in customers with certain guidelines. “We are not going to open the dining room until maybe Monday.

We are just going to see because it has been changing so much and we want to make sure what the rules are,” she said. “My thought is that for my business I will continue to be very heavy on take-out and curbside because of my clientele because I have an older at-risk clientele.”

Bullard was not alone in taking a cautious approach to opening up dining rooms.

“At this point, right now, I feel like it’s kind of soon; I’m ready but I’m not ready,” Gumbo Pot owner Perry Boyd said. “On my end, I’m going to split the difference. On the old side of the building (where the bar is), I’m going to leave that open for to-go and keep the newer section as the dine-in. I don’t plan on starting that until Monday.”

Tuesday, Boyd said he was still working through preparing his business for the change back to dine-in services, considering using reservations to better manage the flow of customers in and out of the restaurant and ensuring it stays at or below the 50 percent occupancy level mandated in local and state guidelines.

The easing of restrictions on restaurant operations has left restaurant operators cautious, excited and nervous as they have no way of expecting how the public will react to dining rooms being back open.

“I’m glad we are doing something. I think it is a step in the right direction, as long as we operate the way we are supposed to and try to be safe,” Rusty’s Riverfront Grill owner Rusty Larsen said, adding the restaurant would be open to diners beginning Thursday. “At 50 percent seating capacity, I told my cooks today it’s more like a walk in the park instead of a run, but you have a lot more to-go orders, it kind of balances it out.

“I don’t know what to expect. We may not have anybody, but for the sake of my own business and my staff, we need to be open as soon as possible,” Larsen said. “I haven’t in the 19 years I have been in business, and probably won’t again, but I will open this Sunday.”

Regardless of any worries, restaurant owners and operators are looking forward to welcoming back their customers.

“We are super excited to be able to have our customers come back to us,” Cola Davis with Newk’s said. “We are looking forward to seeing all of our regulars that don’t want to come out right now and hopefully it will bring back some of our business. That would be great.”
Vicksburg Post staff photographer Courtland Wells contributed to this report.

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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