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Local restaurants suffer in recession, stay positive

Local restaurants suffer in recession, stay positive

By Julie France

With deer heads looking at you from every angle and comfy booths hugging the walls, Peggy Sues Steak & Ribs of Newcastle has the down-home country feel down to a tee. It is missing one thing, though: customers.

I walked into Peggy Sues Steak & Ribs on a Saturday around 2:30 p.m. Granted, this was not the prime lunch hour, but for a place whose specialty is their mouth-watering pies, I would say pie is a treat for any hour.

Only three people were there, one of them for a job interview. Yet, all of them were focused on what they came there for: the food.

It gets very slow in the wintertime, well just leave it at that, said the owner, Peggy Sue Wilson.

Wilson bought the then-50-year-old restaurant in 1999 after working as the Director of Operations for the East Central Ohio District of McDonalds restaurants.

My dream was always to have my own restaurant and, of course, McDonalds wanted to send me away and wherever and my thought was that Im a hometown girl. I was born and raised in Warsaw, Ohio, said Wilson.

Wilson got her wish of familiarity rather than fame. Lunchtime, breakfast-time, my waitresses know almost 85% of the customers that walk in the door, said Wilson.

But lack of outside business comes with a price.

Wilson said, The economy has changed it a lot. Gas prices have definitely affected the sales because, you know, when the gasoline reaches up to the four-dollar mark, people dont want to drive and Im 22 miles from almost anything. 22 miles from Coshocton, 22 miles from Mount Vernon. So, were right directly in the middle. I think thats changed it a lot.

I went from 35 employees knocked down to 12, said Wilson.

Though the recession has been tough on Peggy Sues, Wilson was kind enough to give my friend and me each a slice of pie, an act of hospitality that could not be found at any chain restaurant.

Looking for innovative ways to bring in more business, Wilson looks to Kenyon students in need of a hearty piece of black-bottom pecan pie or a sizzling steak.

Ive often thought about what if I do a little taxi back and forth, … maybe like two times a month or something, said Wilson.

I just think the economy, in general, is to blame til it flips back around, you know. Im hoping to hang in there long enough to see the flip, said Wilson. Im not ready to sell yet. My goal is to sell when I turn 55, which isnt too far off.

In comparison to Peggy Sues, where location is partly to blame for the decline, High Restaurant, located on the Mount Vernon square, has also had its fair share of hardships.

The restaurant business is notorious for being a tough business with small profit margins and taxes and food and everything else continues to increase. So its a tough business, but most people really know that going in, said Korby Bricker, owner of High Restaurant.

High Restaurant has been a feature of the Mount Vernon square since 1938 and went through four owners before Bricker bought the diner in December 2011 after the previous owners shut it down.

My original plan wasnt to open it myself, but the money invested kept on increas[ing] that I decided, Well, Ill try it for a while and see if I can get the business to go back up, Bricker said.

When the restaurant was shut down, I gutted the place and remodeled it and took it back to the original tile floor, tin ceiling, because it was carpeted and had a drop ceiling and paneling. … I changed it all back to what its original look would have been.

The Knox County Renaissance Foundation honored Brickers renovation last year with its Award for Outstanding Architectural Restoration or Contribution to the Community.

Now with the atmosphere restored to its original, the menu follows suit with gyros and Greek salads, items the restaurants original Athenian owners placed on the menu.

However, these old-fashioned accents are not enough to keep the business up.

We got a big mass of people at first, but then it kind of tapered off. … Right now its just kind of leveled out. It is what it is, you know, Bricker said.

Ive been trying to get my Facebook page a little bit more regular, Bricker said. Were just getting started with that. I mean, Ive had it but I havent been updating and using it like you young people do. So, Im trying to get that going … at least two or three times a week so people can get a little more notification.

Bricker said, Id like to say, someday, wed have some later hours. But, Im not positive when well be doing that.

Though trying to attract customers from other local diners with such changes, Bricker falls back on High Restaurants rustic feel.

Bricker said, This is the last true diner left and the only one on the square, of course. With the stainless steel and the hoods and all that, it has that true diner look, where other places call themselves a diner, which Barbs does and R&Ms does, but Im not going to say they have the look of a diner like we do.

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