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Restaurant, bar and casino closings pose challenges

John DuPont
Plaquemine Post South

Decades of work in the restaurant business never prepared Ronnie Gassie for the order the state mandated restaurants and bars would receive Monday.

In yet another step to aggressively curb the spread of coronavirus, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order that required all eateries to serve food only for pickup or delivery for at least the next 30 days. It also forced full closure of bars and casinos for the same time frame.

Gassie and his wife Lisa, owners of Fat Daddy’s, a popular po-boy and barbecue restaurant on LaBauve Avenue between Railroad Avenue and Eden Street, have weathered interruptions from hurricanes during the years. 

The business itself is not his biggest worry. 

“Labor is my biggest issue,” said Ronnie, whose payroll includes 31 employee, 14 of whom are waitresses. “Very few of them are in fulltime, since they’re either in school or this or that.” 

He said he understands the urgency to end the spread of the virus, but he does not know what to expect once the state allows sit-down dining to resume.

“I understand that we don’t want to expose more people to the virus” Gassie said. “But when you run into this kind of situation, what do you do? I don’t want to lose good employees, and that’s what I’m struggling with right now.”

The restaurant has become something of a landmark since it first opened its doors in 1986. It draws a packed house at lunchtime and solid business in the evening.

During the interview, Welton and Carolyn Alton of White Castle dined quietly in celebration of their seventh anniversary. 

“This may be the last time we get to eat out for a while,” he said. “We’re just going to enjoy ourselves while we can, although we understand why the state is doing this – it’s better to err on the side of caution. We’ll be back here.”

Gassie believes customer loyalty will make the difference, but the uncertainty poses the biggest hardship.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen and, quite honestly, this scares me,” he said. “This week will be the “feel out: process.” 

A few blocks down the road, patrons at Nick’s Bar, a venerable establishment on La. 1, patrons enjoyed a few beers and some much-needed laughter on the final day of business for several weeks.

Amid the good time, Parish Councilman Terry Bradford – who gathered with friends for a cold one – said he wanted to enjoy it one more time before the temporary closure. 

He also said he understands the reasons behind the closure.

“We’ll all miss seeing each other here for a few weeks, but we know it’s a safety precautions, where it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Bradford said. “We’ll be back.”