The Town of Jarratt has closed a restaurant in its downtown area the Council itself had a hand in bringing to the location.
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Jarratt Town Council, Town Mayor Ken Warf was called upon by residents to discuss what occurred with the closing of Wilson’s Barbecue and Grill, located at 118 Jarratt Avenue and previously located at 769 N. Main Street in Emporia.
The restaurant’s relocation to Jarratt was facilitated by members of Council who voted to purchase the building on Jarratt Avenue and renovate it to bring it up to code and make it suitable for an occupant. Restaurant co-owner Tina Wilson had previously stated she and her husband Brad had originally wanted to move into that location before opening in Emporia, and was excited to be moving into the building.
The Town of Jarratt entered into an agreement with the Wilsons to fix up the building and then have the business pay back the money through a mortgage-like agreement, according to Warf.
When the restaurant opened last May, business was very steady, and the payments and meals tax money flowed smoothly into the Town’s coffers. However, the Mayor said, things began to take a downturn last fall.
“They were struggling,” Warf said. “They missed a payment, then were on the verge of missing two payments.”
Business had slowed, Warf said, and the Town was told in the spring and summer things would pick up. Warf said the Town then entered into a verbal agreement to allow the entire year’s payment to be made “by the end of summer,” but when no money was forthcoming on August 1, Warf said, “action had to be taken.”
That action, taken last week, came in the form of closing the business. The locks were changed, a No Trespassing sign was posted, and a sign was placed on the door indicating the business was closed and the Town was to be contacted with any questions.
The Town is considering its next move, Warf said, though he told residents it was likely a foreclosure auction would be held, though he added nothing had been decided.
“This was not a move we ever wanted to make,” Warf said, talking about closing Wilson’s.
The Mayor added the Town had spent more than $400,000 renovating the building so the business could move in, but all the costs were to be paid back in the agreement.
As for the verbal agreement to make the payment into a lump sum, Warf said he would learn from this experience.
“In hindsight it was not the wisest decision,” Warf said. “But Council and I thought they were going to make it. There was no part of me that wanted what happened last week to happen.”
Warf did take issue with Councilman Cecil McCoy’s assertion the Town had made a bad investment in the business.
“I completely disagree with you there,” Warf said. “In hindsight, it’s so much easier to say it was a bad decision. The business was doing well in Emporia and it was doing well here. The only reason it seems like a bad investment now is because it didn’t go the way it was supposed to go.”
Warf said Council made a decision to try to boost economic development in the Town of Jarratt, and the first step, he said, was buying the building at 118 Jarratt Avenue and getting a business in it.
When the numbers were crunched, the return on investment made sense at the time, Warf said.
“Two years ago, when given the numbers, it looked like a good decision,” Warf said.
Councilwoman Annie Peavy, who was not on Council when the original decision was made to start the restaurant project, said she was uncomfortable with it from the beginning of her first term.
“It was a project we know now should not have happened,” Peavy said. “This Council will not go in that direction again. We should not have put the Town in that position.”
Warf said the Town is investigating all possibilities to recoup its investment.
Featured Photo: Roger Bell/Sussex-Surry Dispatch
The building that used to house Wilson’s Barbecue and Grill on Jarratt Avenue now stands vacant as the Town ponders its next move to try to recover money invested in the project which brought the restaurant to the location.