BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - On Friday, Chef Charles Russo served the lunch crowd at his Bay St. Louis restaurant for the last time. After three years in business, Russo's is closing its doors.
"The first couple of years were great, the volunteers were here, construction workers, and things were moving along," Charles Russo said. "Then 2008 came around and things just went downhill from there. So we've been struggling for a good year now and just decided to throw the towel in."
Russo's was among the first restaurants to open in the Bay following Hurricane Katrina. The business opened in the once thriving Market Town Shopping Center on Highway 90.
"We were hoping within a year or so after opening, we'd have a store in here, a grocery store. And then the rest of the strip mall would build up after that, and it just never happened."
Then, the economy started to sour.
"It's a combination of all of it. The population here, the people didn't come back. The national economy started going down around 2008, really the beginning of 2008 is when the gas prices started going way up, and food costs started going way up. People stopped spending money and it starting hurting a lot of small businesses, and I guess we're one of them."
At the height of business, Russo said he employed a dozen people. It was a place loyal customers came to love.
"Every time you come in here to eat, they're like family. They treat everybody like family," Gloria Ramirez said.
"It's authentic, New Orleans style food. Large portions, quality. And it's a tremendous loss," Terry Kane said.
Other factors besides the economy are pushing Russo to move.
"My little one is still in a trailer in school, and it's been three years. So we're just looking to try to give ourselves and our children a better life. I was hoping it was going to be here, and maybe it will some day, but for now we've got to go," Russo said.
Russo said he's moving his family to California where he has an employment opportunity lined up. He said he also hopes to open a catering business on the side, to bring his Southern style cooking to the West.