When workers at Piccadilly Cafeteria in Gulfport turned over its closed sign Sunday night it was for good. The manager says the restaurant shut its doors permanently mainly because of the large amount of competition. Just a few weeks ago, the last of the Shoney's stopped doing business on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. One long time restaurateur who believes more restaurants will be driven out of business in the future because of an oversaturated market.
Carl Lizana has quite a bit of experience in the food service industry. Lizana owns "Aunt Jenny's on the Beach" and "White Cap" in Gulfport as well as "Aunt Jenny's"and "Anthony's Under the Oaks" in Ocean Springs. Lizana says doing business on the Coast was difficult when he started out 40 years ago and it still is. Then there were a few customers spread out among a handful of businesses. Now there are thousands of tourists but with hundreds of dining choices.
"Four, five, six times as many restaurants," said Lizana. "So for what increase in tourism we get, we're splitting it up between a whole heck of a lot more."
Aunt Jenny's On the Beach sits on what used to be a Shoney's. The company's real estate agent blames its downfall partly on casinos buffets but Lizana believes the casinos help his business by hiring local patrons.
Lizana said "So with 15,000 to 16,000 of those people working at the casinos, that's an enormous amount of people for us in the restaurant business to draw from who can afford to eat out at night."
That help doesn't do enough to sustain a market Lizana says has so many restaurants. He expects restaurants to be going out of business soon.
"If you're not doing very well it just makes it not possible to sit here and just scrump a living out of it. You'd be better off to go into a casino dealing Black Jack. So in the future I think you're gonna see more and more restaurants start backing down."
The closing of Piccadilly Cafeteria in Gulfport isn't just a disappointment for its regular customers. The pastor of a local church who was meeting there on Sunday's say he'll have to find a new place to hold services.
The Piccadilly's in Edgewater Mall in Biloxi will remain open. Carl Lizana recommends that elected officials lower taxes to keep more businesses open.