Confehr: Dinner middle day was terrific

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dinner middle day was what Mom prepared on Sundays and so we looked forward to going home after church.

There were also special Sundays to eat at a restaurant. One year, Dad was fascinated by Roy Rogers' chain of fast food restaurants just north of home.

I'll never remember whether it was because of the economic times, or my childhood fascination with the cowboy, or if it was a gentle statement that he preferred Mom's cooking.

Restaurant meals after church were mentioned a week ago today by Marshall County Commissioner Tony White as a tradition to recreate and save the restaurant at Henry Horton State Park.

Financially, the restaurant is in bad shape. Money spent by the state for its operation exceeds its revenue, although the ratio of subsidy is shrinking as income is increasing. Subsidies aren't in the state budget to start July 1, so White's told friends: if you want the state restaurant to stay open, then you ought to eat there.

The same message was heard in Shelbyville after a catfish place closed. After a Mexican restaurant came in, some complained, "There's another taco joint in town." Others said it wouldn't be there if the catfish place had customers.

The park restaurant won't become a taco joint, but it could be very different in a couple of years. It might not be a restaurant. It might be open only during warm seasons. The space might also be rented to restaurant managers.

Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke says the state wants to hear from businesses that could run the restaurant. And they want to hear from them soon.

The restaurant is a business with a clientele that could evaporate. The restaurant, inn and other state park facilities took a hit when a previous governor cut state costs by closing parks. Some staffers found other jobs. Some customers went back after parks reopened and left with poor impressions of park restaurants, food, pools, and other amenities. And revenue dropped.

A similar fate is feared if the park restaurant is closed and then re-opened.

Another scenario is - instead of maintaining the state park image with state money - a private business might land a contract to lease the facility and run it like... well, a business.

That might include alcoholic beverages. Our state and local officials recognize that could be a problem, although beer is now being sold at the golf course.

Hopefully, the situation isn't as bad as we might fear. Nationally, there are reports the recession is ending. Here in Tennessee, and especially in Marshall County where the unemployment rate is higher than anywhere else in the state, it still seems bleak.

As for the restaurant: There are some Tennessee-based restaurant chains that ought to be approached. They include Cracker Barrel, Shoney's, O'Charley's and Logan's. Perhaps you see the contrast. Some sell drinks. Others don't.

It's an interesting situation but few are direct enough to ask, in print or aloud: If the park is to stay dry will it depend on dinner middle day after church?

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