Beignets is closing.
The new downtown restaurant and creperie didn't make it three months. Owner Judie Sowards opened the restaurant with her son Ryan in mid-July. It is at 121 N. Wall St.
They said the business was done in by a group of people loitering across the street from the restaurant. The group - sometimes more than 100 people strong - are obnoxious, block the sidewalk, beg and are just a general nuisance.
“They have been right across the street from me and literally for the last month they have been chanting, making horrible gestures and noises and just hurting the business horribly," Sowards said. "We’ve had so many customers say that if this continues they weren’t going to be back and they meant it. Our business has gone down 75 percent."
Sowards said she had to take out a loan two weeks ago to make payroll because business dropped so dramatically in the past three weeks.
She said they tried working with police and the city to chase off the group, but it was too little, too late. Other businesses on the block are struggling for the same reason, Sowards said. The group used to hang out near the STA bus plaza in the smoking area, but were displaced by the construction and new non-smoking policy there.
“Those kids need a place too and I understand that. We are not against the kids we are against them wrecking our quiet atmosphere that our customers had wanted to have... We were trying to hold out until the weather got colder."
Police and security officers increased patrols recently, so the group was not quite as loud, Sowards said. "But their presence and their gestures are not pleasant. People don’t want to walk through them. They beg. They were coming by to my tables asking for food and drink and that is just not right.”
Sowards said they just couldn't wait any longer. “We ran out of money… I had plenty of money in reserve and we’ve had to spend it because literally in the last three weeks (business) has gone down to less than a third of what we were getting.”
“We are now having to let 34 kids go to unemployment that want to work because of the 106 kids across the street that don’t want to work and that is really sad. My kids wanted a job and I have to let them know now because I can’t afford to pay them."
Beignets will be open today from 11 a.m. to close and tomorrow from 11 a.m. to close so they can sell out the food in their coolers and freezers.
Look for a more in-depth story on the problems with the group hanging out by Beignets and along Wall Street in tomorrow's newspaper.