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More than a taste of trouble

Extra costs could imperil MacGregor’s

News editor

Marion’s newest restaurant, MacGregor’s, is temporarily closed while owners EJ and Joe Pickett wrestle with costly kitchen issues and worry whether someone may be trying to run them out of business.

A state fire marshal, summoned by a tip, discovered Monday that 10-foot and 4-foot hoods over cooking equipment weren’t hooked up to vent vapors outdoors, and that a hood fire suppression system hadn’t been installed, EJ Pickett said.

The restaurant closed for 2½ hours Thursday to fix problems identified by a Department of Agriculture health inspector, also summoned by a tip, with ceiling tiles and a handwashing sink, Pickett said.

Two Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control inspectors, again summoned by a tip, came in Saturday.

“They got calls we were supposedly having underage people serving our liquor, which was untrue,” Pickett said.

All three visits were prompted by contacts — in some cases, repeated contacts — unidentified people made with the departments, Pickett said.

“What bothers me is the people, whoever they are, who think it’s their duty and their job to keep calling,” she said. “You have to work out all those little bugs. Some people are willing to give you that chance, and some aren’t. They’re about to run a new business out of town, and it’s sad.”

Adding to the frustrations was a Thursday encounter with Chingawassa Days committee member Dave Crofoot, one that front end manager Kari Cook said “really struck me wrong.”

Crofoot came to MacGregor’s to ask for 15 free breakfasts for the Chingawassa committee. Other restaurants and food establishments have provided free meals to committee members in the past, Crofoot said.

“People know when they see me in March, April, and May that I’m with Chingawassa and I’m going to be asking for donations,” Crofoot said. “We needed somebody for breakfast on Friday morning. Casey’s gave us breakfast on Thursday morning. They gave us pizza and doughnuts and orange juice.”

Crofoot asked for Joe Pickett, who wasn’t available, so he spoke with Cook. She said he asked for the meals as a “goodwill gesture,” but when she questioned if they were to be free Crofoot said, “The way I see it you guys kind of owe us.”

A cowboy band scheduled to play at MacGregor’s at the same time Charlie Daniels Band was performing for Chingawassa was the issue, Cook said.

“He said, ‘You guys have completely stepped on our toes and upset people on the committee because you’re competing with Charlie Daniels and Chingawassa,’” Cook said. “I was off put by his brash and abrasive manner. I really just wanted to tell him I wanted him to exit the facility.”

Crofoot said afterward that it was a misunderstanding.

“I’m sorry they took it wrong,” he said. “They weren’t competition; they don’t owe us anything. I was rushing in, rushing out, and the guy wasn’t there, so I left my business card. I never heard back from them.”

Pickett said she appreciated that Crofoot came in to talk face-to-face.

“The fact that Dave had at least enough gumption to come into our place and tell us that, I give him kudos,” she said. “He didn’t do it in a roundabout way. If you think we have an issue, come tell me.”

The restaurant still needed some finishing touches when MacGregor’s opened May 23 for dinner. Although one of three cooks scheduled to work didn’t show up, Pickett said the staff managed to get through it.

“Between being down one cook and our inexperience and everyone hitting at once, we were encouraged,” she said. “At the same time we let some people down because there were some long wait times. When you’re trying to hurry and make everybody happy, I’m sure our food quality wasn’t consistent like it should be.”

Pickett said she received compliments about the facility and the food during the short time the restaurant was open.

“People are saying they’re so glad we’re open and your place is so homey and beautiful,” she said. “We’ve had lots of compliments on our food; not on our fast service, but our food. That’s been heartwarming that we are doing something right.”

Before the Picketts can re-open, the kitchen hood ventilation and fire suppression systems have to be finished.

“We knew the hood vent needed to be hooked up,” she said. “It was our first project as far as getting done. We needed to bring in some money in order to do that.”

With the restaurant closed, no money is coming in, and the Picketts also have to replenish food supplies. An installer is scheduled to give them a quote Thursday on what the hood work will cost.

“I’m not sure that’s something we can overcome,” Pickett said. “Everything we own is tied up in this place. Now it may be something we have to pay for that we can’t recover from. It’s going to come down to how much it’s going to cost.”

Stress from higher than expected remodeling costs, long hours, working out the kinks, and complaints that led to inspections has taken physical and emotional tolls.

“It has affected us mentally; it’s affected our health,” she said. “We’ve both lost a lot of weight. My husband is a bag of bones. I’m to the point of where if you don’t want it, we’ll walk away. We’ve tried to make it a nice place for Marion, and if that’s not what they want, good luck to you.”

Cook said that the Picketts had become “like family” and that she would do whatever it took to keep MacGregor’s afloat.

“Every last one of our employees has reached out asking how they can help,” she said. “That tells me they’ve done something right. I don’t care if I have to hold car washes to keep this open. We’ll do everything we can to be what the community needs and hope and pray that the community supports it.”

Last modified June 10, 2017

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