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VOL. 128 | NO. 164 | Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kudzu’s Wrestles With Plant Closure Fallout

By Andy Meek

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When the current ownership of Kudzu’s Bar & Grill bought the eatery in September 2011, tables were full, the parking lot was packed and the business kept busting its projections.

Jerry King, one of Kudzu’s owners, said every month the results would be as much as a double-digit percentage above what had been projected. That, however, was before Hostess’ Downtown Memphis Wonder Bread plant closed late last year.

Kudzu’s Bar & Grill has seen a drastic drop in its lunchtime crowd following the November closing of the Hostess Wonder Bread plant nearby.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Kudzu’s nighttime business has held steady, but the bar’s daytime traffic immediately dropped by about half. Since November, when the Hostess plant closed, business has been down every month.

Hostess Brands Inc. warned it would go out of business last year as a result of striking workers across the country bringing production to a halt. The company had a roster of about 30 brands, and its Downtown Memphis plant employed a few hundred workers.

The closure still resonates. To put in perspective how much business it’s lost since the plant closure, Kudzu’s used to serve between 30 and 40 customers pretty consistently for lunch. Below 30, and that used to be what passed for a slow day.

Now, King recalled two days recently where Kudzu’s saw only five people for lunch one day and six people for lunch the day after that.

Trying everything he can think of to gin up more business, King said he turned to Facebook.

“Trying not to sound too desperate, Kudzu’s needs your support,” Kudzu’s wrote on its Facebook page. “Since the closing of the Wonder Bread factory last year we have pretty much lost all of our daytime business. Keeping this landmark open is a daily struggle. Please keep us in your thoughts when you are deciding where to have lunch. We cannot maintain on night business alone. Thank you.”

Another bit of help comes in the form of Sun Studio, where Kudzu’s keeps menus and which occasionally steers customers there to eat.

“We have had a couple of days here and there where the crowd has picked back up to almost approaching normal, but not enough,” King said. “I just want to make sure people understand we are an option for Downtown lunches. We have accessible parking. For a full-service restaurant, we’re very reasonably priced. We’re nonsmoking, but we do have smoking on the patio. We have a full menu and live music every night.”

The eatery has a robust social media presence across platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Kudzu’s is only a short drive from Downtown landmarks like FedExForum and Beale Street, and its nighttime business reflects that.

It attracts customers with features that include everything from the neighborhood pub feel complete with a jukebox, pool table and trivia nights. The menu includes items like a Cajun smoked sausage sandwich, a Philly cheese steak and grilled tuna and grilled chicken sandwiches.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 72 218 10,440
MORTGAGES 91 293 13,620
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 3 46 2,690
BUILDING PERMITS 0 393 24,700
BANKRUPTCIES 62 184 10,076
BUSINESS LICENSES 25 62 3,798
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 90 338 14,895
MARRIAGE LICENSES 10 68 3,235

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