Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl is walking back his opposition to deferring the rental payments Chicken Salad Chick pays for its location in Government Plaza due to the economic fallout of COVID-19.
During a meeting Monday, Carl got into a heated discussion with Commissioner Connie Hudson after she brought before the commission a request from Chicken Salad Chick owner Misty Hudson Whitehead to reduce the rent the restaurant chain pays for its location in Government Plaza.
The location, which opened in December 2019, has been popular among county employees, passers-by and members of the public conducting business at Government Plaza. Under their agreement, Chicken Salad Chick pays the commission 10 percent of its pre-tax sales from Government PLaza as rent every month.
However, like most restaurants in Alabama, Chicken Salad Chicken has taken a financial hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, all restaurants in Alabama are only able to provide carryout or curbside services under an order from Gov. Kay Ivey and state public health officials.
Whitehead told commissioners she’s doing 30 percent of the business she was before the pandemic and would potentially have to cut staff if things continue on that trajectory. To ease the pain, she requested the county defer the restaurant’s 10 percent rental payments until the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
Initially, Carl and Commissioner Merceria Ludgood voted down the request, with Carl citing concerns about preferential treatment for one business at a time when restaurants across the country are suffering because of the impact of COVID-19 and health orders aiming to reduce its spread.
“Everybody is going to take a hit. We can’t show preference, especially to ourselves and the people around us when there are people who are truly hurting … people out there that only work for tips,” Carl said.
Hudson said she understood the impacts were hurting restaurants broadly but added that the Mobile County Commission is only the landlord for one restaurant: Chicken Salad Chick.
“I would very much hope that, whoever [those other restaurants] pay their rental payments would take some sort of mercy on the current situation because, as of now, we’re going to see many businesses close and they may never even reopen,” Hudson said. “[Whitehead] is not asking to waive any payments, she’s just asking for it to be deferred until operations return to normal.”
Two days after the vote died for lack of support, Carl released a statement saying he was willing to support the request if it is brought back before the commission in the future. The change of heart, according to Carl, came after he heard from other restaurant owners in downtown Mobile.
“Being a former small business owner, I understand how a crisis can cripple a business,” Carl said. “In my attempt to be fair to the other small business owners, I hastily denied the request before considering the effect it would have on the others. If the request is brought before the Commission again, I would definitely support it.”
The next scheduled meeting of the Mobile County Commission is set for April 13.
Though two votes are all that’s needed for a majority on the three-member commission, Ludgood told Lagniappe in a statement she had not changed her position on the matter. She didn’t comment on her opposition to the rent deferral Monday but has opposed the idea of a restaurant in Government Plaza because she thinks it puts the county in competition with other private restaurants downtown.
More specifically, Ludgood said Chicken Salad Chick’s contract with the county is already designed to address drops in businesses. You can read her full statement below.
“Each of us must be guided by our own principles in this and every other issue. It is my opinion that this lease agreement, which is based on 10 percent of sales, already provides the remedy requested. If the restaurant grosses $3,000 per month, the rent is $300 for that month. If it grosses $100 the rent will be $10 for that month. No sales at all would mean zero rent. The typical lease requires a flat rate of rent, without regard to ability to pay. That, I believe, is the situation faced by most restaurant operators. In my judgment, this request creates yet another unfair advantage for Chicken Salad Chick, one that is borne by the taxpayers. For me, this is purely a fairness issue.”
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