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Lamar Restaurant - Jackson
Lamar Restaurant Closing After Six Decades in Jackson
Originally printed in The Clarion-Ledger on October 21, 2015
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The Lamar Restaurant opened on Lamar Street in Jackson, Mississippi in 1953
Downtown Jackson is losing a landmark.
After 62 years, the Lamar Restaurant will close on Friday after its lunch rush.
Owner Chris Grillis said Wednesday morning he’d been mulling the decision for several months. A general lack of business and a shortage of people downtown left him no choice, he said.
“It just finally got to me.”
Grillis’ parents emigrated from Greece. When they opened the Lamar in 1953, it was one of several Greek restaurants downtown. Emanuel Grillis, Chris’ father, died in 1979. Chris’ mother KiKi ran the restaurant by herself until 1987. By then, Chris Grillis had worked at several other eateries after graduating from Ole Miss.
Grillis had a motor scooter accident in 2008, putting him out of commission for almost three months.Not long after that, Grillis said, business started to noticeably decline.
“The last four to five years it has really gone down. People just aren’t eating as many plate lunches as they were,” he said, referring to the Lamar’s specialty. “They don’t want a meat and three.” The restaurant, for the past decade, has only been open for lunch. “They want what I call plastic food.”
Grillis’ parents first came to Jackson in the late 1940s. His uncle hired his dad to help run a couple of businesses he’d started. “Traditional story,” Grillis said of his parents’ coming to America. “They got here with the clothes on their back, and that was all they had.”
They opened the Lamar in 1953, where it is now, at the intersection of Lamar and Pearl streets. “I crawled on this floor as a baby,” Grillis said. “ It makes me tear up.”
The business grew along with the Grillis kids. By 1985, the Lamar had 20 employees and had become one of downtown Jackson’s most popular dining spots for lunch and dinner.
Today, it has two employees, Grillis and his sister.
“It started out as a family business, and we went from 20 employees back down,” Grillis said.
The decline started, Grillis said, when a handful of anchor businesses left downtown. Grillis mentioned law firm Butler Snow and accounting firm Horne LLP’s departures as two that put a noticeable dent in his lunch crowd.
“Used to be, everything was downtown,” he said. “Now it seems like everything has moved up the interstate.
Compounding things was the retirement of his lunch regulars. The downtown workers who ate lunch at the Lamar – some four to five times a week, Grillis said – were gone. And no one replaced them.
“The restaurant business is tough,” said Ben Allen, president and CEO of downtown Jackson Partners. “I hate to lose the Lamar.” Allen pointed to the recent closures of Mint and Julep – which shared an owner – as examples of the quick spiral a restaurant can take. “They keep closing, but they keep opening.”
Grillis will serve lunch Friday, but that won’t be the final meal at the Lamar. He has a Saturday morning breakfast planned for many of the law enforcement personnel who are or were regulars.
Grillis will continue to work part-time at South Jackson’ Crechale’s and a liquor store. He’s had some health issues he’ll have to address. “My wife doesn’t want me to work at all,” he said. “But hell yeah, I’m worried. This is just about all I’ve ever known.”
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