I am like most of you— I love Chipotle. A few weeks from now, when the new Chipotle opens on Highway 12, I will be there with you in line for a steak burrito. We do not need to deceive ourselves; this is a good sign for Starkville. Oxford, MS, got its Chipotle years ago. I do wish however that it had taken a different spot in town, because I miss Petty's BBQ.
Petty's BBQ was the shack next to the Animal Medical Center, which is now an empty strip of business fronts where Chipotle will open. Petty's looked like the kind of restaurant which knew what it was doing. It had exclusively outdoor patio seating which consisted of some old booths and picnic tables with industrial fans in the corners of the roof. It had a smoker out front, and its menu was concise. You knew with absolute certainty what you were getting and had the confidence of knowing it was a dish Petty and his family had made hundreds of times. It was unhealthy, but it was also unreasonably good.
I first heard rumors Petty's was closing in the fall of 2020. It is challenging to pin down specifics about why it did, even now. Unlike most other restaurants on Highway 12, Petty's was not a brand. I cannot message them to ask what happened since their Facebook page was, admirably, last updated in 2016.
There are educated guesses, though. According to a February 2020 article by Emma Moffet-Taylor for Starkville Daily News, Petty's BBQ was already suffering a loss of business due to the median being added to the road. Less than a month after that article was published, students were asked not to return to classes after spring break, and, if you recall, the world tried to close for two years. According to Abby Vesoulis for TIME the restaurant industry in America suffered a 240 billion dollar shortage from its expected revenue due to the pandemic, and some odd 80,000 restaurants have closed in response.
It is important to underline Chipotle did not close Petty's BBQ. This is not their fault. But it highlights the harsh truth that the pandemic did not hurt chains like it did small businesses. Despite the culture's insistence that "we are all in this together," when Petty was forced to close after 34 years, Chipotle was doing well enough to still be able to grab some new real estate.
It becomes a question about what Mississippians are unknowingly supporting. According to Alex Rozier for Mississippi Today, Petty's BBQ received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan in the summer of 2020 of around $10,000, filing as having only one employee. At the same time, their franchise-owned neighbors on both sides of the median, McDonald's and Sonic, both took over $14 million of Mississippi's federal aid. For 28 of McDonald's locations in Mississippi, it breaks down well over a half a million dollars per location in a year which, according to Statista's revenue reports, the McDonald's corporation still took in $19.7 billion in revenue.
This is not me asking you to not eat fast food. I am broke and busy and understand the value of food which is quick and cheap. All this means is there has to be an active choice to sometimes eat at restaurants which are less convenient, just because we want to keep Starkville, Starkville.
Maybe when the line is long at Taco Bell or Cookout, we have to take it as a sign. It means we have to do our best to keep Mississippian dollars in Mississippi when we can, because Petty’s BBQ was delicious, and its closure is nothing shy of a tragedy.