Ferguson's Restaurants Are Still Recovering in the Wake of Protests

Even as the unrest in Ferguson has begun to simmer down, some local businesses are still feeling the impact of weeks of protests, looting, and chaos. And Ferguson remains a divided city, with one side of town flourishing and the other still picking up...

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Aug 27 2014, 10:00pm

Photo by Claire Ward.

Weeks after unarmed teenager Michael Brown was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the small city is slowly to return to normalcy. Protests over the past few days have been peaceful, and residents say even when there was looting, it was isolated and as nonviolent as looting can be.

But through all the chaos, cops, and cries for justice, people still needed to eat, and Ferguson's restaurants dutifully stayed open, serving wings, burgers, coffee, and more to protesters, cops, politicians, and hordes of journalists.

Some restaurants owners and staffers say business has been a little slower since the protests began, but they say it's slowly returning. And they say the sense of community that's always been present in Ferguson never left.

"What people don't understand is that we were a very diverse and close community before all this happened," said Jordan Kuechenmeister, a barista at the Corner Coffee House, which is up the block from the Ferguson police station, where many of the protests have taken place. "The media only wants the car wreck, but there's this whole other side of Ferguson you don't see."

Despite the community's efforts, Ferguson remains a divided city.

Kuechenmeister says the coffee shop has become a meeting point for news organizations and politicians. CNN, CBS, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, and Senator Claire McCaskill have all stopped in over the last few weeks, he said.

And Kuechenmeister says residents, including himself and his father, have made a point of patronizing businesses during the protests to show that the community won't be dissuaded from normal life by a couple of looters.

"We go out and spend all the money we have on Ferguson to prove we're still here," he said. "That kind of attitude is bringing in more customers. People are hanging out here to show that we are a community and we are one."

But despite the community's efforts, Ferguson remains a divided city. There are two main sides of Ferguson, and two main business corridors. There's Florissant Road, where the police station and Corner Coffee are. The restaurants there are predominantly white-owned, and the strip is experiencing a mini-renaissance, with a new wine bar, and even some new loft apartments.

On the other side of Ferguson is West Florissant Avenue. That area is predominantly poor and black, and served mostly by fast food joints. And that's where a lot of the looting has taken place. Since the protests began, about 25 businesses have been vandalized or looted, Kathy Osborn, executive director of the Regional Business Council told CNN.

Still, despite sporadic looting and brick-throwing, businesses on the rougher side of town have remained open, if largely empty.

"A lot of stuff is closed down around us, and business is really slow," said Tiesha Alford, a cashier at the simply titled Fish and Chicken Restaurant on West Florissant, which serves up fried catfish and fry combos for under $10.

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usinesses on the rougher side of town have remained open, if largely empty.

Alford said the area can get a little scary at night as protests heat up.

"Some people are still angry. They're still waiting for justice to be served...You don't know how things will go down at night," she said. "But during the day it's starting to look like the old Ferguson again."

Down the block, Britney Warner, a manager at London's Wing House said the dialogue on the streets and inside her restaurant is fluid.

"Everybody—the employees, the customers—they all have their own opinions and their own frustrations," she said.

London's, which has two locations around St. Louis and serves chicken along with classic Southern fare like gizzards and tripe, has also seen its business slow. Warner said everyone's trying to make the best of the situation.

Back across town near the police station, employees at Cathy's Kitchen are also seeing a silver lining in the protests.

"Word of mouth is strong, and right now we're getting a lot of free publicity, so our business actually went up a lot," Malcolm Robinson, a waiter at the diner said. "We're actually going to start hiring more people soon."