Restaurant testing air as smoke-free establishment

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Brookhaven’s Cracker Barrel Country Store is pioneering the wayfor its district by making the local store the first to voluntarilygo smoke-free.

“We’d talked about it for a while when the city went with thevoluntary ordinance, and Cracker Barrel was hesitant because theydidn’t want to offend anyone,” said store owner Jim Jolly.

Jolly said Aldermen Shirley Estes and D.W. Maxwell met withCracker Barrel Vice President Mark Romanko and discussed theoptions with him.

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“He talked to them for about an hour and we thought we shouldgive it a shot and see what happens,” Jolly said.

Brookhaven officials have already asked restaurants in the cityto consider voluntarily becoming smoke-free in lieu of having toset up a full ban. A no-smoking ordinance now in the works wouldgive business owners an option to opt out if they do not want theirbusiness to be smoke-free.

Jolly said the Tupelo and Hattiesburg Cracker Barrels arealready smoke-free because of city ordinances, but thatBrookhaven’s store is going to be something of a sounding board forthe rest of the district, which includes large parts of Mississippiand parts of Louisiana.

“If it goes well whole district will go smoke-free,” Jolly said.”It kind of makes sense, because obviously we get a lot ofcomplaints about smoking, that’s our biggest complaint.”

The second-largest complaint is waiting time, Jolly said.Freeing up the area reserved for smokers for all diners now willaddress that concern.

“This will kill two birds with one stone,” Jolly said.

Jolly said he hopes in addition to being a model for otherrestaurants in the district, other restaurants in Brookhaven mightfeel more comfortable making the move to cleaner air.

“If anything, maybe it’ll set a nice tone for the community, aswe’re one of the larger restaurants,” he said. “Perhaps otherrestaurants in town would follow our lead.”

Smoking patrons have seemed amenable to the change, Jolly said.He said much of the business the restaurant garners comes off theinterstate from travelers anyway.

“A lot of business is transient traffic, and a lot of people,when they come in, are surprised we still have smoking,” he said.”Most of them aren’t that concerned about it.”

Jolly said there will still be provisions for people who need tohave that after-dinner cigarette.

“They can still go outside and smoke, so it’s not going to bethat big of a change,” he said. “Plus, any other restaurant theyeat in, they’re used to smoking outside, so I don’t see anyproblem.”