The waitresses at Blow Fly Inn were in a state when I arrived Tuesday afternoon to find out why the restaurant, an institution in Gulfport, had suddenly closed.
Long-time proprietor Scott Weinberg told his staff it was the Blow Fly's last night on Memorial Day evening only after the last dinner plate left the kitchen.
Some of the waitresses have worked there for decades.
Waitress and manager Connie Sullivan celebrates her 18th anniversary today. She told me Tuesday at the closed restaurant, "I'm just trying to breathe."
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Sullivan's phone was ringing off the hook Wednesday morning. She was urging waitresses and kitchen help to be at the restaurant at 10 a.m. today. The owner of the iconic Blow Fly name, and the building overlooking Bayou Bernard, plans to meet with them to talk about their futures.
The owner, neurosurgeon Victor Bazzone, told me Tuesday evening he wants the employees to work for him. He plans to reopen the iconic restaurant by July 4th, after a facelift and a retooling of the menu to bring back a "retro Blow Fly." The Blow Fly originally opened in 1955, he said. He bought the building and name in 1997 from the original owners.
Sullivan said she's urging all the 35-odd employees to come to the meeting this morning.
"I'm always trying to figure out how I can help everybody and not myself," she said. "I've always looked at us as a family, and we are. We're all trying to figure out how to stay together.”
I could tell during my visit that the employees and regular customers of the Blow Fly are, indeed, a family.
There are so many examples of this. Here's one.
Connie Sullivan's mother, Pat, accompanied her to the restaurant three days a week for 16 years after retiring as a cook for the Harrison County School System. Mrs. Pat sat at a table by the door and greeted customers. She folded napkins and did whatever else she could do.
The customers loved her. The Sun Herald wrote a story about her a year ago.
Tuesday also happened to be the two-month anniversary of Mrs. Pat's death.
She had Alzheimer's. She had started to wander and hadn't been in the restaurant for a couple of weeks. Her husband of 60 years, Lindo Sullivan, put her to bed one evening and found the police at his doorstep before dawn the next morning.
Mrs. Pat had somehow wandered out in the night and wound up on a stranger's doorstep, where she knocked. The man did not know her, but he did recognize Mrs. Pat and he knew where she lived. He called the police, who took her home.
They hospitalized Mrs. Pat. They were trying to get her medications adjusted. She turned 85 on March 16 while still hospitalized. The next day, her daughter said, Mrs. Pat's lungs collapsed. She passed away March 31.
She was family not just to her daughter, but to all the staff at the Blow Fly, including Scott Weinberg, who had known her since he was a child and thought of her as a second mother.
This is just one of the Blow Fly's family stories. There are many more.
As I prepare to leave the office for an interview for a far different and unrelated story, my thoughts are with the waitresses of the Blow Fly.
I hope Bazzone and the staff come to terms, and I know Blow Fly patrons who love these waitresses are hoping the same.
I'll keep you posted at sunherald.com.