A notebook on the counter at the Chuckwagon BBQ on East State Boulevard contained thousands of signatures from customers. They were all calling for the owner, Bruce Marshall, to be able to grill his ribs outdoors every day.
He had cooked that way for months at a time for other restaurants, and he had followed the same practice for nearly a year after opening Chuckwagon in 2006.
But then, earlier this year, health officials came crashing down on him, citing a law that said restaurants can’t cook outside more than 10 days a month. If you run a transient business, traveling from one location to another, you can cook outside 365 days a year. But businesses that are at a fixed location can’t do that.
It didn’t make sense to his customers, and it didn’t make sense to Marshall. Rib restaurants in other cities are permitted to cook outside, 24/7, as they say.
But not here.
Marshall resisted, but eventually, under pressure from first the health department and later other departments, he had to cave. His restaurant turned into a part-time establishment, cooking two to three days a week.
That took its toll. Customers weren’t sure when he would be open. He lost employees who needed full-time work.
The restaurant wasn’t making money. Marshall became depressed. His health suffered. He had diabetes and problems with his blood pressure. His blood pressure shot up. But he swore he wouldn’t throw in the towel.
He never did.
Monday afternoon, though, at Parkview Hospital, he lost the fight. He suffered cardiac arrest and died.
I hope the health department is happy. Your insistence on ridiculous regulations and idiotic enforcement has driven a great local restaurant from this community and helped usher in the owner's death. Don't try to absolve yourself from that responsibility - you need to feel his family's pain. You need to realize that your actions have consequences. Read what you have done:
“He was very, very depressed about the whole issue,” said his cousin, Claudia Harris-Stevenson.
As recently as July, Marshall looked good, but as business flagged, he began to slide downhill.
“He was having problems with his blood pressure,” Harris-Stevenson said. “He just gave up. It got to the point where he didn’t care. His business was failing. Money wasn’t coming in.”
Late last week he received a letter from the county. He hadn’t renewed his restaurant license, and the letter threatened to shut him down.
“Bruce stressed himself all the way out,” said his sister, Clara Martin. “He went into a depression,” and on many days couldn’t even go into work. He just shut down.
On Saturday, family members said he didn’t look good and offered to take him to the hospital. He said no, he’d take care of it. He had a doctor’s appointment Monday.
But he didn’t make it to the doctor’s appointment. Instead, Monday afternoon, an employee took him to the hospital. On the way, family members say, his business was all he talked about – the lack of income and that it was failing.
“He shouldn’t have been thinking about that on the way to the hospital,” Harris-Stevenson said. He should have been thinking about himself, about his health.
Now, the restaurant is closed. It won’t reopen. It will turn into a vacant building, just the way it was for three years before Marshall started cooking ribs there.
Where was the city leadership when this man needed help? I'm sick and tired of listening to council members tell us how we need to cut red tape for local businesses - save it. The rubber met the road here and you failed. It's easy to talk about cutting red tape, especially in an election year, but stories like this speak for themselves. This wasn't some unknown incident - this story has been well publicized. Local government, county and city, failed Bruce Marshall. This is the type of statistic that doesn't show up in six sigma reports and other bureaucratic nonsense. This was a man's livelihood and now it's gone.
I am not without responsibility here - I too failed Mr Marshall. I enjoyed his restaurant but never did enough to fight for him. I strongly believe that it's the job of local bloggers to hold government accountable and to ensure that these issues are brought to the forefront. I shouldn't have allowed these bureaucrats to get away with this garbage and for that I am sorry.
It won't happen again...