BEAUFORT — Jessica Murphy, owner of La Perla restaurant, is urging residents in and around town to support local restaurants.
“I would encourage people to eat at local restaurants,” Ms. Murphy said. “You vote with your dollars, so just be aware of where you’re putting your dollars.”
Ms. Murphy’s comments come as her restaurant, located on Front Street in downtown Beaufort, prepares to shut its doors for good. She said a combination of factors led to La Perla’s difficulties in recent months.
“We’re closing at the end of the year and that’s just how it is,” Ms. Murphy said.
She brought La Perla to Beaufort two years ago after operating in Morehead City.
At the time, Ms. Murphy said her location in Morehead City was less than ideal.
“As one of our customers said, you have to try hard to get a worse location,” Ms. Murphy said. “We were on 20th Street, a mile from downtown. We were by ourselves in a strip mall…in a neighborhood that some people would consider sketchy.”
She admits things didn’t improve much, despite a more ideal location in Beaufort.
“It’s complicated,” Ms. Murphy said. “My volume (of customers) has been steadily decreasing since 2016. The parking may have hurt us, but we were starting all over again. I don’t know if you know this about people and restaurants, but we lost almost all of (the) Morehead City people. People just…they refused to go over a bridge, for any reason, especially if they are eating and drinking.”
According to Ms. Murphy, one of the major issues was simple math. There are only a few thousand people living in Beaufort.
“You’re slicing it thin,” Ms. Murphy said. “That means there are a couple hundred (customers) per restaurant.”
She said navigating a pool of that size is difficult, particularly if you have to compete with other restaurants.
“There is just too much competition for too few people,” Ms. Murphy said, adding that hurricanes Florence and Dorian might have also played a role. “There are less people going out to eat because so many second homeowners are still working on their house, and there is less lodging. So this was a really tough year.”
She added the issue is exacerbated by residents who choose to eat meals at restaurants with corporate backing. Although Ms. Murphy didn’t call out any corporate-backed restaurant, she did say those establishments have the more financial security to lower prices beyond what local joints, like like La Perla, are able to match.
“If you just eat at corporate places, that’s what you are only going to get,” Ms. Murphy said. “Support the local independent (restaurateurs). If that’s what the people of Beaufort want, there it is, that’s what they want.”
Contact Dean-Paul Stephens at 252-726-7081, ext. 201; email Dean@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @DeanPEStephens.