March 25, 2013 10:05:34 AM
Carl Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
Patrons wanting Old Venice's creole salmon special Sunday afternoon were out of luck: The fish flew from the restaurant's menu.
Old Venice sold out of its Starkville Restaurant Week special early Sunday, a sign general manager Martin Crawford said reflected the increase in patrons seen at the Italian eatery.
As Starkville Restaurant Week concluded Sunday, diners filled the city's 32 participating restaurants for a last chance at special menu items. Chef Ty Thames said Restaurant Tyler's brunch attracted a crowd comparable to those of home football game weekends.
Thames estimated business increased about 20 percent at his restaurants this week, a number similar to what Crawford said he observed. Both are still tabulating exact figures and sales returns.
Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory said other restaurants saw similar increases.
"We've been extremely pleased, not only with how we think restaurant week positively impacted the economy, but also how the event pulled the community together," she said, noting the charity component of the event.
Diners were given ballots last week and voted for one of three charities nominated for a $5,000 donation by Cadence Bank. Before the event, the Starkville Convention and Visitors Bureau Board nominated Sally Kate Winters Family Services, Oktibbeha County Humane Society and the Reclaimed Project for the donation.
Gregory said she is hopeful more than 10,000 ballots will be counted this week. Once results are tabulated, the winner will be announced 11 a.m. Thursday at Cadence Bank.
"Even though it was a friendly, competitive event among the individual restaurants and the three charities, it was all extremely positive," she said. "(Charity representatives) said even if they don't win, it's been a win for them because of the increased exposure and awareness."
The charities were not the only ones benefiting from increased exposure. Crawford said the Twitter account for the local Old Venice chain gained approximately 30-40 new followers and was active amongst local users.
"We thank the Partnership and the other participating restaurants. (We hope we can) continue the success of this week for years to come," he said.
"This was a really great event for a really great cause. The town really came together to support the charities," Thames added. "This was something the community latched onto and made their own. We're happy to have participated in this event and will support it in the future."
The impact of Starkville Restaurant Week is also expected to boost sales tax and two-percent food and beverage tax returns, but the city isn't expected to release March figures until early summer.
A 2010 retail analysis, Gregory said, showed Starkville has gained increased tax revenues by attracting out-of-town diners from a 60-mile radius to its many community-owned and chain restaurants. The week-long event was an attempt to show off the community's culinary achievements, successful chefs and potentially attract patrons back for future meals.
"This all goes back to the strategic plan to promote Starkville as a prime restaurant destination in the Golden Triangle and to continue our effort in increasing sales tax receipts," Gregory said.
Even the event's timing was meticulously calculated to boost sales. Typically, the week after spring break is a slow week for local businesses, she said.
"Normally, students have spent all their money during spring break. That also holds true for families that traveled. Eating out is really not a priority coming back from Spring Break," Gregory said. "It'll be really interesting in two months to pull sales tax figures and compare what happened."
Last year, the city collected its second-highest food and beverage tax return on record: $132,705.98. Those returns peaked in 2008 when the city collected almost $150,000 that month. The city collected approximately $132,000 in January, the only data released from 2013.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch