Poole’s Deli, a culinary landmark and local favorite for comfort food in downtown Hinesville, closed its doors Thursday after lunch.
Poole’s owner Susan Poole McCorkle said she has been at the same location since 1973 when her family moved to Hinesville from Lyons. She said she was only 13 years old when she started helping her father at his local grocery store, and they later added a breakfast and lunch counter.
“My two brothers went on to other jobs, and I stayed to help Daddy,” said McCorkle, who fought back tears as she talked about her business. “The store closed in 1991, then we started this restaurant, keeping the breakfast and lunch counter and later adding catering. We actually started ‘breakfast in a cup’ because of a soldier, who wanted everything in one container so he could eat it on his way into work.”
McCorkle said license fees, taxes, utilities, lease costs, rising food costs, labor costs and especially insurance costs led her to start talking with her accountant and lawyer two months ago.
She said she could not pass on these costs to her customers and expect to remain competitive with new chain restaurants in Hinesville, so she made the difficult decision to close.
“Working with my customers is what I’ll miss most,” she said, sobbing. “A lot of them I grew up with. Their children and grandchildren were coming here. Making a decision to close a business is like losing part of your family.”
A big part of her “business family” was her 10 employees, she said. At least one employee has been with her for 16 years. McCorkle said her staffers know she has struggled for some time and has been under a great deal of stress.
“Small, independent restaurants like us usually average 12 to 15 years, but we’ve managed to stay in business for 21 years,” she said. “I just want to thank the community for its support for over 20 years, and I hope they’ll continue to support small, local businesses.”
Reaction to the news of Poole’s Deli’s closing was swift. As loyal customers learned Thursday would be the last day, they descended on the restaurant, willingly waiting in a long line that wrapped around the inside of the dining area.
McCorkle’s longtime friends, like The Heritage Bank First Vice President Willa Lewis, stopped by for hugs and offered words of encouragement. McCorkle said she and Lewis have been friends since they attended Bradwell Institute more than 30 years ago.
Another customer, Ronnie Brown, said he came for one last “good lunch” when he heard the news. Brown said he played high-school sports with McCorkle’s children, and he was sad to hear the restaurant was closing.
Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Vicki Davis reacted quickly to Poole’s closing Thursday, describing it as a “call to action” for the community.
“I am saddened to learn this morning that today is the last day of business for Poole’s Deli,” Davis said. “This and other recent small business closures — (like) Young’s Seafood, Juan’s Mexicali and Western Sizzlin — should be a call to action for the whole community.”
Davis suggested that local residents too often take “mom-and-pop” businesses for granted. She strongly advocates supporting local, independent businesses because it is important to keep sales-tax dollars in Hinesville to improve roads, schools, medical care and other government services.
“Small-business owners make their decisions with their customers in mind, even when it costs them greatly,” she said. “To sustain small businesses, it needs to be a two-way street. We need our community to begin making decisions with businesses in mind when it comes to where they spend their money. Your business support today helps to secure their existence tomorrow.”