If you’re looking for a prime cut of steak in Hinesville, staying home just may be your best bet.
Two locally owned restaurants, Vann’s Bar and Grill and Hinesville Steak House, closed recently with little indication or notice, leaving locals with few options: chains or lighter, lunchtime fare.
"To tell you the truth, the chains are about the only thing we’ve got in Hinesville," resident Booker Burley Jr. said. "You’ve got to get all the way to the coast before you find good food."
Though the eateries’ respective owners could not be reached by press time, other residents joined Burley in reacting to the news as if the story of a local closure is nothing new.
Poole’s Deli owner Susan Poole McCorkle said many people don’t take into account the amount of money and effort that goes into creating and maintaining a restaurant.
"It’s really hard to make ends meet," she said, listing expenses from insurance, taxes, health department fees, payroll and rent.
And because chain restaurants often are owned by corporations and even publicly traded, shouldering those expenses can be less taxing for a larger entity than an individual entrepreneur.
"They’ve got cash reserves coming out the ying-yang — they can weather the hard times," Burley said about chains.
McCorkle, whose father, Billy Poole, established the cafeteria 20 years ago, agrees that local businesses sometimes struggle to create and uphold visibility.
"We get a lot of people through word of mouth, soldiers who bring their friends in — but then there are some who haven’t ever heard of us," she said.
Burley and his sister, Pat Jackson, expressed that advertising is a huge draw for diners, but McCorkle said that smaller restaurants may not have budgets for ads.
"I don’t have extra money from a corporation to do advertising or beautification projects," she added.
But McCorkle finds other ways to increase visibility, like catering or partnering with community and school functions.
"I think that maybe that helps the community appreciate us as much as we appreciate them," she said.
And the rough economy hasn’t helped a bit.
Jade Irvin, a Jesup resident who dines in Hinesville frequently, said that many of her acquaintances choose chains because they’re cheaper than places like Vann’s and Hinesville Steak House, she said.
"It’s not high-quality food, but they’ve got it ready to go — you get what you pay for," she said, adding that her friends are forced to make those choices "since our economy is in a downward spiral and shows no sign of picking up at the moment."
The downtown destination Zum Rosenhof is Irvin’s top local pick for its selection and atmosphere, she said. It’s also a place where the staff is engaging and knows customers by name.
Personalized service is a major reason for success and keeps many customers coming back, according to McCorkle and Buffalo’s Café manager Katie Huelsman.
"We have a handful of girls and cooks that have been here four years," Huelsman said. "We’re very consistent in what we do, and we see a lot of regular faces."
Buffalo’s, which is a locally owned franchise, also offers its customers more than a dining experience, Huelsman added. The venue is a nighttime entertainment hotspot with karaoke, trivia and live music as well as all-you-can-eat wings.
At Poole’s, reasonable prices and home-style meals bring in some customers for both breakfast and lunch, McCorkle said.
But some of the regular patronage declines when soldiers are deployed, the customers added.
"You can see it in Hinesville when the soldiers are all gone," Irvin said.
Though McCorkle agrees that the presence of soldiers on Fort Stewart correlates to more business, she said she also has seen a smaller uptick than she anticipated since the four 3rd Infantry Division brigades have returned.
"You have to cut corners where you can," McCorkle said. "We’re just fortunate that we haven’t had to close."