The owners of a local barbecue joint that closed this month because of a hefty tax bill promise the grill will be up and smoking soon — hopefully well before the summer weather begins.
“We will be open,” said Phyllis Howlett, who was answering the phone at Fat Rascal’s barbecue Thursday morning, explaining that she and her husband, Ben, wanted to be on hand to let people know what was happening with their three-year-old business.
On April 1, Fat Rascal’s was closed due to non-payment of state taxes, Howlett said, explaining that the pair “got behind.”
Customers kept coming by the shuttered business, however, and one of them presented the Howletts with a check she hoped would fire up the barbecue again.
“June Hunter, a wonderful person, came forward to give us the amount that was posted on the door,” Howlett said, explaining that Hunter “just came out of the woodwork” as a customer that really wanted their restaurant to re-open.
“She has a group coming in September that she wants to bring here,” Howlett said, laughing.
Howlett said she hoped it would be well before September — perhaps next month — that the business re-opened, although a new hurdle appeared in the amount of about $13,000.
“We found out there’s relicensing fees and (numerous other bills) that we weren’t aware of,” Howlett said, explaining that she and her husband are doing everything they can think of to raise the rest of the money they need.
“We’ll see what we come up with,” she said.
And the couple is not alone. Along with the “gift” from Hunter, a group rallied for the business last weekend, raising $1,500 at a fundraiser organized by local businesswoman Kim Vogler of Family Bundles.
“It was really heartwarming to see the response,” Vogler said, explaining that as a small business owner it is all too easy to get lost in the day-to-day details of keeping a restaurant open and fall behind in other things.
“There are many, many reasons why these things happen — they admit that they owe these back taxes, but it’s hard to earn your way out of a problem if you can’t open and make money,” she said, adding that she hoped the community support would help the Howletts and their business get back on their feet. “Hopefully this will be a solution that will prevent that final door from closing,” she said. “They’ve sunk every cent into their business, and if that dream dies, they will lose their whole future — I’d hate to see that happen.”
For now, Howlett seems determined to not let it happen.
“We’re not going to lay down and die,” she said. “We whole-heartedly admit that we made a mistake, but we’ve made some changes and hired an accountant, and it won’t happen again.”
In the meantime, Howlett said she was amazed by and grateful for the community’s outpouring of support.
“We’re very surprised,” she said, “and very, very blessed.”