Tri-Cities business owners trying to beat the odds amid a pandemic


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) The American economy might have reopened this summer, but tens of thousands of businesses did not survive the coronavirus pandemic.

Of all the business closures since march 1st, 55% of businesses on YELP will never reopen again, according to Money Watch.

One of those businesses is the popular franchise is Moe’s BBQ, in Johnson City.

Moe’s BBQ closed on June 14, 2020.

News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun found that the owners are not alone trying to beat the odds.

While businesses struggle to remain open, some people in the Tri-Cities are trying to achieve the dream of owning a business.

Since 2016, Bridgett Murphree has been the co-owner of Moe’s BBQ franchise, in Johnson City.

“We came out of the gates swinging here,” Moe’s BBQ franchise co-owner, Bridgett Murphree said. “Once everyone started trusting our cooking, we really propelled ourselves to being a name brand.”

That is, up until June 14, when COVID-19 forced them to close their doors for good.

“It effected us because they said you can’t have dine-in customers and being back hear, we could not sustain this huge space off of just to-go so we had to go and we had to close for five weeks,” Murphree said. “We couldn’t get our employees to come back because of all the stimulus money, we couldn’t get anybody to come back to work.”

“It’s not so much, what business sector you’re in but where you are in the lifespan of your business. It’s a unique situation,” Sullivan County economic developer Clay Walker said.

Sullivan County economic developer, Clay Walker it is a trend that has crippled thousands of businesses in the U.S. and the Tri-Cities is not immune.

Walker said, “Most all of them are reopened but under very different rules and you’re limiting how many tables in a restaurant and you get to that number to where if we don’t have this much capacity, we’re going to lose money as our doors open.”

However, some businesses owners are finding a way to walk through the path of uncertainty.

Watauga Brewing Company under construction, in Johnson City.

Watauga Brewing Company co-owner, Ted Catron said, “We’re looking at hopefully a fall opening. We’ll do some soft openings and we’ll go from there.”

Watauga Brewing Company began construction one month before the American economy shut down.

“We were shocked but we were already so deep into the process and there’s kind of no turning back so all put our heads together and try to watch other businesses, be proactive and we’ve had the benefit of not opening right when it hit,” Catron said.

The co-owners still have plans to open their doors in October for the Johnson City community.

“We think we offer a unique place to come and hang out,” Catron said. “We have a restaurant and on the third level, we have a rooftop bar, with great views, great outdoor seating, so we think we have something for everyone here.”

Moe’s BBQ is hoping for the same, but in a different setting.

“Our sales model is self-service and as you all know in these other quick serve restaurants, you know you can’t go and make your own drinks,” Murphree said.

A bit of good news for fans of Moe’s BBQ: Murphree said they are hoping to reopen in the form of a food-truck before finding a new location to house its scratch kitchen.

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