Philip and Vivian Creasor took a risk when they opened Catfish Hox in a nondescript strip mall in east Cobb in the fall of 2016. With the coronavirus, the couple isn’t taking any chances.
Since COVID-19 hit, the couple closed the dining room but kept the drive-thru window open. Before the pandemic, customers rarely used the drive-thru. Now, it’s the only service option.
The Creasors have outfitted their six employees with personal protection equipment. Despite the latest state-issued guidelines that loosen restrictions for restaurants, all employees at Catfish Hox wear face coverings all the time.
The abundance of caution is with good reason. For starters, an employee of the company that the Creasors contract for payroll services became infected with COVID-19 and died.
“The pandemic touched close to home for both of us. We know people passing away because of the virus,” said Vivian. “For us, it’s not just something out there. We understand it’s real.”
The Creasors have concerns about keeping their employees, their customers — many of whom are elderly and at a higher risk of contracting the disease — and their family safe. Her mother is currently battling cancer. Their 13-year-old son, PJ, suffers from chronic lung disease.
They recounted the harrowing time in 2007 when PJ was put on a ventilator. The outlook was so bleak for the infant that the Marine Corps recalled Philip from Iraq while he was serving one of his three tours of duty there. “They told me my son wasn’t going to make it,” Philip said. “They shipped me back within 48 hours from a war zone because my son was on life support.”
“We were pretty traumatized,” said Vivian. “We have a visual of someone being in that position. That just predicted our behavior” with the coronavirus, she said. “We value our health and our customers’ health.”
The coronavirus has been a setback to a business that had steadily been gaining traction in its three years in business. “We were getting a regular fan base,” Philip said.
His knack for catfish had garnered him top honors at the Taste of Marietta two years in a row, each time leading to an uptick in customers. He’d hoped that his Tomahawk Tacos, catfish street tacos of crunchy fried catfish fillet with pico de gallo and chipotle lime aioli on corn tortillas – would be declared the victory dish again this year, but the festival was canceled due to the pandemic.
Catfish Hox was featured in the March issue of Southern Living as one of the best catfish restaurants in the South. But the pandemic rained on that springtime parade. Within a matter of weeks, revenue plummeted by 90%. The Creasors dipped into their savings, applied for a PPP loan, filed temporary unemployment for their staff and crossed their fingers. “We didn’t know if we were going to make it,” Philip said.
Sales at Catfish Hox are now up to 50% of pre-COVID days, “Which is not bad,” Philip acceded. Not bad at all considering the shortened hours of operation: 5-8 p.m. five days a week.
The Creasors are grateful for the customers who continue to support their business. And for large corporate orders — such as when Home Depot hired Catfish Hox to prepare 200 boxed lunches for employees at a Cobb County location on Mother’s Day. The home improvement retailer placed a repeat order for Father’s Day.
Philip also credits their landlord with helping them make ends meet. “Our landlord was a Marine, too,” he said. “He didn’t charge us rent last month. He did that for all three restaurants he owns in the area.”
The couple know that more challenges await. When they reopen the dining room, they don’t anticipate being at full capacity. “We’re going to have to make menu changes in the fall,” Philip said. Those might come with price increases to make up the difference for fewer diners and to defray the cost of personal protection equipment, hand sanitizer and other products needed to operate during the pandemic.
“We’re taking it one day at a time,” said Vivian.
And they’ll approach each day with caution. “We’re in a different era,” said the ex-Marine-turned-chef. “We have to make a change and adapt, because now, you could end up six feet under. It’s not just about yourself. It’s about the people around you.”
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Menu: Regular menu of from-scratch Southern fare as well as daily specials. Restaurant specializes in catfish preparations and North Carolina-style barbecue.
Alcohol: Local craft beer (bottles and cans) and wine (inquire about selection)
What I ordered: Catfish Entree Platter, Tomahawk Tacos, Catfish & Waffles, BBQ Quesadilla, Fresh Cracklin’ Pork Rinds, Southern Street Corn, Caramel Turtle Brownie
Service options: Drive-thru takeout (advance ordering available via phone); delivery via UberEats, Grubhub and Postmates. No dine-in.
Safety protocols: Following CDC guidelines; all staff wear masks and gloves; patrons not allowed inside
Address, phone: 2595 Sandy Plains Road, Marietta; 770-726-9925
Hours: 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
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