— MERIDIAN, Miss. - A bad weather day on the Gulf Coast, where Hurricane Isaac was churning ashore Tuesday evening, turns out to be a good day for restaurants in Meridian.
Kitchens were hopping here as evacuees stopped 150 miles inland to regroup, plot their course and grab something to eat. Restaurant parking lots were filled with cars bearing Louisiana, Florida and Alabama plates. Managers said business was up as much as 20 percent.
Lesslie Prescott stopped with her children at Cracker Barrel en route to her parents' house in Birmingham. Her husband had stayed behind at their home in Long Beach, Miss., because of his job.
Prescott said they boarded up the house, stocked food and bought supplies. Even so, she didn't want to ride out the storm without power.
"Can you imagine trying to entertain three kids - ages 5, 7 and 8 - under those circumstances?" she said.
Frank and Nancy Ingels also stopped at Cracker Barrel. The couple, in town on business, wasn't fleeing Florida but instead was trying to figure out the best way home to Flagler Beach.
"We're trying to avoid evacuees from Gulfport," said Frank Ingels.
Elsewhere in Meridian, the Queen City Truck stop was rushing to fill to-go orders, and McAllisters Deli was taking more catering calls than usual, from local hotels filled with evacuees and companies including Mississippi Power.
Restauranteurs said the windfall helps during an otherwise slow season, but Applebee's manager Bill Bell said the influx is bittersweet.
"It's sad the way it has had to happen," said Bell. "But it's also really cool in that it seems to bring the best out of people. The atmosphere is more friendly, and there's an extra sense of compassion – among the servers and local residents – because you realize that this is someone who just locked up their house and left it for nothing."
Details for this story were provided by The Meridian, Miss., Star.