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Fearing a $500 fine, longtime Waffle House customer Lee Cagle of Decatur smokes outside.
Daily photo by Deangelo McDaniel
Fearing a $500 fine, longtime Waffle House customer Lee Cagle of Decatur smokes outside.

No smoking, no business at Decatur restaurants?
Some owners report smaller
crowds on law's first day

By Deangelo McDaniel ˇ 340-2469

Lee Cagle has a message for the Decatur City Council.

"You're going to put a lot of waiters out of a job because of this smoking ordinance," he said.

A regular customer at the Waffle House on Sixth Avenue, Cagle stood outside to smoke Monday morning.

"I can't afford a $500 fine," he said.

An ordinance that a divided City Council passed Aug. 6 banning smoking in public places, took effect Monday morning.

The ordinance prohibits smoking in all public places, including restaurants, bars, bingo halls, bowling alleys, office buildings, churches and just about any other enclosed public space.

Violators — business owners who continue to allow smoking and smokers — face fines of up to $500 per violation.

District 4 City Councilman Ronny Russell, who said he got tired of breathing secondhand smoke in restaurants, sponsored the ordinance. Council President Billy Jackson of District 1 and Councilman David Bolding of District 2 supported the ordinance.

Cagle, who was reading a story in The Decatur Daily about the ordinance as he smoked, said the ban has its good and bad points.

"From a health standpoint, I guess it's good," he said. "But it's bad for business, and it's going to hurt a lot of hard-working people."

Almost empty Waffle House

The Waffle House, which is normally full for breakfast, was almost empty Monday morning.

Waiters inside, some who make $2.13 per hour plus tips, said the council has run customers away and is hurting their livelihood.

"We are trying to make a living and we can't do it without customers," Pat Layhew said.

Layhew, who has worked at Waffle House for more than 30 years, said she may have to find another job. She said the council should have allowed the public to vote on the ordinance.

"We did good business this weekend, but look inside now," Layhew said. "Today is like shutting off the water faucet."

About two blocks down the road at Tony's Country Kitchen, the situation wasn't much better.

Accustomed to a full crowd for breakfast, the restaurant saw customers trickle in, no more than 10 at a time.

"These girls are going to starve to death," long-time customer and smoker William "Zip" Barron said, referring to the waiters.

Christy Barron added: "We usually meet our buddies here in the morning, but none of them are here."

The Barrons said they went outside to smoke between coffee and breakfast.

Felicia Moody is co-owner of Tony's Country Kitchen. She said the possibility of laying off workers is real.

"If we don't have customers, we don't need as many workers," Moody said.

She estimates that 75 percent of the restaurant's breakfast customers did not show on Monday.

One customer, who would not give his name and was not aware of the smoking ordinance, lit a cigarette, but left the restaurant when told about the ordinance.

At some popular breakfast spots like the Cracker Barrel on Beltline Road Southwest, there was no significant decrease in breakfast crowds. Several customers, who said they were smokers, didn't have a problem with the ban.

Despite opposition to the ordinance, the Waffle House restaurants throughout the city and Tony's Country Kitchen complied with the ordinance and removed all smoking paraphernalia and posted no-smoking signs at their entrances.

Owner David Champlin of the Brick on Moulton Street in downtown Decatur does not open for breakfast. He said the ban did not affect his Monday lunch crowd.

"It probably will hurt us at night when people want to drink and have a smoke," Champlin said.

The Brick is constructing a patio for smokers.

The smokers who did not show at Waffle House and Tony's Country Kitchen were not at City Café, where owner Steve Alred banned smoking in June.

"It was a normal Monday," he said.

Alred said his customer base declined when he went non-smoking.

"But, they have come back and we have even grown," he said. "I think other restaurants will see the same thing."

Decatur is the largest of the seven smoke-free cities in the state.

A similar law took effect for the entire state of Tennessee on Monday.

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