The McDonald’s that sits at the corner of Savannah and Gulfway in Port Arthur has closed its doors for good and there is rampant speculation as to what caused the closure.
According to the McDonald’s regional office in Houston, the restaurant has been “closed permanently,” putting to rest any notion that the 26-year-old building that was originally opened in March of 1985 was being torn down in order to build a new McDonald’s that matches the fresher look and feel that the fast food titan has adopted in recent years.
However, in talking with the regional office, an employee there was unable to provide any information as to why the restaurant closed. Additional messages were left with McDonald’s regional employees.
Several attempts were made to contact Angela Majors, the owner of the McDonalds at 1149 Gulfway, but she did not respond. Majors purchased the restaurant in May of 2008 from R.E.E. Incorporated, which is located in Beaumont and run by Brian Ellis, who has been in the McDonald’s business since 1969.
A source in the Port Arthur City Hall said the restaurant’s closure had to do with the McDonald’s corporate office pulling the franchise tag due to the business not making enough money and a bevy of health code violations. The source also indicated that a demolition company had requested a permit to tear the building down, however that was two weeks ago and no demolition has begun.
Ellis strongly disputes that McDonald’s would come in and take the franchise from Majors, citing the idea that the company would just come in and close the restaurant down rather than just taking it over “doesn’t make sense.”
“I don’t buy that, and that’s the problems with rumors,” Ellis said. “(McDonald’s) doesn’t close stores for the sake of closing them.”
“If I was a betting man, I’d say it was a business decision, it happens all the time,” said Ellis, whose company owns 19 McDonalds in Southeast Texas. Ellis said to downsize his own company, he sold Majors the Gulfway location as well as the McDonalds in Winnie that sits right off of Interstate 10.
“She still has the Winnie location,” Ellis said.
Calls were placed to the Winnie location for three straight days, and in a spirited exchange with a Winnie McDonald’s employee over the phone, the employee said it was “opinion” that the Port Arthur location was closed for financial and health code violation reasons.
The Examiner obtained the Gulfway McDonald’s last 12 health department inspection reports dating back to 2006, and according to Wayne Doyle, a health code inspector for the city of Port Arthur who’s worked there 22 years, he said “we closed them at least once, if not more than once” for a couple days because of health code violations.
During the three-year period that Majors operated the McDonalds, the restaurant was inspected five times and came within two demerit points from failing twice. In fact, one of those near-fails came last July, the most recent inspection, when inspectors were called in because of a complaint and the restaurant came within one point of failing the inspection, two months after the restaurant had undergone a routine inspection and scored fairly well.
“Most of the time we’d go out there, we’d catch them with their pants down,” Doyle said, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if McDonald’s pulled the plug on Majors. “They’ve got strict standards and McDonalds requires them to meet certain quotas, so they’ll pull the plug on you real quick.”
In the July inspection, the restaurant was cited for – among other infractions – a five point demerit for storing food in a broken freezer, improper hand washing, improper hair restraints, containers or lids for open food items were found not to be in sound condition. The restaurant was also cited in the July inspection for showing evidence of insect contamination, citing gnats, roaches and house flies. The restaurant was actually cited for no evidence of insect contamination in all five inspections during the time Majors oversaw operations. And in three other inspections, the restaurant was cited for evidence of “rodent droppings.”
Doyle said his office received “constant” complaints about the restaurant. He added that it appeared she didn’t keep a close enough eye on her staff, and that played a part in the demise of the Mickey Ds on Gulfway and Savannah.
“She never revamped her staff,” he said.
Ellis defends Majors and said that a lot of work goes into running a McDonalds and that it’s not as simple as just opening the restaurant and selling burgers and fries.
“There’s a set of checks of balances that McDonald’s has and that’s the reason McDonald’s stands out above the rest,” Ellis said, adding that money has to be spent on renovations, as well as money that’s spent on equipment when a new product is introduced, like the popular coffee drinks for instance.
Ellis adds that sometimes the fiscal sense doesn’t make cents for business, and thus, even McDonald’s, is not immune to a closure. Ellis pointed out that another Port Arthur McDonald’s on Gulfway was closed in 1993; the recent closing of a Wal-Mart McDonald’s in Orange and another Mickey D’s that was shuttered in Groves back in 2009.
He said Majors closing the Gulfway location could be a part of her overall business plan.
“You sell a few, you pick up a few, that’s what you do in this business,” Ellis said, “It’s got nothing to do with Angela.”