It will be customer appreciation day at Baibry’s Wednesday, as its owners and staff thank its legion of loyal patrons.
But for customers, it will be one of the last occasions to sample the Rincon restaurant’s wares.
The restaurant will close for good Nov. 30, and Wednesday will be the last day it will have its regular hours, owner Janet Mascarenhas said. Making the decision to close Baibry’s was “extremely hard,” she said.
The decision to close the restaurant has been a long time in the making, Mascarenhas acknowledged.
“I kept putting it off and putting it off and putting it off,” she said, “and the more money I had to borrow from myself, I just had to make financial decision, rather than an emotional decision.”
The hardest part, Mascarenhas said, will be losing the familiarity with her customers. People have come up to her and told they are praying for her, offering their declarations that things will turn around.
“We’ve had so many people shocked as to ‘why are you closing?’ I probably should have done it two years ago,” she said. “But I enjoyed doing it so much, we kept financially supporting it with the hopes of it turning around.”
As her regular customers filter in and express their dismay at the restaurant shutting its doors soon, Mascarenhas reflected on the different events that have taken place at Baibry’s. There have been baby showers, bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, business meetings, first dates and blind dates.
“You can tell if it’s a first date or if they’ve been dating, depending on how close they sit on the couch,” she joked.
Mascarenhas wanted to create a comfortable setting with Baibry’s, down to the décor and the comfortable couches and seats.
“This has become the ‘Cheers’ of coffee shops,” she said.
Mascarenhas is proud of how well her staff has treated its customers and the connection between her crew and the clientele. They’ll even recognize a regular’s phone number on caller ID and start preparing their order before they pick up the phone.
“I try to instill that early on, as far back as the interview process, that we’re here for the customers and to always go beyond the customers’ expectations,” she said. “If you give them what they want, before they even know they want it, they’ll continue to come back. We have plenty of customers, they don’t even have to say what their order is. It’s waiting for them when they get there.”
The loyalty at Baibry’s doesn’t stop with the customers. There’s also been a loyalty between Mascarenhas and her staff.
“That’s another reason I hung on as long as I did,” she said. “I had staff work here through high school and college. I’ve watched several of them grow up over the years and get married and have mortgages and have kids. I couldn’t stand the idea of not being there for them.”
Though she has told her employees working at Baibry’s is a stepping stone, turnover at the restaurant has been remarkably low, a rate even more astounding and surprising given the nature of a small restaurant. Mascarenhas said she’s been willing to work with her staff on whatever days they need but also with the understanding that she may need them.
“Most of my staff is long-term,” Mascarenhas said. “My average turnover is about five to six years, which is really unheard of. I always told them I wouldn’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I’m not going to ask to you clean anything I wouldn’t clean myself because trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve done it. I want them to say I can rely on them and they can rely on me.
“I have employees who are teachers, some who are fashion designers and used this as a stepping stone job to their real lives. It’s nice to look back and to have been a part of that.”
Janet and her husband Richard have owned Baibry’s for nine years, having bought it from the previous owners. They retained the name, which was derived from the first names of the previous owners’ children.
Mascarenhas started working at a restaurant in downtown Savannah when she was 14 and worked at the Garden City Shoney’s in high school. From there, she worked for the Hyatt chain, managing restaurants at that group’s hotels for 13 years. She moved to England — Richard is English — and worked at a country club there.
They moved back to the States and had a child, now a teenager. Mascarenhas didn’t want to get back into the food service business, and she worked with her brother in auto sales for seven years. Then the opportunity to buy Baibry’s came along.
“I thought, ‘I miss it.’ So I got back in it,” she said.
The 2008 downturn affected all sectors of the economy, and Baibry’s suffered along with the rest of the businesses.
“Everybody started cutting out their discretionary spending,” Mascarenhas said. “I’ve seen so many small restaurants come and go over the last nine years. I was hoping we’d be able to hang on as long as possible.
“You have to do it because you enjoy it,” she continued. “You don’t do it because you’re going to get in it and make millions.”
Mascarenhas has catered for Gulfstream for the last seven years, and she may continue to do that.
“We’ve built up a lot of loyalty with them,” she said.
Before she bought the restaurant, she had tried only two items off the menu, the chicken pesto — “which has to be our all-time most popular sandwich,” she said — and the chicken margharita pizza, “which is essentially the chicken pesto in a pizza style,” she added.
“I’m a creature of habit,” she said. “That and the Italian roast beef are my favorites to this day.”
What she’ll do once December is over and the restaurant has closed down, Mascarenhas isn’t sure.
“That’s the $100,000 question — and right now, I really don’t know,” she said. “I’d like to think I’ll go on. I’ve had some opportunities to continue catering. But I left the industry after 13 years with Hyatt and it was only after being in the auto industry for seven years that I missed food and beverage.”
Mascarenhas noted the restaurant has a dedicated group of regulars, and people who have been moving out of the community have told her “this is what we’ll miss,” she said.
She’s also had people moving into the area tell her, “I never expected to find a place like this in Rincon.”
“I’m going to miss the people,” Mascarenhas said. “You can work in almost any food and beverage situation. I’m going to miss working with this group of people and seeing all the familiar faces. I think it’s the people I’m going to miss, all the familiar faces and all the ‘hellos’ you get when you’re out of this setting because they remember you and remember how you are.”