Water woes impacting restaurants served by MLGW

Published: Dec. 27, 2022 at 10:24 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - One of the many great things about Memphis is our restaurants.

We have great food served by even greater people. But without running water, many of our city’s restaurants can’t open.

For those that can open, the struggle is real dealing with low water pressure and Memphis Light, Gas and Water’s (MLGW) Boil Water Advisory.

At Alchemy in Midtown, owner Nick Scott knows how lucky they are to be able to open up the restaurant.

“A lot of colleagues of mine, they’re not able to flush the toilets,” Scott said. “That’s an issue. Here, we have not had that issue. We’d have to close down if we had to do that.”

A reported 15% of MLGW’s customers have no water. That’s 38,000 homes and businesses in Memphis, some going on nearly a week without water service.

With all 258,000 MLGW customers under a Boil Water Advisory, Alchemy stocked up on bottled water and is making adjustments five days into this water crisis.

“You know, I’d really like to see a little more leadership from the city, and from MLGW,” Scott said. “We pay a lot of money in taxes and in MLGW utility fees. So we’re really disappointed in that.”

MLGW President Doug McGowen said the utility’s crews have fixed 31 broken water mains (the pipes that run beneath the city), and they’re working on eight more.

45 leaky sprinkler systems inside commercial buildings have been turned off, and MLGW helped more than 2,200 home and business owners with busted pipes turn off their water

“We are moving in the right direction. I could not tell you that yesterday,” McGowen said during a noon media briefing on Tuesday. “I could not tell you that last night. But today, I am telling you there’s room for optimism because we are making progress.”

At Restaurant Iris in East Memphis, Head Chef Russell Casey says they’re serving bottled water to customers and using ice from neighbors across the bridge.

“We melted off the ice in our machines and our wells,” said Casey, “and we’ve ordered ice from West Memphis that’s safe to use.”

Any tap water used at Iris is boiled for five minutes.

A disinfecting machine and commercial-grade Sani-Cloths are being utilized to clean dishes, wipe down surfaces and wash hands.

Iris and Alchemy, like so many restaurants that survived the COVID-19 pandemic and the weeklong Boil Water Order during the deep freeze in February last year, are finding themselves once again toughing it out.

“Chefs and kitchens are versatile,” said Casey. “We adapt. And we make the best of what we have.”

“I feel like there’s a lot more we could do proactively that I don’t feel like the city did,” Scott said. “There are a lot of restaurants that are closed right now.”

Action News 5 reached out to Governor Bill Lee about the water crisis in Memphis.

The following was the response from his office:

“Local utility companies determine operations for their area of coverage and will have to speak directly to their current circumstances. As the state continues to respond to severe winter weather, we encourage all Tennesseans to heed warnings from local officials and TEMA.”

MLGW said it will take several days to repair all the leaks, and then the water will have to be tested to make sure it’s safe before the boil advisory is lifted.

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