Friday, December 09, 2011

TOP STORY >> Original owner back at The Hook

Leader staff writer

David Bush, owner of The Hook, formerly known as The Crooked Hook, wants to restore the old Jacksonville hot spot to its former glory, and he’s making good progress toward that goal.

He’s the restaurant’s original owner, and his longtime customers are elated that he’s back.

Bush bought the restaurant at an auction after it closed on Feb. 18. He learned by word of mouth that the owners had filed for bankruptcy.

The restaurant’s doors re-opened on April 16, after six weeks of remodeling. Bush has already invested $50,000 in the venture.

He’s famous for his catfish platters and fries and hush puppies, as well as great hamburgers and more.

Many of his old customers are glad he’s back.

One longtime diner explained why The Hook is one of his favorite restaurants.

“I really like it. It’s locally owned, and it has the best catfish around,” he said. “Five pieces of catfish with hush puppies for $6 is a great deal.”

Bush is relying on advertising and word of mouth to build up The Hook’s reputation. He said he has an advantage in that because he’s been in the area for decades and knows just about everyone.

Major changes to the eatery include the removal of the divider that split the dining room into two sections.

The floor in the kitchen, ceiling tiles, lights and the sign outside were replaced. The building was carpeted and painted inside and out. Some of the cooking appliances will be updated, repaired or replaced.

There are a few new employees, but most of the workers were there under the former owners, Rodney and Carolee Toulson, or were employed by The Crooked Hook when Bush owned it from 1985 to 1997.

When he retired in 1997, the business was sold to the Toulsons, who left thousands of unpaid city taxes and delinquent property taxes in their wake.

Bush said he took over The Hook because he knew its potential and he had “nothing else to do.” He loves reeling in new and former customers.

“A lot of people have said, ‘We’re so glad you’re back.’ We work to create a family atmosphere. I love people, and I love to work,” he continued.

Bush added that one of the things that strikes him about running the place is seeing older couples and groups who frequented it before come in without their companions.

“You get attached to them. It hurts your heart a bit,” Bush said.

His wife passed away two years ago and perhaps that is why he identifies with these special customers.

Bush mentioned another unforgettable experience when he was managing the eatery. He met a winner of the Medal of Honor.

The Hook can serve up to 200 people at a time, and its menu includes catfish, shrimp, oysters, other seafood, steak, sandwiches, chicken and desserts.

Bush said he might have to raise prices on his fish entrees because the costs have gone up to $75 for 15 pounds. It was $30 when he left the business. The price hike will be less than one dollar, and he will not raise the cost of any other dishes, he explained.

Bush emphasized that his goal is to serve delicious food at affordable prices. “I’m all about being fair, not gouging people. We have good food, good service at the best price. That’s the best we can do,” Bush said.

The Hook also offers a banquet room for large parties and he would like to make more people aware of it so they can use it to host their get-togethers.

Some of his biggest crowds are churchgoers who come in on Sundays.

The restaurant, which has served 76,000 customers since April, is doing well, Bush said.

He is confident that The Hook will continue on the road success and regain its former distinction as a go-to place for residents to enjoy tasty, hot food and friendly service.