Coleman Boulevard

"Shop Local" banners have been placed in towns across the Charleston region, including along Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant. They urge shoppers to support independently owned businesses. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

The owner of popular Mount Pleasant café PaPa ZuZu’s says he’s determined to reopen his restaurant in the Summerville area before the year is out.

Tom Keagy, earlier this month, shut down the Coleman Boulevard restaurant after learning from an exterminator how much it would cost to address issues uncovered by a recent health inspection. An S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control inspector on Dec. 31 "observed evidence of rodent activity throughout (the) facility" and noted "small flies in (the) dry storage area."

Papa ZuZu's passed its inspection with a "B" grade, but was instructed to make changes before a follow-up evaluation. Keagy instead opted to voluntarily surrender his food service permit.

According to Keagy, the building was not properly sealed to keep out vermin, and he was neither inclined nor legally obligated to ante up for the needed repairs. He says once he brought the matter to his landlord’s attention, he was allowed to terminate his lease immediately without penalty.

Simplifying the situation, Keagy was already planning to relocate the restaurant when his current lease was up, in part, because Keagy's landlord no longer wanted any kind of food-and-beverage operation at the address. Keagy was also concerned about the mounting cost of labor, which he suspects he can sidestep by putting the restaurant closer to where prospective employees live.

“This concept was designed as a mom-and-pop operation, and mom and pop got old,” says Keagy, 68. “I can do the line one day, but then I’m in bed the next. I had to start paying $18 an hour to get professionals in the door.”

Even at the $18 rate, Keagy says, he only received 16 responses to his latest online help wanted ad, and half of the candidates weren’t qualified for the job. Of the three applicants he hired, none of them were still with the restaurant when it shut down.

“It’s an employees’ market,” Keagy says.

A longtime restaurateur, Keagy purchased PaPa ZuZu’s in 2003, about one year after it first opened in downtown Charleston. He moved the restaurant to Mount Pleasant in 2007, increasing its size to 1,250 square feet. Now he’s looking to double the restaurant’s footprint with a move to Summerville, where he envisions delivering salads, wraps and grilled pizzas by golf cart.

“We were looking around for a place where we could keep it alive for a little while, but it wasn’t worth it,” he says, adding that “in a beautiful world,” PaPa ZuZu’s would be operational again within six months.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.