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Saving Papa Jack's
One man takes extraordinary measures to help local businesses
To the rescue: Wayne Hardy, left, came to the rescue of Papa Jack's Seafood Grill when it was going to have to close last year. Hardy, left, with Patty Spillers, Danielle Morris and Paige Shugart, right. - photo by Submitted Photo

After his wife of 38 years, Joanne, passed away last fall, Wayne Hardy was at loose ends. Then, he discovered one of their favorite restaurants, Papa Jack’s Seafood Grill, was going to have to close its doors. As he had with some other local businesses and people down on their luck, Hardy decided to step in to help.

In the case of Papa Jack’s Seafood, he knew closing the restaurant would not only mean a loss to his palate, but it would devastate the family of his friend Dennis Stanton. "When I found out it, bothered me. His wife Cheryl died the year before Joanne. His daughter Paige helps run the restaurant. It would wipe out a whole family, and they employ 10 people," said Hardy. After looking at the books, he said they were doing mostly everything right but needed funding for an advertising budget. "I think their food’s good enough to be a destination place. More people need to discover it."

Papa Jack’s granddaughter, Paige Shugart said she was overwhelmed with Wayne’s generosity and the dedicated regulars who came out of the woodwork to help. "I’m not really good at taking, but once people heard about our struggles, the response was amazing," she said. The restaurant is a way of life for her and her children. Her daughter Sydney, 9, has her own apron and greets guests while son Riley, 8, shucks oysters and peels shrimp.

Shugart paints tropical scenes on vintage windows to add to the décor of the bright, Florida-style family restaurant. The seafood offerings on the menu are extensive, and diners choose their preparation – fried, blackened or grilled. The hushpuppies are sublime along with side offerings such as cheese grits. They take pride in their homemade sauces and dressings. Rounding out the menu are enormous seafood Greek salads and po’ boy sandwiches.

Hardy makes it clear he’s not independently wealthy. He’s taken the necessary steps to secure his retirement and provisions for his son, but feels strongly if his resources can help worthy people in need he’s happy to share. "It’s a domino effect every time a business closes that’s local," he said. "I don’t think I’m going to make the giant world a better place, but I can help where I can."

Hardy has also approached and assisted other local business — a few local mechanics and automotive businesses he declined to name — and also has helped struggling single mothers. He began this tradition with his late wife by purchasing and repairing foreclosed homes and giving people a home with a lease-purchase option. This not only gives a home to a family in need, it employs struggling contractors and prevents blight.

A common thread in Hardy’s mission is putting people in need together, pointed out Shugart. "He has a whole network of people he puts to good use," she said.

To Hardy, that is the meaning of community — when one is in need others help out and the whole is stronger. The restaurant is located at 427 Sigman Road, Conyers.