Shared from the 9/6/2020 Beaumont Enterprise eEdition

Wilson finds better way to open restaurant during pandemic

Fran Ruchalski / The Enterprise

John Wilson sits at the bar of his new restaurant, JW’s Patio on Phelan Boulevard in Beaumont.

Photos by Fran Ruchalski / The Enterprise

JW’s Patio is the new restaurant developed by John Wilson on Phelan Boulevard in Beaumont.


JW’s Patio is a Mediterranean-inspired eatery.


JW’s Patio has a focus on fun outside dining.

Masks are on, tables are spaced and JW’s Patio on Phelan Boulevard is open for business, marking a new phase for a Beaumont restaurateur opening his second eatery — this time during a global pandemic.

Creating a new restaurant while operating another amid coronavirus constraints has its own set of challenges, but John Wilson — owner of J Wilson’s and now JW’s Patio — said it is a matter of adapting.

In fact, he said, this experience has shown him a better way to open a restaurant.

“It might just be the experience or a new level of maturity, but I think this has actually been smoother than when we opened J Wilson’s,” he said. “We’ve been just taking it slow, which is the way it probably should be.”

JW’s Patio had a soft opening over the weekend of Aug. 28, just a day after Jefferson County braced for a potential early morning impact from Hurricane Laura.

Despite the evacuation days earlier and the strain of hurricane recovery for some, crew members got to work refining the new game plan for the restaurant and online reservations quickly filled up.

Wilson said the reduced capacity Texas restaurants are ordered to follow and the new expectation customers have to plan ahead before going out has actually been a kind of blessing after the whirlwind startup of J Wilson’s.

JW’s Patio has also been open for walk-in dining, but the motto has still been slow and steady to help build up his team and make sure all precautions are followed.

“Running a restaurant has always been about adapting and getting better, and this is really no different,” Wilson said. “We’ll survive, it just may not be fun for awhile.”

That ability to adapt was put to the test in June when an employee at J Wilson’s reported a possible exposure to coronavirus. Wilson temporarily shut down the restaurant, ordered a round of tests for staff members who might have been exposed and started the cleaning process while he waited.

Luckily, none of his staff actually tested positive and the restaurant reopened soon after, but he said it was another example of how important it is to stay levelheaded and try to make the best choice possible.

That has been the same strategy he’s used to keep the restaurant opening on track even while the hospitality industry has been facing extreme challenges.

“We started this before the pandemic, but we knew we couldn’t just pull the plug,” he said. “We would have lost our relationship with our bank and our partners. We had to keep going.”

Other developments

Despite the pandemic, Wilson isn’t the only Beaumont business owner who has been following through with plans for new developments.

Chris Boone, director of planning and community development for the city of Beaumont, said applications, permits and inspections have outpaced results from the same period last year.

So far in 2020, 33 residential plans and four commercial plans have been submitted, compared to 18 residential and one commercial plan submitted in 2019. There have also been 1,335 inspections, about 200 more than last year, and 838 permits approved. Certificates of occupancy are also up by 22 to make a total of 72 completed this year.

Some of those projects have been major developments in the works for some time such as the new Kommercial Kitchens showroom and warehouse on the I-10 corridor and Doc’s Yardhouse on Calder Avenue.

Other projects including Patty’s Mexican Restaurant on Calder and the Blue Crew Car Wash at Folsom and Dowlen have been largely completed during the pandemic.

While the office has been somewhat surprised by the pace of permitting, planning applications seem to be dwindling as it works through some of the projects that have already been in the works.

Boone said there has been a slowdown in planning applications, which usually have a six- to 12-month work process. Much of that slowdown could be attributed to economic instability from the pandemic and even political anxiety over the upcoming election. Turnaround could speed up once developers regain confidence.

“I think the gap (in planning) is obvious because there are slowdowns in the economy and the election coming up, but — if we get out of the pandemic — I think you’ll see a return of applications,” Boone said. “Our projections show a dip in development, but it really only changes the pace of our plans.”

The Wilson brand

Just as this launch has put Wilson on a familiar task with changing circumstances, JW’s Patio is a combination of the atmosphere customers may have loved from the other restaurant with some flavors they’ve never tried before.

A central bar in the dining room and a spacious patio outside that will host live music are two of the most distinctive aspects of the place, and Wilson has been trying to develop a menu to match it.

He said he wanted to bring Mediterranean-inspired dishes and light, fresh food that isn’t always readily available in Beaumont with the kind of chef-crafted favorites people have come to expect from J Wilson’s.

Wilson’s connection with Mediterranean food dates back to his time running a Zoe’s Kitchen franchise in Houston, but he said there was actually more crossover with the Greek-focused chain at J Wilson’s than can be expected with the new joint.

JW’s Patio is also something of a full-circle transformation for Wilson from a restaurant worker to a restaurant owner. The building that most recently housed Greenlight Americana was also the former home of the Crazy Jose’s location where Wilson once worked as a waiter. jacob.dick@beaumont

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