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Memphis chef asks MLGW to provide financial relief for struggling restaurants

Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 at 9:46 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - One of Memphis’ most famous chefs is asking MLGW to serve up some financial relief for struggling restaurants.

Chef Kelly English, owner of Restaurant Iris and the Second Line, made an impassioned request to utility leaders during Tuesday’s Memphis City Council meeting.

English says Memphis and Shelby County restaurant owners need extra time to pay their MLGW bills, or they won’t be able to pay their employees.

One of MLGW’s extended payment options lets customers take 12 months to pay their past-due bills. Typically, the utility requires 25% of the delinquent balance upfront.

English says his industry is in dire straits right now because of the COVID-19 pandemic and operating at reduced capacity by order of the health department, aren’t able to do that.

So he asked MLGW to waive the 25% down part for at least three months.

”We employ some of the most vulnerable people in our population,” said Kelly. “And I’m not asking for anything free. I’m just asking for a little help to dig out of the tunnel we’re in. You know, it’s been a long road for us. It’s not ending in the next couple of months.”

MLGW CEO J.T. Young replied, “We all can certainly understand the concerns expressed by Mr. English.”

Jim West, MLGW’s Chief Customer Officer, said before the pandemic, about 100 of the 49,000 businesses the utility serves were using payment plans. Now that number, he says, is several hundred.

”So let me commit that we will take that back and look at that first thing tomorrow with the team and then let people know what our decision can be on that,” said West. “We do want to help. You know, we pride ourselves on trying to provide compassionate service to our customers and we recognize these are highly unusual and uncertain times. So we take that to heart.”

MLGW says hundreds of businesses are already on deferred payment plans, owing about $1 million in past-due bills.

And 16,000 residential customers are on deferred payment plans, owing about $14 million.

MLGW is a city-owned, three-service utility with more than 426,000 customers in Memphis and Shelby County.

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