HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Coney Island Cafe is a treasure to downtown Hattiesburg. Its rich history, popular food menu and loyal customers continue to help it thrive after almost a century of service.
“This is one of those iconic places that you come to really get a pulse of what the community is all about,” said Andrea Saffle, the executive director of Downtown Hattiesburg.
“Being able to say they’re still family-owned and still operating, really, that’s significant because that’s the story of downtown,” Saffle said.
BJ Fokakis, the co-owner of Coney Island Cafe in downtown Hattiesburg, is continuing the rich legacy left by his great-grandfather in 1923.
BJ’s father, Billy Fokakis, left him the business after suddenly falling ill and passing away.
People in the community have much respect for Billy.
“He was such a sweet guy, always willing to help, always willing to get involved if he saw something that needed to be done,” Saffle said.
“He didn’t miss a day of work in 35 years and I don’t know many people that can say that, and walking into some footsteps like that you’re expected to be there every day,” said BJ.
Aside from his father’s perfect attendance at work, there was more to learn taking over the restaurant.
“My biggest thing was learning how to prep the lunches," BJ said. “My dad made it look simple, but I guess when you do something for 35 straight years you get good at it.”
BJ said becoming good at the job was one thing, but working to replicate his father’s great character was another.
“Being that he was such a good person, that’s one of the things that could be hard to live up to because anytime you might want to get mad and give up, you just can’t do it because he never did and if he can do it I can do it too,” BJ said.
Residents in the Hattiesburg community consistently show him that his service at the restaurant is greatly appreciated, BJ said.
“I get five or 10 people a day thanking me for keeping open and thanking us for keeping open and thanking us for keeping it open and keeping the food the same and trying to follow in my dad’s footsteps,” he said.
He attributes Coney Island’s success to consistency, and his main goal is to maintain it.
“You just try to basically keep it the same," BJ said. “Try to do the same things I would think he would do and sometimes it bites me in the butt and sometimes it ends up being the right thing.”
BJ said he will continue to follow in his father’s footsteps and serve with excellence one day at a time.
“As far as the restaurant being open and the food being good, still everybody they keep showing up," he said. “As long as they keep showing up, we’ll keep cooking for them."
“I just hope to see the next generation of Fokakis step in and keep this restaurant going,” said Saffle.