HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The future of a 95-year-old family business was in doubt until the family's
fourth generation promised to keep it's doors open.
Help from the community lead to the grand re-opening of Hattiesburg's Coney Island Cafe Monday.
"Dad was all about the Coney. He was all about his kids. He was all about having fun as far as outside of the coney. He knew how to separate work and play. He did a really good job at it,” said Coney Island Cafe Co-owner, Kayla Fokakis.
Former Hattiesburg restaurant owner of Coney Island Café, Billy Fokakis, was diagnosed with a rare cancer days before Christmas in 2017.
“God if he wasn’t the most loved man I ever met. The sickness brought out so much good. If anything came out of him being sick. It just showed me how many people loved him,”
Several weeks later he passed on January 22nd 2018. Billy Fokakis left behind a small 95-year-old business with a large host of family and friends.
“There’s so many people coming in here all the time with different stories of this place, and they brought their grandchildren. Now their grandchildren is bringing their grandchildren – its pretty much family and home to everyone in Hattiesburg,” explained five year employee, Brittany Williams.
Businesses, leaders, residents, families, friends raised and donated thousands of dollars to help Billy with his chemo, but after his death the family’s fourth generation saw fit to use the money to keep the Coney open.
“With the GoFundMe we ended up raising over $29,000 within two weeks for dad. The Lucky Rabbit owner, Brandon, he reached out to me as well…wanting to donate 100 percent of the profits of T-Shirt sales of a Coney Island T-Shirt to us. He raised over $6,000 for us. We also had one of dad’s ball players from the past. She did a softball tournament for us and she raised over $2,500. We have collectively gotten all of that money together and that’s why we’re open,” Kayla Fokakis said.
Fokakis and her brother, Billy Fokakis Jr., will co-own and operate the restaurant.
“I hope that the presence of Coney Island and [Billy's] dad and his dad and everyone just lives on through these walls. It doesn’t necessarily have to be me or BJ or my dad, but [visitors] just feel the family when you walk in. That’s what it’s about,”