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Penn’s Restaurant brings catfish home

For the first time in its 42-year history, Penn’s Restaurants is crossing the Mississippi state line into Alabama with the opening of the restaurant in Demopolis adjacent to Wal-Mart on U.S. Highway 80.

Mike Johnson, the owner of the Penn’s Restaurant in Meridian, Miss., made the decision to branch into Alabama and open the restaurant chain’s first location outside of Mississippi.

“It’s a big undertaking, but I think we’re going to be happy,” he said. “Everything seems to be going well so far. We did fairly well in Meridian, and that was the first one to franchise off of the original owner is Jackson. I think we’re going to do well.”

Penn’s has about 20 employees at its Demopolis location, which includes a large dining room with a 140-customer capacity and a sizeable order counter.

The restaurant opened for business on Wednesday.

“We did a little soft opening, trying to give everybody a feel for it,” he said. “We turned from ‘soft’ to pretty busy in a short period of time. We were happy with it, and we’re looking forward to the weekend.

“We had a couple of hundred customers on Wednesday, and that was about what we expected. With all of the work we had going on around the building, people were looking in — they really didn’t know if we were open or not, but we put a few balloons out there to give them the idea. After the first two or three customers, I guess word of mouth spread.”

Penn’s will be open Sundays through Thursdays from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. It specializes in catfish, but also serves its famous chicken on a stick, chicken dinners, hamburgers, shrimp, oysters, salads, desserts and more.

“Catfish is our main thing,” Johnson said. “About 65 percent of the people come for our catfish. In Mississippi, they have trailers go to state fairs, and the chicken on a stick is the big thing.

“This location (in Demopolis) is the biggest one of the Penn’s locations that I know of. This is only the second building that Penn’s has built from the ground up. They usually go in and get older buildings and redo them and lease them.”

Penn’s has 22 restaurants, with most located in the Jackson, Miss., area.