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Photo by Barry Courter / Rick Mayo stands under the Mayo's Clinic (the original name) neon sign that has hung in the Brainerd restaurant almost since it opened in 1987. The bar and restaurant was closed by city in May after some structural issues were found.

When Mayo's Bar & Grill co-owner Rick Mayo decided to expand his outdoor patio area at the start of the new year, he wanted to add a place to play cornhole. To do so, he needed to replace the large grease receptacle installed by a company that recycles used cooking oil with a smaller one.

"We only have the one fryer and don't produce much grease, anyway," Mayo said in a phone interview. "Maybe five gallons a week."

A series of miscommunications with the company led to Mayo's — known for its burgers, music and darts — being without a place to put its grease for more than a month.

The staff put the grease into the 5-gallon buckets it came in and stored it outside until it could be picked up. That decision triggered a series of events that has led to the 34-year-old restaurant being shut down since May 3 as Mayo navigates multiple government agencies, he said.

"This has been a nightmare, and I really don't know what to do," he said.

[READ MORE: Chattanooga's Oldest Bars]

Mayo, who owns the building and operates the restaurant with his sister Dawn and mother Sara, said someone poured grease from one of the buckets into the storm-water ditch behind the restaurant back in March, and it was reported to the health department.

"I don't know who poured it into the ditch, or who called, but they came out and didn't tell us or anything. We got a letter," he said.

Mayo said he was soon visited by the city's engineer, who found a crack in a beam running under the building. He was given 30 days to fix it, work Mayo estimated would cost between $15,000 and $20,000, which he said was doable.

"I'm glad they found it. Everybody I love comes into that building," he said.

But, as anyone trying to get construction work done these days knows, there is a shortage of construction workers and the good ones can be weeks, or even months, delayed on the jobs they have. While trying to find someone to do the work, he was also visited by plumbing and electrical inspectors who found things including old receptacles and outlet covers, which Mayo fixed himself.

Unable to find a contractor to do the beam work, he missed the 30-day deadline, and the city turned off the electricity on May 3. He has been closed since, Mayo said.

"Now I have to have a structural engineer approve everything, and I've been told I have to waterproof the basement," he said. "We've been in a flood plain since we've owned the place."

Patrons of the restaurant started an online petition asking Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly to intervene on the eatery's behalf.

Ellis Smith, director of special projects and a spokesperson for the mayor's office, said in an email the issue also involved flooring in the restaurant.

"After inspecting the floor, city inspectors told the building owner that the rotting flooring needed to be replaced if the establishment were to remain open because it was a severe safety hazard," Smith said. "When it was not replaced after several weeks, the building was condemned and the power was shut off, pending the building owner fixing the rotting floor."

Smith also said plans for repairing the floor were submitted into the city's system, along with a letter from the building owner's insurance company confirming the building is not safe, but the engineer has since withdrawn from the project. He added that "a contractor did also submit a permit to the city to fix the issue, but he later requested that the permit be withdrawn and he is no longer on the project. The project has since been closed.

"It is unclear what the building owner intends to do with the property, but the floor must be brought up to a safe level of structural integrity in order to reopen," Smith said.

Mayo said it would take about $80,000 to fix the restaurant, but "we can't get a loan after COVID because the banks want to see your books," which he said have been hurt by the pandemic.

"We kept the kitchen open as long as we could and partnered with every delivery service out there doing takeout and delivery trying to help staff pay bills," he said.

Mayo said he worries about putting money into things like the structural repairs only to find out later his parking lot or grease receptacle, which he said were grandfathered in when he started the business in 1987, are no longer up to code.

"We are looking at other places, or maybe selling this place, but I am stuck in this fear that whatever I do will be a horrible decision," he said.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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