Why is Ocean Springs trying to shut down Scratch Kitchen? Here’s what the lawsuit says

The city of Ocean Springs has filed a lawsuit in Chancery Court aimed at permanently shutting down The Scratch Kitchen restaurant and bar, where a teenager died and six others were injured in a mass shooting Friday night.

Early findings in the investigation “strongly suggest a lack of accountable and responsible business practices that have unnecessarily endangered the health and safety of citizens,” the lawsuit says.

Here are some key issues outlined in the lawsuit:

  • The Scratch Kitchen is accused of operating over its occupancy limit.

  • The restaurant and bar allegedly failed to screen for deadly weapons, illegal drugs and bottled alcohol.

  • The restaurant allegedly failed to identify underage customers.

“The day after the shooting,” the lawsuit says, “the crime scene was evident, with liquor bottles scattered throughout along with the overwhelming aroma of marijuana.”

At least three other firearms were in the business, which is on Government Street in the heart of downtown, when the shooting happened, the lawsuit says.

On April 16, during a spring break party, a man accidentally shot himself in the leg in a public parking lot behind the business. The Scratch Kitchen has been known for its unique menu but also hosted parties with disc jockeys that drew large crowds. They spilled from the building onto the patio outdoors.

The city is asking that a judge hold a hearing to consider immediately granting a temporary injunction to close the business. The city plans to ask at a later hearing that The Scratch Kitchen be permanently closed.

A response to the lawsuit has not yet been filed by owner Brittany Alexander.

Crime scene tape surrounds The Scratch Kitchen restaurant and bar in downtown Ocean Springs after a mass shooting left one dead and seven injured on Friday, May 5, 2023.
Crime scene tape surrounds The Scratch Kitchen restaurant and bar in downtown Ocean Springs after a mass shooting left one dead and seven injured on Friday, May 5, 2023.

City accused of discrimination of Black-owned business

The Black-owned business is one of two in downtown Ocean Springs.

In September 2022, Alexander accused the city of discrimination, the lawsuit says.

Alexander met then with Mayor Kenny Holloway and other city officials to complain that she was being singled out, with an increased law enforcement presence outside her business driving away customers.

The lawsuit says the law enforcement officers were not from Ocean Springs. They were with federal and state agencies, including task forces, that had identified The Scratch Kitchen as a “known gathering place for suspected criminals,” the lawsuit says.

Mayor Kenny Holloway has told the Sun Herald that public safety, rather than race, motivated the city’s enforcement actions. In April 2022, Holloway, the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street Tourism Bureau participated in a ribbon cutting at The Scratch Kitchen.

Alexander’s restaurant is not the only nightlife venue that has had issues with gun violence in recent months. There have also been shootings at Kahuna-OS and Ocean Springs Daiquiri Company. Arrests were made in both of those cases.