Supervisors temporarily close Mississippi hookah lounge until after Super Bowl weekend

Published 4:30 pm Friday, February 10, 2023

The Panola County Board of Supervisors this week acted swiftly to order the temporary closure of the Hookah Lounge on Hwy. 51 in Como after a month of warnings to the owners about overcrowding and disruptive behavior reported at the business.

Mohammed Abdullah built the Como 51 Express modern convenience store last year, designing the building to accommodate at least two other businesses under the same roof.

When the store, located north of the Town of Como and just south of the Tate County line, was opened he applied for a special exception permit to open a beer and hookah lounge adjacent to the store.

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The Panola County Land Development Commission turned down the request for a hookah lounge, with board members specifically citing a worry about late-night loitering and a lack of parking.

Abdullah appealed the Land Commission’s denial to the Board of Supervisors, who unanimously reversed the lower board’s decision in January.

At that hearing Abdullah was told that he would be allowed to open and serve beer and light wine the same hours as the Como restaurants on Main Street, but was also warned that concerns raised by the Land Commission would also be considered as needed.

Monday’s action by the board to pull the permit for the Hookah Lounge was based on multiple reports of overcrowding at the 24-hour convenience store with cars parked on the highway on weekends, and on social media posts endorsed by the lounge operators.

Board of Supervisors President Cole Flint said he had seen posts from inside the hookah lounge with hard liquor bottles visible, and had personally driven by the store on weekend nights.

Additionally, Flint said, the 911 emergency dispatch system received six calls during the first five weeks the business was open. Abdullah was initially abrasive with supervisors when questioned about the business, but later returned to the board room to apologize and reassure the board he wants to operate a legal business that doesn’t take away from the peace of the community or is a danger to other citizens.

“We as supervisors are all for businesses that want to operate within our laws and our community standards, and we want this particular business to be successful, but it’s also our job to step in when we hear the kinds of reports we were getting from up there,” Flint said after the meeting.

The temporary suspension of business went into effect Monday, Feb. 6, and will last until Monday, Feb. 13. Flint said the board thought it best to prevent the lounge from re-opening until after the Super Bowl football game on Sunday.

“He has some private events already booked and Valentine’s Day coming up so he will be able to open for those, but after that we are going to keep a close eye on what happens,” Flint said. “We hope this is the last time we have to address this type of situation.”

Besides the convenience store and the hookah lounge, Abdullah has also received a permit from the Land Commission to open and operate a medical cannabis dispensary in another of the storefronts included at the property.

He has not given the county a timeline for expected opening of that business and is presumably in the process of filing paperwork with the state.