Archive - February, 2010

Mission Statements

I’ve got a quiz for you today. Can you guess who’s mission statement this is?

Consistently create encore experiences that enrich lives one person at a time.

No, it isn’t my blog’s mission statement because I don’t have one. I’m not a fan of mission statements, especially overly vague statements like the one above. If you can’t figure out what my blog is all about after reading an article or two, then I’ve failed. Likewise, if you can’t figure out a restaurant’s mission after eating there, no mission statement is going to help.

So who’s mission statement is this? It could be for anyone. “Encore experiences” makes me think of the symphony, but that’s not it. “Enrich lives”? That’s a pretty bold statement for a business to make. But this statement could apply to anyone, from an art gallery to a prostitute, and everyone in between.

Zaxby’s

Yeah, the chicken place. Don’t get me wrong, I kinda like Zaxby’s. They are an above average fast food joint. But this mission statement is absurd. They must be proud of it because it is often printed on my receipt. But give me a break! Are chicken fingers enriching my life? Do they make me a better human being? I get some calories, protein,  carbs (and a lot of fat) while eating here. They give me some energy I suppose. Enriching? Encore experiences? Hardly.

The unfortunate reality is that several man-weeks of work were probably wasted at Zaxby’s corporate HQ coming up with this statement. They probably sat in a conference room with a large whiteboard, writing down words. Some got scratched off and some got moved to the “parking lot” to wither and die. Break out teams were formed to explore concepts like “one person at a time.” When it was done, they probably labored over the word “consistently”, wondering if it was powerful enough to begin the statement. These wordsmiths took it all very seriously. The leader of the group (probably a young kid with an MBA) I’m sure got a good performance review the following year. The next year, when the economy went sour, he was the first on the layoff chopping block. All the wordsmithing in the world isn’t gonna sell more chicken fingers.

I cringe every time I read this at Zaxby’s. Why? Because in the past I’ve been in that group laboring to produce nonsense like this. I know how fruitless an endeavor it can be, yet I know how seriously bosses can take it. And I know how overly vague statements like this actually distract from the true mission of an organization. In Zaxby’s case, their true mission is simple… SELL FREAKING CHICKEN!

Perhaps they read the mission statement to each new hire. Maybe some pimply-faced high school will be inspired by it, prompting her to create an encore experience while taking my order. Who am I kidding. This mission statement is indescribably bad!

Start/Stop/Continue – Restaurant Edition

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

I received my annual review at work this week. My boss still seems to like me, thank God. A lot of managers use this start/stop/continue nonsense in their peer reviews. The idea here is that someone will anonymously tell you what you are doing well and should continue, not doing at all and should start, or unnecessary things you should stop. Thankfully my boss doesn’t bother with such silliness, but I figured I would use it as inspiration for my weekly restaurant article. So without further ado, here are the restaurant trends I see in Alpharetta what I’d like to happen to them.

Start – Latin/Cuban Cuisine

I grew up in Florida, so I love me some ropa vieja. Unfortunately none of the restaurants in this style seem to make it around here. Mambo’s Cafe on Haynes Bridge is about it (and they are terrific). Cha Cha Bongo’s on Windward closed recently. From Havana to U was a bit north of town on Highway 9 but closed more than a year ago. Cuban Press in Midway made a pretty good Cuban sandwich, but they didn’t make it. There are some other options in Johns Creek and Norcross, but that’s about it.

Stop – Sandwiches

We’re getting inundated with sandwich shops. I appreciate some of the truly inventive joints like Never Enough Thyme and Wildflour. The hoity toity Windward ladies seem to like these places as well! I could do without the impostors and franchises everywhere else. If you are considering opening a new restaurant in Alpharetta, please don’t give us another sandwich shop. That means you, Panera!

Continue – Burgers

I wrote about this a few weeks back. Burgers are everywhere in the northern burbs. Do I think we have too many? Never! But I’m sure some will be dropping off the list in the coming months. I’ve heard rumors that one or two on 141 will be closing up shop soon.

Start – More Dining in Downtown Alpharetta

It is too bad that Alpharetta’s downtown area isn’t a destination like Roswell or Marietta. Both of these cities have terrific restaurants on their squares. Not so much here. We’ve got half a dozen places to eat downtown, with one or two more in the works. I think this city could support much more.

Stop – Silly Franchise Names

Which Wich? Lettuce Souprise You? I cringe every time I drive by these places. Why couldn’t the owners of these joints put as much attention into their food as they did to their cute names? Stop this nonsense, you’re insulting the intelligence of your customers!

Continue – Boutique Barbecue

What is “boutique barbecue”? These are fancified Q joints with expensive price tags. I don’t really know what to think. I’m a big fan of the roadside Q shack, but they are practically nonexistent ’round here. The boutique restaurants are places like Smokejack and ‘Cue. My wallet doesn’t like eating there, but they both crank out decent Q. Yeah, a plate of pulled pork costs almost as much as a steak at Longhorn, but yum.

No Deep Connections Here

This post continues a discussion on the Peter Kilborn article on being Rootless in Alpharetta.

This has been a tough topic for me to write about. I’m a bit of an introvert. Talk about making deep friendships in the burbs? I’m hardly an expert. Yet can you truly set roots somewhere without a close, deep friendship to rely upon?

Shortly after moving to Alpharetta, I recall my wife lamenting that she didn’t have any true friends in the area. I was reminded of this while reading Kilborn’s article. She worked on building friendships with our neighbors but nothing really developed beyond mere acquaintances. It really troubled her back then.

Today is a different story. She’s got a pretty close friend a block down the street in whom she can confide. She’s also in a fairly tight knit group of mothers with children the same age. We discussed this the other day, remembering back to our relo days. I believe she’s overall happy with her friendships here in Alpharetta, but hasn’t found that lifelong friendship she’d hoped for.

How do you development deep connections or friendships here in the rootless burbs? The first bit of advice I’d give is to be patient. This stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Thinking back to the Kilborn article, Mrs Link was here for four years, involved in a ton of activities, yet nothing took hold.

Secondly, I believe deep friendships grow when those involved experience something significant together. My closest friends are from my college days. In my wife’s case, her mom’s group buddies were all having their first children only weeks apart.

Here are some ways I think rootless relos in the burbs can get to know folks with common interests.

Volunteer Your Time

Okay, this is the textbook answer on how to meet friends. But before you just show up at a volunteer event, do some research. Find something you are truly passionate about. Immerse yourself into the charity and find others who feel the same way.

Moms Club

I talked about this above. But there are a lot of organizations like this in the burbs. Find one that will pair you up with parents of children the same age. Try to get into a small group if possible. Make the most out of it by attending events as often as possible. Be supportive of the other parents and watch what happens.

Knock on Doors

Yes literally! I don’t know my neighbors nearly as well as I ought to. But if you see them out in the yard, walk over and chat. Or did you notice that the house across the street has empty diaper boxes at the street on trash day? Go over and introduce yourself! Offer to babysit or something.

Happy Hour After Work

Don’t know anyone at work? Organize a happy hour. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Find a place with a good variety of adult beverages and show up. Or better yet, organize a monthly poker night.

Don’t Be a Flake!

I’ve seen this happen so many times. You’re getting to know someone and make plans to get together. The next thing you know, the other person either cancels at the last minute or is a no show. Deep friendship should be more dependable than the weather, that’s for sure. It should be common sense, but do your best to honor your commitments, lest you remain rootless!

Philips Moving to Alpharetta

The AJC is reporting that Philips is moving what’s left of their perimeter office to Alpharetta. There are already about 400 employees at the One Deerfield Centre office on Morris Road near Webb Road. They will look to hire about 22 customer care jobs during the move. These are fairly low paying jobs, so I would anticipate these employees would be commuting to Alpharetta and not living here.

New jobs in this area could also mean a boom to the restaurants on Windward near Deerfield. Many along this stretch of Windward have struggled in this recession.

Maryland’s Crab House

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

This place is cursed. No, not this particular restaurant, but this space. 3070 Windward Plaza Suite P, the back corner end unit on the double decker strip mall. As many as ten restaurants have operated in this strip mall, most of them successfully. But whoever opens up in suite P is doomed from the start. Maryland’s will be no different… mark my words.

First in suite P was Horseradish Grill. Next came Real Food, which was ‘real’ good in my opinion. A decent place to take clients. Then came the Loafing Leprechaun, an Irish pub that was mediocre at best. Now you’ll find Maryland’s Crab House.

I started seeing signs for Maryland’s about a month ago but found very little about them online. They are still thinly reviewed on the various online review websites. They also don’t have a website of their own. Very strange. I didn’t know what to expect in coming here for lunch yesterday. Real Food was a classy joint, so maybe Maryland’s will be too?

Well, not so much. The decor is that of a cheap fish house. They have fake crab traps and fishing nets on the walls. Just very tacky. Yet at the same time you’ll find white tablecloths and napkins. I don’t really know what they are trying to be, a fancy joint to entertain clients or something out of Myrtle Beach? The prices on the dinner menu suggest that of a fancy joint. The lunch options suggest deep fried tourist grub.

I ordered a pretty straightforward fried shrimp platter. On the lunch menu, this is about nine bucks. You’ll get about a dozen small to medium sized shrimp in a peppery batter. I was a little disappointed that cocktail sauce didn’t come with my meal, but they provided some upon request. The shrimp were decent but nothing to write home about. Most lunch items come with steak fries and two hush puppies. Drink prices are steep.

My wife ordered shrimp and grits. Strangely enough, the shrimp on this entree were also fried. The combination didn’t go well together.

I couldn’t get past the abundance of fried food on the lunch menu. That along with the decor made this place feel like a Myrtle Beach tourist trap. They should be serving this stuff on newspaper in a basket and not on white tablecloths. Maybe the dinner experience is different (it ought to be with the price tag).

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by predicting another restaurant failure in suite P. Maybe one day a restaurant will thrive here. Inside it is cool space for a restaurant… just not THIS restaurant.
Maryland's Crab House on Urbanspoon

In Defense of Cell Towers

When I walk out my front door at night, I can clearly see the red blinking light atop a cell phone tower. It is a short distance outside our neighborhood. My reaction to this should be:

  • A – Petition my city, county, Congressmen, etc and demand it be removed.
  • B – Ask that they make it look like a giant pine tree.
  • C – Fear for my children’s safety because of unseen radio waves.
  • D – Enjoy perfect cell coverage in all spots of my home and flawless 3G data.

If you said D, you’d be right! I love my little cell tower. From any corner of my house I can use my cell phone without fear of a dropped call. If I ever wanted to go totally wireless (ditching the land line) I could do it without a problem.

I like my wireless technology and I like when it works! I think most people do too, even if they won’t admit it.  Cell towers make this possible. Your iPhone isn’t worth the plastic it’s made of without the cell towers to give you a signal. I also believe that most people ignore the presence of cell towers. I’ve lived in my current home for four years and I never really paid attention to my nearby tower.

Some residents of Milton have their underpants in a bunch over some proposed towers in their new city. I suppose their attempts to preserve the agrarian feel explains it. I can almost understand their concern. The disguised towers (that look like trees) are a decent compromise. But an outright ban on towers threaten property rights as well as my ability to get a signal!

But also in the news you’ll find the Forsyth County school board. In an effort to make a few bucks for the schools, they are floating the idea of installing cell towers on school property. I appreciate administrators’ efforts to be creative in finding dollars. But in this case, concerned citizens (about 15 of them) are worried about safety issues. Not that there are any studies to suggest that cell signals are harmful or anything. Nah! The risk of the tower falling on kids is greater than that of the radio waves. I’m sorry folks, but the most dangerous part of school is merely driving your children there in the car.  They could install a farm of cell towers and this would still be a fact.

The City of Milton and the Forsyth County school board have yet to decide the cell tower issues before them. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. In the meantime, the same “concerned citizens” are probably deciding on cell plans based on coverage maps. How many bars do you have?

College Baseball

Do you know what tomorrow is? February 19th, sure. For me, it the long anticipated unified start date of college baseball. Yeah, baseball in February; I love it! Major league spring training is still a good ways away, yet you can see professional-caliber ball close by. There are some real good teams in metro Atlanta and several within a short drive. Makes for a great three day weekend. Here are some of the schools with decent programs. Escape the hustle and bustle of suburban life and relax at the ballpark this spring!

Georgia Tech

They’ve got a great program and make the NCAA tournament consistently. Tech also has an above average number of alums in the big leagues. Their ballpark is easy to get to, even from the northern burbs. Several years ago they upgraded the seats and concession areas. I wouldn’t say it is my favorite college park, but it is nice and comfortable. Parking can be a challenge, especially if you go to a midweek game. I also find that the fan base isn’t as intense as other schools. Most of the students at the ballgames have their noses in calculus textbooks. (Trust me, I’ve seen it!)

UGA – Athens

Another good program. The Bulldogs actually have a College World Series championship to brag about. I haven’t been to a game here in probably five or six years, but from what I remember it is decent. The stadium was upgraded in the 90′s. By today’s standards, I think it is a little lacking. They make up for it by offering a great college atmosphere. I’m not a Georgia fan, but you can’t beat the small college town experience in Athens.

Auburn

Their program has sucked recently. Sorry, there is just no other way to put it. On the other hand, Plainsman Park is stunningly beautiful. The brickwork is impressive and the seats are close to the action. I’ve been to a lot of college ballparks in the ACC and SEC, and Auburn’s park is by far my favorite. And like Athens, this is a cool college town. Great destination for a three day weekend in the spring.

Clemson

Alright, I have a bias here. This is my alma mater. Tiger Field was a sanctuary for me in the spring. I cut many an afternoon class on a beautiful day to be here. Like GA Tech, Clemson has a top-tier program. Unlike Tech, the fans are very much into the games. Attendance has picked up a LOT since I was a student. New outfield seating areas this year will make the numbers even greater.

Overall, I like the ballpark. Over the last several years they’ve added onto the park with brick facades and iron work. Underneath is is the same ballpark. In some ways, I wish Clemson had built a new park from scratch. Hate to say it, but it is true. Nevertheless, you’ll find some great ball here.

Closer to Home

Kennesaw State and Georgia State both have baseball programs but are not 1-A. I’ve never been to games here, but they may be a decent alternative if you don’t want to drive.

Alpharetta Jobs February 2010

About a month ago I wrote about the current job offerings among Alpharetta’s largest employers. I thought I would make this a monthly post, the idea being that this could become a barometer of the overall job market here. So in February here’s what I found…

Alpharetta Jobs February 2010

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 103
ADP 33
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 32
HP 15
E-Trade 13
Equifax 13
Infor 10
Verizon 5
AT&T 3
Radiant 8
Sun Microsystems/Oracle * 1
IBM 1
Hansgrohe 1
Alltel 0
UPS 0
Total 238

* Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in January 2010.

I do my best to gather these stats by hand from the career sites of each of these companies. Some sites are easier to mine than others. Often times they will lump nationwide job offerings into the search results for “Alpharetta-GA”. I try my best to weed these out. I don’t guaranty the accuracy of these numbers by any means. And if there are any employers I’m missing, please let me know!

Valentine’s Day – Dark Chocolate Souffle

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

Happy wife, happy life. That’s something I hear Clark Howard say from time to time. In the hustle and bustle of suburban life, sometimes I think romance falls by the wayside. This is a topic I want to address in more detail later on. Would Valentine’s Day be a good time to start that conversation? Perhaps. But I think being romantic is not something saved for one day a year.

Nevertheless, I want to offer one idea for Valentine’s Day this year. It would be easy to suggest a delicious restaurant, but who likes the crowds on February 14? I suggest staying home and make something challenging in the kitchen.

Dark Chocolate Souffle

Maybe it is the engineer in me, but I enjoy trying new techniques in the kitchen. Following a simple recipe is boring! I see these chefs on TV screw up souffle all the time, so I wanted to try it. When I found this recipe for dark chocolate souffle on the Cooking for Engineers website, I had to give it a try.

Check out the link and follow along with his detailed steps and pictures. I’ll let all that speak for itself. But I’ll add a few things. First, don’t let the fact that this is a souffle scare you. I’ve made this three times now without it falling. It really isn’t that hard, yet will impress whoever is lucky enough to try it. Here are a few more gotchas…

Ramekins

Remember all that practically useless stuff you got as wedding gifts? Most of it is buried in your dining room still in the boxes. Somewhere in there you’ll probably find ramekins or perhaps a creme brulee set that’s never been used. Dig out those ramekins and give them a good wash. It took me forever to scrape the price tags off. I think over the years the glue on the price tags had turned to cement.

Egg White Foam

That’s the key to making this stuff rise. If you’ve never beat these things, just know that you’ve gotta beat this stuff forever. First time I tried these, I used a hand whisk. Big mistake! Use a powered kitchen hand mixer with whisk attachment. Hit those egg whites on high speed. Stiff peaks are the key to the rise. And the rise of your souffle is what will get a rise out of your sweetheart!

Chocolate

Don’t worry too much about the chocolate. I know the recipe calls for higher quality stuff. I made this with cheap stuff from Trader Joe’s one time and Ghirardelli from Publix another time. Unless you are a serious chocolate snob, I don’t think you’re gonna taste the difference. And if you don’t like the taste of dark chocolate, I wouldn’t fret. This stuff is so rich, it doesn’t taste like eating a bar of dark chocolate.

Also don’t stress if this doesn’t work. Worse case if it doesn’t rise, you call it molten chocolate cake! But if you do manage to get a good rise out of it, your sweetheart will be impressed.

Photo credit: Robyn Guy Photography

Restaurant Openings/Closings

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series I like to call Foodie Friday.

The restaurant business is competitive, especially today. The weak are not surviving long. But the lure of one hundred thousand cubicle workers and their willingness to drop $15 on lunch everyday is attracting new restaurateurs to fill the voids. I kinda appreciate some turnover in my dining choices. Unfortunately we are getting more of the same while the unique tends to be closing. Here’s what’s new and what’s gone.

Maryland’s Crab House – Windward

This joint opened in the space formally occupied by Loafing Leprechaun. I haven’t had a chance to visit, and they have been thinly reviewed. I’ve only found reviews here and here. They have signs posted for a Sunday brunch, which may be interesting. They don’t have a website, so I know almost nothing about these guys. I’d suggest they look into this internet thing!

Spice Touch – Windward

Another Indian buffet on Windward. That makes three, although this is the only one west of GA-400. There is certainly a market for Indian food up here, but competition is fierce. I haven’t tried these guys yet, but Sri Krishna Vilas and Sai Murali are both delicious. There are also at least two Indian offerings on Old Milton. Will be interested to see if they survive. Pass the Rolaids please.

Cosmic Deli – Windward

I’ve actually been to this one already. They look like a franchise but I don’t think they are. They have an outer space, George Jetson kind of theme. My sandwich here was pretty good but I don’t think it stands out given the competition in the specialty sandwich business. Again, this genre is crowded and competition from places like Wildflour and Never Enough Thyme will eat these guys alive.

Panera Bread – Windward

For the love of God, people! Why is there a line out the door here? Panera is the worst of the worst in terms of chain sandwich joints. Even Cosmic is better than these guys. Their pre-made sandwiches are not put together well and are boring. My prediction… this place will be a fixture on Windward for many years to come. Makes me sick.

Gladys Knight Chicken & Waffles – Johns Creek

CLOSED! Looks like their foray into the burbs didn’t make it. I went there once and kinda liked it, but my wife didn’t. I kinda wish we had more country or soul cooking places up here, even if they are expensive.

Cha-Cha Bongo Cuban Grill

Both their Windward and Johns Creek locations are closed. While I didn’t care much for their food, I think this cuisine is underrepresented in the northern burbs. You best bet now is Mambo’s Cafe on Haynes Bridge. Ay caramba!

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