Archive - April, 2010

Church BBQ Fundraiser – Shiloh UMC

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

I haven’t written about barbecue yet, but I’m always on the prowl for it. One little known secret to finding good Q is to look for the church BBQ fundraiser. You’re not gonna find this at the mega churches in the burbs so be ready to head into the country a bit. Typically it is a yearly thing where some good old boys in the congregation stay up all night smoking some swine. The next day they sell plates or sandwiches with homemade sides to locals in the community. The quality of the Q may be hit or miss, but you might find a hidden gem. Worst case, you helped to support a small country church.

I haven’t seen a lot of this around our parts, with the exception of this little church. I’ve driven by Shiloh United Methodist Church when they were having their yearly BBQ lunch but never stopped. Shame on me. The other day I caught wind that they were planning the event for this Saturday. Here’s the details:

What: 31st Annual Shiloh UMC BBQ

Where: 4946 Shiloh Rd, Cumming, GA 30040

When: Saturday May 1, 11:00am until 4:00pm

Yesterday I exchanged a few e-mails with the pastor of the church, Alisha Burch. This is an older church with a rich history in south Forsyth. Their BBQ event has been going on for a long time, 31 years as far as they can remember. I was disappointed to learn that the BBQ is catered this year. In the past it was cooked by members of the congregation, but this time the meat will come from Smokejack. However, Pastor Burch assures me that they make their own sauce… with added “deliciousness” as she says. That’s good enough for me!

If you know of other country churches planning BBQ events, by all means leave me a comment!

Alpharetta Florist Reviews – Part 1

This is the first post of a two part review of florists in Alpharetta.

You could blame the big box retailers I suppose. The independent florist in America is dying and that is a shame. I’m usually not one to go blaming Walmart for the troubles of the small businessman. I like Walmart… a lot. In the case of florists, I don’t think it is Walmart they have to blame.

In my view, florists today have two worries. The first is the drop shipment suppliers. These are the internet and phone flower sellers that basically Fedex a box of flowers to your “lucky” recipient. I’m not discussing these guys. You’re a schmuck if you even consider buying from these clowns.

Second, I think florists need to worry about grocery stores. While Walmart and Target do indeed sell flowers on the cheap, they are currently not clearing floor space for dedicated flower departments. There are some halfway decent flowers to be bought in grocery stores like Publix and Kroger. As a result of all this, Alpharetta has a paltry number of full service florists.

So that’s where my little exercise comes in. Can the flowers purchased at grocery stores and big box retailers stack up to a real-deal florist? Last weekend was my wedding anniversary. I thought this was the perfect time for such a comparison. Over the course of two days I bought seven arrangements of red roses and presented them to my beautiful bride. Two of them were obviously from florists while the others were store bought. I didn’t tell her anything else about them. I randomly numbered the arrangements so I could keep track.

We’re a few days into my little exercise so I don’t want to give final results. I’ll wait and see which flowers have longevity before posting my final review. So far the roses are holding up pretty well. I’m seeing some drooping from one of the expensive florists, which is disappointing.

This chart shows where I purchased the flowers and the after tax cost. Some arrangements had more than a dozen so I noted the quantity.

Flowers Purchased

Florist / Store Cost Number of Flowers
Publix - Downtown Alpharetta $16.04 12
Alpharetta Flower Market - Downtown Alpharetta $69.55 12
Costco - Windward $17.11 24
Kroger - Windward $13.90 15
Target - Hwy 9 Milton $10.69 12
Walmart - Windward $10.70 12
Windward Florist $69.55 12

The Value of the Florist

It is all about the presentation. The two arrangements from florists I purchased both came in heavy vases with red ribbons tied to them. The roses themselves were slightly larger than store bought and the stems were longer and thicker. The extra greenery was nice with white contrast from baby’s breath. While some store bought flowers will contain extra greenery, it usually isn’t much. Store bought flowers come in these cheap plastic bags and look terrible.

I appreciate the service I get out of a real florist. In my next post I’ll get into some of the extras I received at Alpharetta’s florists. If you are a regular buyer of flowers, it pays to get to know your florist. Each flower has a season. Knowing when that is and getting hints from your florist will result in bigger and more beautiful flowers that last longer. Is it worth paying four or five times the cost? Stay tuned and I’ll let you know what I think.

The Joneses – My Review

I finally got to see Alpharetta’s new movie, The Joneses. Being somewhat rootless, it is hard for the wife and me to find a sitter and get away for a movie without the kids. But alas we did yesterday. All in all, I was disappointed in the flick. Here’s what I thought…

Showings

As of a week after the release, there is only one theater in all of Alpharetta and Cumming that is showing the movie. I was shocked. The UA/Regal North Point is it. That should have been a sign.

Alpharetta Sightings

If you’re going just for sights of our little suburb, you’ll be disappointed. I think most of the twenty or so people in our showing were there for that reason. Every single person stayed for the closing credits. How often does that happen? There are not many Alpharetta sights to see. Never do you see them cruising down North Point or Windward. For a complete list of Alpharetta area filming locations, see this post.

Review of the Movie

So how did I like the movie? In a word, I thought it sucked. With such a broad topic (consumerism in the burbs), they could have gone in many directions. They seemed focused on this fake family and not so much on the neighbors and their attempts to keep up. The plot developed slowly until the point where their imaginary world started to unravel. At that point the writers tried to touch on way too many topics in a short time, such as teen drinking, infidelity, consumer debt, foreclosures, closeted homosexuality, etc. I’m not a film critic by any means but it all left a lot to be desired. The writing sucked and wasn’t funny or dramatic. The camera work was marginal and inexperienced.

I suppose I expected a lot more. It was more about the fake family living together and the awkward situations that created. There was some romantic tension between David Duchovny and Demi Moore who were essentially co-workers, yet living together as husband and wife. That part of the movie was alright. But if you’re looking for a well-written and dramatic commentary on runaway consumerism, you won’t find it with this movie.

Save your money and skip this movie. I predict it’ll be on cable television shortly… just without the Amber Heard topless scene (yes, she gets neekid in this one).

New/Closed Restaurants – April 2010

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

There hasn’t been a lot to report here recently. Maybe the economy is turning around and restaurateurs are having a better go of things. A lot of what I have to mention this week are changes to existing joints.

The Firkin and Crown - This is an English pub at the Avenue Forsyth. I’ve only been there two or three times over the years and my opinion was mixed. But based on recent reviews I’ve read, it seems they have made a more racy change to their appearance. The waitresses are now showing a lot of skin. Think Hooters girls with short kilts and bare midriffs. They seem to have ripped off the racy theme of the Johns Creek Irish pub The Tilted Kilt. So if you’re easily offended by scantily clad women, be warned.  It takes more than that to offend me though.

Meyer’s Deli - This is a new deli that opened across highway 9 from the Windward Walmart. I guess they are technically in Milton. I went there once for takeout and had a decent sandwich. I don’t want to pass judgment based on that experience alone though. I’ve lamented our over abundance of sandwich joints and delis before, so another in town doesn’t get my motor running. They also have the guts to claim they are an authentic New York style deli. While I’ve never been to a deli in New York, I’ve seen places like Carnegie’s on the Food Network. I seriously doubt we’re gonna see something like that in Alpharetta. I have low expectations, Meyer’s, so prove me wrong!

Hachi-Hachi Japanese - This is a hibachi and sushi place in Johns Creek on Jones Bridge Road. They are closed for a long renovation. I’m not sure for how long, but it is WAY overdue. I always kinda liked the food here and it was a little cheaper than the hibachi you’d find on Northpoint. But their building is old and dirty. This renovation needed to happen years ago. I look forward to trying them again once the work is finished. I never get tired of seeing grown men playing with food and lighting shit on fire. But being an only child, I’m easily entertained.

Nana’s Sushi – This is a small all-you-can-eat sushi joint in a Milton strip mall next to a gas station. I believe they are closed. There is no sign in the window indicating such, but the place has been locked during the lunch hour for a few days. I’m not an expert on the food business, but me thinks locking your doors during the busy cubicle dweller lunch rush is probably a bad thing. Sushi isn’t usually my bag, and AYCE raw food kinda creeps me out. Next-to-the-gas-station sushi doesn’t exactly scream classy sushi restaurant either.

Sage Woodfire Tavern - They are opening a second location at the perimeter in the Park Place shopping center. They’ll be in the space formally occupied by Houlihan’s. This is a perfect spot for them, I’m sure it will be successful.

Kids Donating Birthday Presents

Abundance. Life in the affluent burbs is all about abundance. We have an abundance of stuff. Clothes, useless kitchen appliances, $300 hand bags, cars, backyard grilling items. You name it, we’ve got it and a lot of it. As my kids get older I’m starting to notice that they are developing this abundance thing as well, with their toys. I try my best to teach them that they are fortunate to have this abundance of toys, but I don’t think they don’t get it.

We celebrated a birthday this past weekend for my youngest. I got to thinking about this idea while he was opening his mountain of presents. I wish I could take credit for this one but I first heard about it at church years ago. Here’s how it works… As the birthday approaches, you talk to you kid about donating one of his presents to charity. You explain that some children are not as fortunate as you… you know the drill. The important part is that you want junior to decide to do this on his own. Don’t force them into it but rather offer it as an idea.

The charity here locally that is pushing this is called And One to Grow On. Click the link and check out their website. They will guide you through the process once your little one decides to go through with it. First, they will provide you with a card to include with your party invitations. I’m not sure if this is completely necessary but it promotes the charity. Once your party takes place, AOGO makes it easy to donate the gift. The have drop off locations for toys or they will arrange to have it picked up.

If you don’t want to go with this specific charity, I’m sure you could accomplish the same kind of thing on your own. There are dozens of local charities that will take a new unopened toy.

To me this isn’t about the gift itself. Let’s be realistic, one toy isn’t going to change the world. This is about teaching your child to think of others and give. It isn’t a huge sacrifice and your kid won’t miss one toy. Yet this is something that might spark your child into becoming a giving person. If you can raise a child in our gilded suburbs to think this way as an adult… consider yourself a successful parent.

Alpharetta in Pop Culture

The release of the movie The Joneses has brought Alpharetta some attention recently. It got me thinking about how our area is portrayed in movies and popular culture. I started making a list of movies and TV shows that were filmed here or other northern burbs of Atlanta. Here’s what I came up with. I figured there would be more to this, but I can’t think of anything else. Add a comment if you know of a movie or TV show I’ve missed.

The Joneses

I wrote about this last week but still haven’t seen the flick. The neighborhood shots are from The Manor in Milton. There were other on-location scenes that I hope to write about.

Celebrity Residences

Alpharetta and Johns Creek are home to an above-average number of celebrities, mostly from professional sports and the R&B music scene. This is probably a topic I could take up in a post of its own. Our local celebs want to live as quiet a life as they can, and thus pick neighborhoods like Country Club of the South. For the most part they stay out of sight except for…

Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston

These misfits lived in Country Club of the South back in the early 2000′s. In 2005 they had a reality show on Bravo called Being Bobby Brown. I didn’t watch much of it, but I remember seeing some local haunts. But what got Alpharetta into the news was Bobby’s trouble with the law. Remember when he hit Whitney and was brought before Fulton County court? Or what about the time he was arrested while eating at Atlantic Seafood in Alpharetta? This all made national news back in the day. Were you shocked when this marriage ended in divorce? Hardly. Today Bobby and Whitney are long gone from Alpharetta but they left their mark.

Real Housewives of Atlanta

This show proves that there is very little ‘real’ about reality shows. I also didn’t watch a lot of this glorified soap opera. I guess you could split hairs and say this isn’t about Alpharetta. But nearly every one of these women lived in the northern burbs in places like Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, Sugarloaf in Duluth, The Manor in Milton, and St. Marlo in south Forsyth.

Good Eats – Alton Brown

Now here’s a show I watch! Alton Brown lives in Cobb County and films his Food Network show locally. It is fairly common for him to film grocery store scenes in places like Harry’s on Hembree Road or various Kroger locations in Alpharetta. He’s filmed episodes in places like the In Your Dreams horse farm in Milton and the Art Institute in Dunwoody.

Social Networking and Alpharetta’s Restaurants

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

I had good intentions of writing today about using social media to promote your restaurant. I was going to use a handful of Alpharetta restaurants as examples of what to do. So for the last two weeks or so I’ve researched this topic. I’ve become a Facebook fan of some of Alpharetta’s finest and most popular restaurants. What I’ve found is disappointing.

Let me say first that I’m not really an expert on social networking. I’m a fairly active user of Facebook but not nearly as active on Twitter. And I’m not to the point of promoting my blog on either site. But I know good use of the tools when I see it. At this point I’m not seeing anyone locally make real good use social networking to promote a restaurant. Take notice, restaurant owners!

I’ll go over some social networking best practices and try to highlight some local restaurants that I think are doing it right.

Updating Menu Offerings

If you’ve got a menu that changes frequently, social networking is for you. By far the best example of this is Dutch Monkey Doughnuts at Avenue Forsyth. They change their doughnut offerings daily and post a complete list to Facebook, Twitter and their website. They also will post pictures and an occasional tease of tomorrow’s menu. If you are not familiar with this place, check them out.

‘Cue in Milton will sometimes post updates to their seasonal vegetable on Facebook. Recently they were showcasing a baked sweet potato that sounded delicious.

Milton’s is providing updates on their vegetable garden on Facebook, which is kinda interesting to follow.

Specials and Discounts

I’ve yet to see many restaurants around here offer specials for social networking users. Ray’s Killer Creek currently is offering a free dessert for Facebook fans, but that is about it. If a restaurant wants to increase their online fan base, this is the way to do it!

Be Social

It is called social networking after all. Interact with your customers! Most people on Facebook will “become a fan” of a restaurant as a way to let their friends know they like it. As a restaurant owner, you can learn who your best customers are. These are your ambassadors, the key customers who are talking about your food to their friends. These are the customers who are worth their weight in gold! Engage these people online. Create dialogue and request feedback. I don’t see ANYONE doing this well in Alpharetta. If no one is talking about you on your Facebook page, then ask! Create a reason for people to post. Give away a free entree to the fan who suggests the best new side item. Or how about a picture contest? Free dinner to the fan who uploads the cutest picture of their kid eating at your restaurant. Be creative and get people talking.

Post Other Relevant Content

This kinda goes back to what I said about blogs a few weeks back. Don’t make everything on your Facebook page about you. Here’s an example… say you run a barbecue restaurant. You learn that there is a BBQ festival this weekend. Mention it to your fans. Don’t you think they’d be interested in something like this? Whatever you post, keep it on topic. They probably don’t want to see pics of your pet guinea pig for example (unless he’s on the menu, yum).

Creative Use of Media

Pictures and video. I know it can be hard to photograph food but do the best you can. If that doesn’t work, photograph your customers. Sage, Kozmo’s and Pure Taqueria are among the best spots in town for happy hour and night life. They each have some hot pictures on their Facebook sites.

Location-Aware Mobile Apps

This is so new that Facebook and Twitter arn’t even here yet. Check out Foursquare for example. Yelp isn’t far behind. The general idea is that with an iPhone (or similar smart phone), these apps will use your phone’s GPS to determine that you are currently at a business. From there you can register your visit (called ‘Checking In’). Foursquare keeps track of how many times you’ve been there and who’s been there the most.

This is a goldmine of information to a restaurant owner. You know exactly who is coming and who is there the most. It creates competition among your customers to see who can visit your place the most. Restaurants should be all over this like white on rice. How can you encourage it more? Offer specials with these services. Better yet, offer the user with the most visits (called the ‘mayor’ on Foursquare) with a SWEET deal. The idea here is that you want people competing for this offer, trying to oust the mayor by visiting your place more often.

This is huge and almost no one around here is taking advantage of it as far as I know. The only place that comes close is the convenience store chain Racetrac. They offer a special for each check-in at their stores.

Again, I think most restaurants in Alpharetta are failing when it comes to the free marketing available on the various social networking sites. I’d have to say Dutch Monkey Doughnuts is the only place doing things right. They seem to have a clear social networking game plan and it is working. They have over a thousand fans on Facebook alone. Kudos to you guys!

If you know of a restaurant with a cool social networking presence, let me know!

Alpharetta Jobs April 2010

Around the middle of each month I survey the websites of Alpharetta’s largest employers.

April’s numbers show a nice little bump. LexisNexis, E-Trade, Equifax, AT&T, Verizon and Radiant all added jobs in the last month. Here’s your numbers…

Alpharetta Jobs April 2010

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 98
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 65
ADP 48
E-Trade 27
Equifax 24
AT&T 14
Verizon 13
Radiant 12
HP 9
Infor 7
Phillips 4
Alcatel-Lucent 3
Oracle 2
Hansgrohe 1
UPS 0
IBM 0
Total 327

I will also start trending these numbers from month to month in a graph kinda like this. Ok, well really I’m doing this because my readers kept pestering me to do so! We’ll track this going forward.

Restaurant Owner’s Guide to Online Reviews

On Friday I reviewed the online review websites. As a followup to that article, I wanted to mention this topic. I’m not sure how many restaurant owners read my blog. Probably not many. Nevertheless, I think what I have to say here could be of some benefit. And I don’t think this advice is being followed by many restaurants at all.

Do not ignore or underestimate the significance of online reviews. Your restaurant could struggle as a result. On the other hand, your restaurant could thrive because of what is online. Or better yet, your joint could go viral online!

I’ve been writing reviews online for several years, both here on my blog and on other websites. I’ve seen a lot of restaurants handle online reviews totally wrong and I’ve seen it done extremely well. I’ve also seen a lot of marketing blogs offer advice that is just plain wrong! Some of this is counter intuitive but I promise it is the way to go.

Claim Your Business Page

Go to the various review sites (yelp, urbanspoon, citysearch, four square, etc) and enter your business’ information. Sure, this is a no brainer. Enter your hours of operation, links to your website, menus, and any other information. But beyond that, make sure your address is correct. I cannot stress this enough. Many of these online review sites have iPhone, Android and Blackberry apps. These apps have location-aware technology that is very cutting edge. Your customers are using these mobile devices to find and locate your business. Make absolutely sure your address is correct and displays in the correct place on google maps. Many times I’ve seen google put a restaurant blocks down the street, or perhaps not list them at all. And here in the northern burbs of Atlanta, addresses can get squirrely when you have overlapping cities and zip codes (Johns Creek versus Alpharetta for example).

Specials and Coupons

Sure, you offer specials on your website and in other marketing. Why not offer something on the review websites? And I’m not talking something like a free Coke. Make your initial offer on the review sites something significant! Your goal here is to get reviewers into your restaurant. Give them a very tempting reason to go for the first time. More on this later.

Don’t Review Yourself

Do not, under any circumstances, review your own restaurant. Not only is this dishonest but it is pretty easy to spot and looks desperate. Even with your clever wording, people can tell. Just don’t do it.

Don’t Encourage Customers to Write Online Reviews

This is the counter intuitive part I spoke of earlier. This is also where most marketing blogs will lead you astray.

Maybe you’re a new restaurant and you’re frustrated that you’re not getting reviews. So you talk to some of your regulars and encourage them to go to yelp or urbanspoon and write reviews. Sounds perfectly legit, but don’t do it. For one thing, yelp openly discourages this in their business owner’s FAQ. And if it does happen, the review will likely get gobbled up in their review filter. But worse than that, many in the online review communities consider these to be “shill reviews”. They believe is it just the business owner writing reviews. Right or wrong, your restaurant may open itself up to ridicule by the community. I’ve seen it happen a lot. I cannot stress this enough… don’t ask customers to write reviews.

Reach Out to Reviewers

So you want to get credible online reviews? Ask for them! Seriously, just ask. Let’s say you opened a new barbecue restaurant in the northern burbs of Atlanta. No one is reviewing you online and you’re growing frustrated. Go onto the websites and find active reviewers who have visited other nearby barbecue restaurants. Send them a private message. Be polite and friendly and invite them to try your restaurant. No form letters, no spam, just a personal and sincere invitation to try your place. Should you offer a freebie? This isn’t necessary in my opinion but you could if you wish. Make it clear that you don’t expect a review, you just want them to try your place. Chances are… if they come, they will review you. And in addition to the review websites, reach out to local bloggers. Yeah, I’m a blogger so this is easy to suggest. A feature on a local or foodie blog is worth a lot.

Respond to Early Reviews

Good or bad, I suggest responding directly to your early reviews. If someone had a good thing to say, thank them! If someone had a bad experience, treat them like a customer who complains in your restaurant. Actually, you should probably do MORE than you would otherwise. Reviews online are seen my thousands of potential customers. While negative reviews are bound to happen, I think you should respond to them head-on. Offer to make it right or return their money. I’ve heard of businesses who have paid for an upset customer to go to a competitor. Are you willing to go that far to make things right? You ought to consider it!

Do not respond in an angry way to critical reviews online. The last thing you want is to piss off an already unhappy customer. The next thing you know your ugly private messages to that person are posted online in a forum for the world to see. Again, I’ve seen it happen.

I hope what I have to say makes sense. Consider it sincere advice from someone who is likely to review you one day! And even if you are not a new restaurant, pay attention to what is written about you online. Google yourself and see what the search engines think are important about your restaurant. The majority of the hits I get on my blog are from people searching for a specific restaurant I’ve written about.

Next time I’ll write about social media and restaurants. Until then… if you think I’m off base on my advice or have any questions or comments, leave them here or e-mail me at lee@rootsinalpharetta.com

The Joneses to Open Next Week

Alpharetta is set to make its debut on the silver screen. Roll out the red carpet. Are you ready? And what better way for this to happen than with a movie about materialism and keeping up with the Joneses? Can this play any better with my blog’s theme? I love it!

This movie starring David Duchovny and Demi Moore was filmed all over Alpharetta almost a year and a half ago. I’m surprised it took them this long to finally open. But nonetheless it is here. The premise is that Duchovny and Moore are new neighbors in a posh gated community in the burbs. But looks are deceiving. They are really slick marketeers trying to sell high-end merchandise and toys to the affluent locals. The story sounds interesting and strangely believable. You can read reviews for the movie here or check out the trailer.

The neighborhood shots were filmed at The Manor Golf and Country Club in Milton. This neighborhood is no stranger to pop culture. One of the Real Housewives of Atlanta lives here. There were also scenes filmed at Muse Hair Salon in Alpharetta. Muse got a lot of publicity out of this, something which I’m sure will make for good business in the future.

I can’t wait to see the movie and pick out other locations around town. And while Alpharetta will be duly proud of its new movie stardom, will the joke actually be on us?

The Joneses opens on Friday, April 16th at a theater near you. Look for me there. I’ll be the one driving the new BMW (yeah I wish).

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