Archive - December, 2010

The Red Hen Has Laid Her Last Egg

About two years ago I wrote a review of The Red Hen over on Yelp. It wasn’t pretty. After two disappointing experiences at the restaurant, I’d written them off. A few weeks later I received a private message on the website from Jason Meinhardt, owner and chef of The Red Hen. I was afraid to open it. I’d been on the receiving end of an angry restaurant owner before and it wasn’t a lot of fun. But things were different with Jason.

What followed was a friendly online exchange that lasted for a few years, both via email and blog comments. In our most recent conversation I learned of Jason’s plans to close his popular avant garde breakfast joint. The Red Hen served it’s last customer this week.

So how did Jason react to my negative review from way back? He handled it in the most professional and genuine way possible. He talked about how he took every online review seriously and used them in constructive ways. He didn’t attack me or try to pick apart my words. I wasn’t pressured to take the review down, nothing of the sort. It was a textbook example of how to handle criticism of your business. He earned my respect very quickly from that point on.

After that initial exchange we talked about how running a restaurant is extremely difficult. He shared some hardships, talked about struggles he overcame but all the while was positive about his business. In the meantime he was turning the place around. As he shared with me a few weeks ago, he’s going out on a high note. The Red Hen was listed in Atlanta Magazine’s Best Of issue. It also ranked in Urbanspoon’s top 100 of Atlanta list. How significant is that? By Alpharetta standards it puts The Hen in an exclusive club that includes the much-lauded Pure Taqueria and Pampas Steakhouse.

So even though The Red Hen is no more, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Jason Meinhardt. I’ll continue to follow his blog foodalong.com and twitter account (@ChefJMMeinhardt). It was on twitter this week that he mentioned trying to get onto a Food Network program. He’s got a background in theater, so combining food and television might be a great fit. The next Bobby Flay? Perhaps!

New/Closed Restaurants – December 2010

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

Not a lot of restaurant news to report this month, but let’s clear out my new restaurant list before the end of the year. If you know of a place I’ve missed, leave me a comment or email me at lee@rootsinalpharetta.com

Jilly’s Cupcakery – Milton

I’m kinda excited about this one. Jilly’s opened yesterday in the Kroger shopping center on the corner of Windward and Highway 9, next to the Hallmark store. I’ve always thought this area could support a high-end cupcake shop, especially after the amazing success Dutch Monkey Doughnuts has had with artisan sweets. Look for a review here on Roots in a week or two.

The Red Hen – Closed

Alpharetta’s avant-garde breakfast joint has closed. I’ll have more to say about this in another article.

Jersey Boyz Pizza – Johns Creek

Boyz in da hood! This small pizza shop is set to open their second location in Johns Creek at 9945 Jones Bridge Road near Soho Hair Salon. Their original location is in south Forsyth on Bethelview Road. I’ve never tried the Boyz so I have nothing to report except to say that pizza in Johns Creek is very competitive.

Extreme Pita – Northpoint and Johns Creek

I recently saw this article about how franchise pita restaurants have their eyes on expanding into Atlanta. Extreme Pita is looking at Alpharetta near the mall. A new franchise restaurant concept near the mall? I can’t believe it. A second location is being considered in Johns Creek. No word on where or even if they have leased space yet. Could just be in the planning stages at this point, so curb your enthusiasm.

Hyperlocal Journalism in Alpharetta

Back when I started my blog, I’d never heard the term “hyperlocal blog”. I thought Alpharetta didn’t have a lot in the way of bloggers talking about stuff going on in our little burb. Thus was born Roots in Alpharetta, my little hyperlocal blog creation. I still don’t think we have many hyperlocal blogs in Alpharetta. However, we’re about to get inundated with hyperlocal journalism.

First, it is important to make a distinction. I’m not a journalist nor do I pretend to be one. I’m just a fella who reads the newspaper and has an opinion. Think of my stuff as the op-ed page, that part of the paper you usually skip.

So what do I mean by hyperlocal journalism? We’ve got it in two formats…

Legacy Media Newspapers

Let’s start with the old-school guys that are still killin’ trees. Alpharetta has several local papers and they are all pretty good. While I don’t subscribe to any of them in print format, I do read and participate in their websites. I like the Alpharetta Revue News run by the Appen Newspapers. I especially like their feature stories that deep dive into issues. This story about north Fulton’s hidden homeless hit me hard. I like the Neighbor Newspapers for their clean website and terrific restaurant critic, Joan Durbin. I don’t read the Beacon Newspaper much as their website has a subscription component to it. They seem to have the best local sports coverage I’ve found.

But the biggest problem these papers will face is their ability to react quickly to news. Let me give an example that will play into hyperlocal journalism on the internet. Recently I read an article on the website of one of Alpharetta’s small newspapers. The article was important to me as it was about a serious crime in Alpharetta. And while they were the first to report on the issue, it didn’t appear on their website for a week! Perhaps they push content online at the time they go to press. Either way, in the online world it was ancient news.

Hyperlocal Journalism Online

Let me give another example… Last week when ice was reeking havoc on Alpharetta’s commute… who gave the best updates, in real-time, of road conditions? Bob Pepalis of the Alpharetta Patch. He was on twitter with a steady stream of updates on ice and impassable roads.

The Patch – This is an effort being funded by AOL. It’s ironic that the dinosaur of the internet is behind such an innovative effort. The Patch’s idea is simple. They’ve built an online news platform to collect and display news locally. Next they hire one person in each small community to cover local news. That local editor will leverage the news platform to publish an online newspaper. They are expanding very rapidly, especially into affluent areas like Alpharetta. Here locally they have editors in Johns Creek, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Cumming and a combined Alpharetta/Milton Patch run by Pepalis (who used to work for Appen). There’s no office, no printing press, little overhead… just news gathering. For the cost of one employee, a laptop and an iPhone they can be a very nimble news organization, reporting in almost real time. This isn’t your father’s newspaper.

There’s another hyperlocal news group called The Examiner. They are not as granular as the Patch, having only an Atlanta edition that seems to cover the entire metro area. I’ve seen articles here about Alpharetta, but it certainly isn’t a focus.

Why is all this important? Because hyperlocal journalism on the internet has the potential to be a game changer. It could transform the way local news is gathered, presented and consumed. And with a larger internet company behind The Patch (albeit AOL), they could change the way news is indexed and searched. If you’re the publisher of a local print newspaper, you’d better be planning to be a much more agile organization. As a local blogger, I’m excited to welcome these guys to town and look forward to continuing the conversation!

Photo Credit: Matt Callow

The “New” BB’s Bagels, State Bridge Road

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

BB’s Bagels has become legendary in suburbia. They’ve been reviewed hundreds of times, have been on television and have even appeared in a rap video. The owners of this game-changing restaurant are taking advantage of this down economy and have opened a second location. Look for them on State Bridge Road between Jones Bridge and Kimball Bridge.

This review isn’t really about the food at the new location as it is nearly identical to the McFarland location. You can read one of the many reviews to learn about their grub. Years ago on Yelp I described their water-boiled bagels as being “better than sex with a Democrat.” I stand by that assessment.

So let’s talk about how the State Bridge location is different from McFarland. First, it doesn’t have the diner feel. If you’ve been to the McFarland BB’s on a Saturday morning you’ll know what I’m talking about. The place is loaded with ex-pats from New York, many who come from all over metro Atlanta to eat there. It is electric with energy. The staff are helpful if a bit surly at the same time. It all adds to the character of the place.

If you’re looking for that same character at the State Bridge location… you won’t find it. At least you won’t find it now. Maybe things will be different once more people find this new location.

The flow of the place is what I like to call a work-aurant. You order at the counter, get a number, sit down and get your own drinks and silverware. However, you will get table-side attention in a way that is similar to a well-run Chic-Fil-A. They will refill drinks table-side and remove plates as you finish. All in all, I don’t mind this flow. The take-out counter is right next to the main cash register, which makes entering the restaurant a little confusing, especially to newbies.

The space itself is very open and provides a good view into the kitchen. The water kettle and oven are visible through a glass wall. What might appear to be a patio dining area is really the dough prep space. My kids and I found a table next to this and watched them roll dough into bagels. It was more interesting than I thought it would be. The large hunks of dough resemble a side of beef. The men use knives to carve off baseball bats of bagel “meat”. They roll and shape in one motion. Very cool. The viewing windows kind of remind me of what Dutch Monkey Doughnuts has for kids to see behind the scenes. It kept my little monsters occupied for a long time. That’s a win.

All in all I liked the new place. If the State Bridge store is more convenient to you then by all means hit this place up. Will they make it here? I think so. The bagel business is getting very competitive, especially in east Alpharetta and Johns Creek. The second location of Bagel Boys is right around the corner. Essex Bagels (a cousin of BB’s) is not far away on 141. And there is also Brooklyn Bagels in Johns Creek and the ubiquitously disgusting Einsteins. I don’t think they all can survive in this market. Are these places even in the same league as BB’s? Fuhgeddaboudit!
BB's Bagels & Diner on Urbanspoon

Christmas in Alpharetta

The other night I was helping my wife with a marathon Christmas gift wrapping session. Something occurred to me while I was stuffing presents under the tree. I was running out of room for presents. They were stacked upon themselves, getting into the limbs of the tree itself and spilling out onto the living room floor. These were gifts for my family and some extended family, but nothing yet from Santa of course. Santa’s gifts are hidden in a closet yet to be delivered on his sleigh.

The sight of presents spilling out from under my tree was a very visual representation of our abundance here in the affluent burbs. We are all very blessed to live here. We’re lucky to be in a community that continues to add jobs in this economy. We’re fortunate to have the means to give generously to those we love at Christmas. Please don’t take that for granted. With everything that goes on in our busy suburban lives it’s easy to lose sight of it all.

Over the past year I’ve come to make some cool new acquaintances through my blog. I want to take the time to wish you all a Merry Christmas. And if you’re an Alpharetta relo who’s off to visit family back home, I wish you safe and grope-free travels on your journey.

Photo Credit: Allie Towers Rice

Alpharetta’s Most Likely Disaster

I’m pretty sure that an apocalyptic disaster is not likely to befall Alpharetta anytime soon. After all, we made it through the lunar eclipse/solstice double whammy this winter as well as the May 21st doomsday prediction. I’m not a fortune teller and I can’t predict the future, but I feel reasonably sure that I know what disaster is most likely to cause financial distress to Alpharetta. It isn’t what you think! First let’s review what we’re safe from before I get to the most dangerous threat posed to our little burb.

Hurricanes

Being so far inland and a thousand feet above sea level, hurricanes simply don’t pose a threat to us. Sure, from time to time one will strike the Florida panhandle and cause us grief. Worst thing that can happen is…

Floods

We’re fairly safe here as well. North Fulton lies on the Chattahoochee River, but we are just downstream from a dam designed to help in flood control. Big Creek spills its banks every few years but only poses a danger to homes in the immediate area.

Earthquakes

We’re not near any major fault lines. On rare occasions a tremor in the mountains might shake windows, but that’s it.

Terrorism

What about man-made disasters? I suppose anyone could be a target for terrorists. I’m no expert, but I’d imagine Alpharetta isn’t on Al Qaeda’s target list. What are they gonna do, plant IED’s on North Point and go after our minivans?

But there is one man-made disaster that could inflict significant damage to Alpharetta…

The Backhoe

In misguided hands, these machines can become instruments of financial mass destruction. Work with me here…

Alpharetta is home to several large data centers. Ever driven around town and noticed them? They can be hard to spot. You might see row upon row of chillers and diesel storage tanks. Most of the companies I feature on my monthly jobs report host mission-critical data centers right here in Alpharetta. These data centers are vital to everyday commerce for millions of Americans.

Tying it all together is a backbone of high speed fiber optic cabling. Disruption to this infrastructure, be it directly on the backbone or on a line leading onto a high-tech campus, could cause significant downtime to critical software hosted in Alpharetta. Downtime could mean unfulfilled financial transactions, many of which add up to millions of dollars. What might cause this type of disruption? One misguided scoop of a backhoe. Snap!

I’m being a little silly, yet serious at the same time because it’s happened before. In 2006 a backhoe mistakenly dug up a fiber optic cable in Arizona. Instantly long distance and wireless coverage for customers in the Rockies went down. Transcontinental internet traffic slowed to a crawl. Operators that relied on this single provider were digitally isolated.

Data centers live and die by building in redundant backups of systems. Hopefully they have multiple data lines going onto their property in different places. For example, the new T5 data center being constructed on Webb Bridge Road uses six fiber optic providers! The idea is that if one goes offline, there is a second in place to take over. But if this scenario happens, often routers, switches and other equipment are not capable of handling the additional load. It can be a nightmare, something that keeps IT guys awake at night. The lowly backhoe has become a symbol of what data center managers fear the most.

Given Alpharetta’s relatively safe location, I feel pretty confident with my assertion. Disruption of our high-speed data communications infrastructure is Alpharetta’s most serious potential disaster.

Photo credit: Senior Airman SerMae Lampkin, USAF

What’s in a Name? “Bethany Bend” High School

I went to A.P. Leto High School in suburban Tampa, Florida. Who was A.P. Leto? I haven’t the slightest clue. Did it matter much to the students? Not really. I suppose it would have been cool if our school was named for the geographic town or community in which we lived, but it wasn’t. Would we have formed a better community had the school been named differently? Probably not.

I got excited when I discovered this new local blog, the New Milton High School Blog run by Andy Young. (Seriously, I do get excited by new blogs). It’s about the new high school being built along Bethany Bend in Milton. Construction is progressing fast. Miltonites are starting to ponder names for the school, thus the new blog’s very focused theme. The author supports the notion that the new high school should have the word “Milton” somewhere in the name. Does it matter? What’s behind this idea?

New City Identity

I’ve written a few times about how I think Johns Creek and Milton struggle to establish identity for themselves. It manifests itself in issues like new zip codes. I think the high school is no different. The boundaries for the school have not been set but there is a good chance that most students will live within the city limits of Milton. I say most but I’ll bet you can find some from Alpharetta. Nevertheless, this is a chance for Miltonites to find yet another way to identify themselves. That might not be possible if the school were to be called something else.

Piggyback on the Milton HS Prestige

Let’s face it, Milton High School is an awesome school. They rank nationally in many areas; academics, athletics, arts, etc. It would be a bummer to have middle school-aged kids today, knowing that they might miss a chance to go to Milton HS. The next best thing might be to create a “North Milton” and “South Milton”. That’s an idea being kicked around on the blog. Which one gets which designation isn’t clear. I find it interesting that both schools are geographically east/west of each other. I don’t know why this north/south divide is popular now.

Would it be fair to the current Milton High School to change their name? The school has a rich history dating back to 1921, a little bit before the creation of the city of Milton (duh). After all, the school was named for Milton County. I’d imagine suggesting a name change of ninety year old school would be met with some resistance. That fight will be fun to watch from the sidelines.

Does it Really Matter?

High school is a formative time for children. Like I mentioned above, students will bond around their high school regardless of the name.

I contend that the new high school, whatever it is called, will be an academically terrific school. I wrote back in October that good parents raise smart kids which create good schools. That will most certainly be the case with the new school. The name or boundary are immaterial.

So what’s my take on the name? I don’t have an opinion one way or another. It will be interesting to see what political pressure the Milton residents bring over this, if any. Will it matter, considering that they realistically don’t get much of a say? At the end of the day I think parents will care more about how the district lines are drawn. I expect some in Milton will seek for the school’s boundaries to closely match those of Milton’s jagged city limits. It’s all about identity in Milton.

Alpharetta Jobs – December 2010

Around the middle of each month I survey the career websites of Alpharetta’s largest employers. I count the number of openings and tally them up here, trending the numbers month to month.

I have a little confession to make. I work for one of the companies listed here in my monthly report. Which one really isn’t important. Keep in mind I don’t work for HR or recruiting or anything. The reason I mention this is just to report on an observation. It seems that the mood around our office is turning much more optimistic. Are we hiring like gangbusters? Hardly, but we are hiring. I’m seeing fresh new faces among the cubicles every week. It’s encouraging and it’s a trend I think is reflected in these hard numbers.

Some notes about December’s numbers… I’ve been doing this for twelve months now. What started out as something just to fill a curiosity is turning into what I hope will be a barometer of the job market here locally. I also noticed that I’ve failed to report on a few larger employers in Alpharetta, namely Siemens, Traveler’s Insurance, Exide Technologies and T-SYS. They are included in this month’s numbers, which has contributed to a spike over November’s numbers. Without the addition of these four, my graph would be fairly flat over last month.

I’m considering adding more medium sized companies to this list starting in January. What can I say, I enjoy my monthly data mining exercise! If you know of a business you think I should add to the mix, let me know. I’d also like to hear from others who work for Alpharetta’s big businesses. Do you agree with my assessment, that the overall mood on the corporate  campus is positive? Leave me a comment or email me privately at lee@rootsinalpharetta.com

Alpharetta Jobs December 2010

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 67
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 46
ADP 64
E-Trade 22
Equifax 25
AT&T 11
Verizon 29
Radiant 13
HP 104
Infor 4
Phillips 8
Alcatel-Lucent 3
UPS 12
Siemens 49
Traveler's 19
Exide Technologies 10
T-SYS 20
Total 506

Tacone Flavor Grill – Windward

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

I don’t do wraps. They are usually too healthy and too boring to hold my attention. So why am I reviewing a place that is heavy on wraps and a franchise to boot? Because this is my series on Alpharetta’s lesser-known restaurants. Plus, Tacone actually has a decent burger.

Franchise sandwich and wrap joints are a dime a dozen around here. But with only one location in the area, Tacone doesn’t really feel like a franchise to me. They are based out of California and have a very thin presence in the southeast. Their menu is mostly wraps, grilled sandwiches on ciabatta bread and smoothies.

Every time I come here I head straight for the most unhealthy thing on the menu… the Angus Khan Burger! As the name would suggest, this is a burger made of angus meat, served on ciabatta bread and grilled. They use romaine lettuce, salad dressing and brie, which is an interesting combination that I enjoy. Sometimes the dressing makes the bread a little soggy but still pretty good. Angus meat is often too dry for burgers but still brings a ton of flavor. The ciabatta is crisp, adding a nice contrast in texture to the entire sandwich. It is an interesting burger, a change of pace that I like from time to time. It’s got a high-dollar burger feel at a somewhat affordable price tag.

They’ve got sweet potato fries which are pretty good, as  well as an assortment of sauces to complement the wraps. But I’ve got to come clean… all I ever order here is the burger. What can I say, I like to live dangerously.

Tacone is a little hard to find, buried in the double decker strip mall on Windward east of 400. The decor is a little too California for my tastes, and the pictures creep me out. But the place is well-managed with a very involved franchise owner.

So who should try Tacone? Skinny cubicle ladies looking for wraps packed with flavor… or perhaps greasy burger aficionados like yours truly who are looking for something a little different.

Tacone Flavor Grill & Catering on Urbanspoon

Rio Nuevo Cantina – North Point

Every Friday, Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday.

I’ve been reviewing restaurants in Alpharetta for three years now, here on my blog and before that on Yelp. Never in those three years have I witnessed a restaurant open with such negative reviews. Never. I’m stunned and amazed at the poor reception Rio Nuevo is getting online. As of right now they sport a 29% “like it” rating on Urban Spoon, well below the Mendoza Line of restaurants. Is it justified? Yes, mostly.

I hesitate to call this a review of the joint. I went there last Sunday night. Even though we had four adults and two children, it ended up that we didn’t order a lot of Mexican entrees. I hate to review them based on what we had. So let’s call this article an early observation. How about that? Here’s what I thought…

The Location

Famous Dave’s BBQ used to be here. Before that it was Houlihan’s. They’ve done a pretty good job building out the space. It is more open than the floor plan I remember from the previous two restaurants. Strangely enough, one of the first things I noticed was the chairs. They have the Rio Nuevo name etched into the wood in the back. My wife thought this was a chain based on that alone. Did they really go to the trouble of making fancy, custom chairs just for a concept restaurant? Apparently so.

And speaking of concept restaurant… I’ve heard that Rio Nuevo is from the creators of El Azteca. Explains a lot. Ubiquitous “Speedy Gonzalez” chain making a go at higher-end Mexican. Great. And doing it on North Point by the mall… Classic.

The Service

You’ll never find me slamming a new restaurant on service. There are always kinks to work out. Our service wasn’t perfect on Sunday, just a few little hiccups. If anything they were too attentive. The reviews on Urban Spoon talk of serious service problems on opening week. Nothing to hold against them I think. I did find it interesting that all the waiters were gringos.

The Food

I tried a mole dish, something which I have little experience eating. I ordered the most expensive of the three on the menu, hoping to taste a more complex assortment of flavors. I didn’t pick up on the chocolate or cinnamon, although my wife claimed to taste it. The chiles were there, but it lacked depth. The chicken they served it over was rather boring.

My wife ordered some kind of grilled chicken on mashed potatoes, which was flavorful but not Mexican at all. I’d order it again were it not for…

The Price

La cuenta, por favor. Ay, caramba!

I’ll agree with every other review of this place. It is expensive… really expensive. The kids meals don’t have a price on the menu. That’s because they are $7.95. And that 8 bucks of quesadilla didn’t fill up my three year old. Pretty sad.

Lunch prices run about $12. This is a big-time serious problem. Suburbanites have become accustom dirt cheap Mexican food, especially at lunch. It’s obvious that Rio Nuevo is trying to be more than a “Speedy Gonzalez” joint. I think they’re trying to be very high end, Buckhead trendy. If that’s the goal, they are missing the mark by a mile. They need to step up their game fast to keep from turning this space into a ghost town.

However, if they are aiming for a mid-tier Mexican feel, something along the lines of Cinco or Tara Humata, then they’ve got a shot. The quality of the food is similar to these restaurants. They just need to get the price and service in-line with these established restaurants. Rio Nuevo needs to solve this identity problem, pronto!

In the meantime, will I be back? Let me put it this way… I’m not coming back here with the kids again. That would make this a date night location. And if it is a date night location, then it’s way in the back of a long line of truly outstanding restaurants. So no, I probably will not be back.

Rio Nuevo Mexican Cantina on Urbanspoon

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