Archive - May, 2011

Alpharetta’s Worst Restaurant Locations

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

I like to read the blog Tomorrow’s News Today – Atlanta. It features articles on commercial real estate and restaurants. While most of the content is Atlanta-based, occasionally OTP eateries are mentioned. I’ll often banter in the comments when that happens.

The controversial part of this blog is the quarterly DeathWatch series. Predictions are made on which restaurants in Atlanta are likely to close. The blog has a history of being fairly accurate. Predictions are based on facts and reasoning that I think are sound. He’s not deliberately trying to be cruel, even if it comes across that way sometimes. And while I think I could do something similar in Alpharetta, I’m not going to. I don’t wish to invite karma over.

What’s the number one contributing factor to getting put on the death watch? It may be location. A poorly chosen location can give a restaurant a tough hurdle to overcome. I’ve given it some thought and have come up with some of Alpharetta’s worst locations for restaurants. Many of these have claimed multiple victims. Some are vacant and some have eateries struggling to hang on. Yet one of my spots is home to a thriving and hip joint. Go figure.

10595 Old Alabama Connector
Past Restaurants: Taco Stand(current), French Quarter Too, numerous others

I don’t get over to this part of town very often. When I do I almost never glance into this strip mall. It’s hard to make out who’s in here between the out parcels that face the road. Currently the Taco Stand is giving this space a go and had a somewhat rocky start. Bonus points if you can name all the past occupants of this space. I surely can’t.

52 North Main Street
Past Restaurants: 52 Bistro(current), Slice Cafe

This is an absolutely adorable converted home. It’s on par with the cute little restaurants that make Roswell so cool. 52 Bistro and Slice both went for that uppity ladies vibe which fits the space. The problem is location of course. The house isn’t visible from Main Street. Even the parking isn’t on Main. They’ve recently added a sign on the street but it’s shared by another business. Perhaps this place will thrive if Alpharetta can transform downtown into a pedestrian utopia. Unfortunately for 52 North Main, I think most of the walkers will be far south of here.

3070 Windward Plaza Suite P
Past Restaurants: Maryland’s Crabhouse, Loafing Leprechaun, Real Food and Horseradish Grill

I call this development on East Windward the double decker strip mall. It has the potential of holding over ten restaurants plus a few more in the little out parcel behind CVS (where Pig-N-Chik lived). Any restaurant that dares open in suite P is tempting fate. It’s a beautiful space with a nice full bar. Real Food and Loafing Leprechaun both had this place built out well yet failed. Of course it isn’t visible from Windward. And while there are a lot of cubicle dwellers in the vicinity, there is almost no business at nights or weekends. Anything opening on the rear portion of the double decker is at risk these days, not just suite P on the end.

11890 Douglas Road
Restaurant: Kozmo Gastropub

Not every poor location is doomed for failure. Douglas Road is a little back road to Windward, my favorite short cut to Johns Creek. Actually the restaurant doesn’t even face Douglas as the strip mall is perpendicular to the road. Nevertheless Kozmo is here, running one of the most successful and trendy restaurants in all of Alpharetta. Proof that exceptional cuisine can overcome the worst of locations.

I can think of a few other poor locations but I’ll leave it at these. What are Alpharetta’s other poor restaurant locations? In this economy, can anyone operate a successful restaurant in these locations?

 

City Hall’s Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost is the cost of any activity measured in terms of the best alternative forgone.

Remember economics class in college? It was about the second week of ECON 101 when most folks started to nod off. It was also when my professor began to teach the concept of opportunity cost. I’m sure this discussion of Alpharetta’s opportunity cost will be equally as boring.

The City of Alpharetta is going to ask residents to borrow $29 million to fund the downtown plans. Unfortunately at this time more granular figures are not available such as the actual cost of the city hall building or the parking deck. Perhaps this study is a bit premature but I’m going to go with it. Let’s first start with the borrowing.

$29 Million in Bonds

Mayor Arthur Letchas was quoted in the AJC saying, “Alpharetta residents can make this vision happen without paying a dime more in taxes than they do today.” This is a true statement… sort of. The city collects $6.5 million per year to service bond debt. Next year’s debt service would only cost $2.1 million. Yet if the city doesn’t borrow, millage rates for debt service could be reduced. So yes, the mayor isn’t raising your property tax, but he also isn’t lowering it.

What Will $29 Million Buy?

Let’s suppose that instead of a new downtown and city hall, Alpharetta decided to spend $29 million somewhere else. What could that buy? Back in March the city submitted a wish list of road improvement projects to the Atlanta Roundtable for consideration under the Transportation Investment Act. Let’s go shopping on this list! For $19 million the city could widen Rucker Road and add bike lanes and landscaping. Or how about Kimball Bridge? $21 million will widen this road. Do you enjoy the greenway? $11 million will take it north to the Forsyth County line. There are some smaller ticket items on this list as well. My point is that there is an opportunity cost to spending all the money downtown.

City Hall

Again, it is tough at this point to pin a cost on city hall itself. Given the total downtown pricetag of $29 million, my gut feeling is that Alpharetta is overpaying for the city hall building. In 2001 the City of Cumming spent just $5 million on a 45,000 square foot city hall. It far exceeded their needs at the time. Adjusted for inflation, that number probably would be closer to $8 million today. In 2007 Duluth spent $13 million for a glitzy new 43,000 square foot city hall. Alpharetta wants a 47,000 square foot building.

And for what it’s worth… Milton and Johns Creek still don’t have city hall buildings. Both are operating out of leased space in cubicle land. I’m sure it sucks writing rent checks though. My point is that these cities have very unglamorous city halls yet they still manage to keep their cities running.

I’m not advocating against a new city hall as Alpharetta does indeed need a new one. Let’s just keep things in perspective here.

Parking Deck

Again, we don’t yet know the cost of this. The deck will have 450 parking spaces. I asked Councilman Chris Owens how much land would be required to build a 450-space parking lot. It was a rough estimate so don’t hold him to this, but he estimated about four or five acres. It will be interesting to see the justification of the parking deck knowing this. Killing the deck would reduce a lot of green space but has the potential to shave millions off the overall cost. Would residents rather see this money spent on another park elsewhere in the city? It’s opportunity cost.

So there you have it. I’m sure we could do more once actual figures are available for the individual components of the plan. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the plan. Technically I’m a Forsyth resident so I’m not paying for this, right? I just think Alpharetta voters need to consider the potential opportunities they’ll pass up. The city needs to do something about downtown and city hall, I just don’t think they need to spend all $29 million downtown. The best solution is somewhere in the middle. I’d start with a more reasonable city hall and debate the necessity of a parking deck. Residents might have the possibility of a new downtown AND a small tax cut. Or how about a downtown AND a new road or park.

Downtown Alpharetta Plans – Some Early Thoughts

Last night the City of Alpharetta released their downtown Alpharetta plans… again. I was not at the council meeting so I’m still digesting the information. You can see some sketches on the city’s website at www.alpharetta.ga.us/downtownproject .

My early thoughts are:

No Condos! I’m stunned and pleasantly surprised not to see small condos all over this plan. I’m sure some are coming in the land surrounding this (such as the land adjacent to First Baptist Church). I figured the city would have set aside a small space, added up the total number of acres including green space, multiplied by ten and slammed that many condos in the small space. Refreshing not to see that at this time.

Retail is TDB - There is still a lot of “future development” on the sketches. I would have liked to see proposals on this, other than big shadows. It seems that for now there is no private development in this plan.

Washington, DC – I think the plan looks like Washington DC. With a long pond and big white buildings at the ends, the sketch is made to appear very much like a capitol city. Maybe this is on purpose?

Haynes Bridge Reroute – We knew this was coming. I don’t have a problem moving the street so as not to break up the parks. From what I understand, the city wants highway 9 to be rerouted along Westside Parkway, which should reduce traffic downtown. I’d like to see traffic studies on this plan. Currently commuters leave GA-400 at exit nine and come north on Hayes Bridge through downtown and north on Main Street. Will a completed Westside Parkway successfully divert traffic away from downtown? For the sake of this plan, I hope so.

Cost – The city will ask Alpharetta taxpayers to borrow $29 million for this plan. Keep in mind that Fulton County will be building the library, not the city. Also remember that the city already owns the land so there is no real estate acquisition in these figures. This money will go towards construction costs of city hall, the parking deck and creating the green space. That’s a lot of money. It’s also the maximum the city can borrow without raising the millage rate. I’ll write more on city hall’s opportunity cost later this week. I don’t believe the city should max out its credit card for this project.

Other than cost and the traffic study, I don’t have any early complaints about this plan. Downtown Alpharetta is struggling. This plan should go a long way toward helping.

Poquito’s Cantina – Alpharetta

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

It’s always tough to review one of Rob Forest’s restaurants. The guy’s a hands-on entrepreneur and is always tweaking stuff. Case in point, my lunch at Poquito’s on Wednesday. By that afternoon Rob had changed a menu offering thus rendering a part of my review out of date before I’d even written it.

And of course he flipped this restaurant space almost overnight. As I mentioned last week in this column, Rob decided to close his gastropub concept called Tifosi and open a cantina in a blink of an eye. It was a bold move considering Alpharetta’s legendary Pure Taqueria is within walking distance of this joint. Nevertheless, now we have Poquito’s Cantina.

Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. The menu at Poquito’s is refreshingly simple. Unlike Erwoods or Tifosi, I can take one look at this menu and know exactly what they’re trying to be. It’s a slightly higher end taco stand. You’ll find mostly tacos organized by protein, build your own quesadillas and hand made guacamole. Most everything on the menu is a-la carte, right down to the rice and beans.

Some of my fellow cubicle dwellers joined my wife and I to give Poquito’s a try. Between us all we sampled nearly every taco on the menu. We were disappointed in almost all of them. The pork, while tender, was dry. The blackened fish didn’t taste blackened. The chicken lacked flavor and was one-dimensional. The buffalo shrimp, ordered medium, packed way too much heat. I’m glad I ate this last.

All in all it was a complete miss on kitchen execution. A menu like this should feature powerful flavors and contrasting textures all in a small package. There are other joints in town doing this very well including Cheeky’s, the nicer Mexican joints like Tara Humata and Cinco’s, and of course the aforementioned Pure Taqueria.

In the meantime, the restaurant looks good with some minor changes to appearance over Tifosi. They’ve built out a nice little patio that might make a fun happy hour hangout. Just give their kitchen more time to get this concept put together. Come back in a few months.

Poquito’s Cantina is located at 102 South Main Street in downtown Alpharetta. Look for them where the old KCF Tifosi Gastropub used to be.

Containment Area for Relocated Yankees

Recently I spent a Saturday in Cary, North Carolina visiting some friends. If you’re not familiar with this suburb, allow me to make a comparison. Alpharetta is to Atlanta as Cary is to Raleigh. If Alpharetta were looking for a sister city, Cary would be a good choice. They are an affluent burb of mostly relos. Cary is also home to some high tech companies such as SAS and Verizon. But unlike Alpharetta, Cary can boast a clever backronym!

I appreciate the humor and satire behind Cary’s backronym. In a lot of respects it is a fair characterization, something that could probably be said of Alpharetta too. But looking deeper I believe it reflects a negative attitude towards relos. And while I don’t see much of it today, some of Alpharetta’s indigenous residents feel animosity towards relos. You’ll occasionally see negative comments in local blogs or places like the AJC’s vent column.

Those who move here and are only critical of Alpharetta may be deserving of some scorn. After all, no one forced anyone to relocate here. You’re certainly free to gripe about things like traffic, uppity tennis moms or high density development. I should know, I’ve done my fair share of it! But when you gripe, please do so constructively.You’re not going to win any friends by hating on Alpharetta and talking about how life was so much better in Poughkeepsie.

At the same time, lumping all relos into this bucket isn’t fair. Most relos I know are very happy to be here. We’ve come to work in a thriving local economy and raise kids in terrific schools. Blaming all the woes of the world on relos, transplants or Yankees isn’t helping anything. And to be frank, treating neighbors like this isn’t becoming of a Southerner.

So I hope I haven’t offended everyone. Treat your neighbors with respect, even the transplanted northerners. And don’t complain about every little detail about life in our little burb. Instead put your efforts towards something more constructive, like coming up with a ten-letter backronym that spells “A-L-P-H-A-R-E-T-T-A.”

Alpharetta Jobs – May 2011

Around the middle of each month I survey the career websites of Alpharetta’s biggest employers. I tabulate the numbers in this monthly column and trend the figures month-to-month. The goal is to create a barometer of hiring trends in Alpharetta.

This month saw overall numbers remain close to April’s figures with 730 openings. ADP increased their openings to 85, the most I’ve seen since I started tracking them a year and a half ago. E-Trade, Verizon, and Research in Motion also added openings this month. If you’re looking for work in the information technology field, I’d be knocking on these doors.

I cannot measure from where Alpharetta’s employers are hiring. It is my general sense that many openings are being filled internally or with formerly downsized employees. That’s just a hunch based on my experience and from talking to friends who work for some of these companies. I’d be interested to hear from people testing Alpharetta’s job market. Are you getting responses from your resume?

Largest Employers in Alpharetta - May 2011

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 89
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 49
ADP 85
E-Trade 47
Equifax 23
AT&T 7
Verizon 48
Radiant 28
HP 87
Alcatel-Lucent 1
UPS 12
Siemens 60
Traveler's 4
T-SYS 12
Total 552

Mid-Sized Employers in Alpharetta - May 2011

Company Number of Jobs
Research in Motion 38
Ciena 18
RedPrairie 30
Exide Technologies 10
Ryder 26
Phillips 4
Outcomes Health 0
New York Life 2
GXS/Inovis 7
Infor 13
Hanjin Shipping 3
Scientific Games 6
VeriFone 6
AIG 7
Farmer's Insurance 0
LaFarge 7
Crown Castle 1
Total 178

New/Closed Restaurants – May 2011

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

Before I begin, allow me a quick shout out to Kelly, who I met before yesterday’s Taste of Alpharetta. Thanks for reading and for the kind words about my Foodie Friday column.

Some closures and transformations to report this month. Don’t blink ’cause Alpharetta’s restaurant scene is changing fast!

Tifosi Gastropub – Closed

Yeah, you read that right. Why can’t Alpharetta’s restaurant goers embrace the gastropub concept? But I wouldn’t really call Tifoso a closure. They are reopening as…

Poquitos Cantina

Almost literally overnight the management of Tifosi decided to change course. The staff, including Chef Trevor, still seem a little shell shocked about the decision. They are reopening today as a cantina/taqueria. At Taste of Alpharetta they featured a few menu items including a Korean pork taco. Look for a review here on Roots soon.

Café Efendi – Closed

Word on the street was that Cafe Efendi was looking to relocate to Main Street. They closed their location on Old Roswell Street last week. Still no word on when or where they will relocate, or if for that matter. I hope to see them reappear somewhere soon. In the meantime, the next tenants are not wasting time transforming the old home. They are…

La Casa Italian Grill – Alpharetta

If you’re familiar with the Sugar Hill/Buford area then you might know of Cardamuro’s Italian Cafe. The chef/owner of this restaurant, Pasquale Cardamuro, is packing up and heading for the Cafe Efendi spot in Alpharetta. They promise to deliver authentic Italian cuisine with homemade sauces and breads. Many Italian joints promise authenticity but few deliver here in the burbs. Let’s see how La Casa stacks up. Stay tuned.

Elements Coffee – Closed

Please please quit going to Starbucks and support independent coffee shops! Elements closed at the end of April. Sad to see them go.

Good Grub Subs – South Forsyth

I love the name of this new sub shop on Highway 9 in south Forsyth. Menu looks to be straight up subs using Boar’s Head meats. They also have gluten free hoagies.

The Youth Service Project

I recently hired a baby sitter, an eighth grader that goes to my church. She seems to be a responsible young lady. I also know her mother and family so there’s some trust built in. This in and of itself is nothing worthy of writing about. More on the baby sitting later.

The mission work my baby sitter performs is very much worthy of a story. This summer she will join many other youth from our congregation to travel to one of a handful of service projects. Our youth work their tails off in challenging environments including the Katrina-damaged Mississippi and Louisiana coasts, various destinations in Appalachia and some inner-city work. A typical project might be to help remodel a home. This trip ain’t Club Med. It’s valuable work to those on the receiving end of the generosity, but there is something more valuable to be taken away from this.

I often worry about the children that grow up in very affluent suburbs such as Alpharetta. It’s easy for adults to realize how fortunate we are to live here, yet kids raised in this lifestyle may have a jaded sense of reality. Our kids attend amazing schools, get cars when they turn 16, have iPhones and $300 hand bags. Atypical? Of course but if you were born and raised here, it’s normal right?

It’s why I’m a big fan of youth service projects. I want these kids out there, working hard, sweating and learning to be servant leaders to someone in great need. They need to witness destruction, poverty and despair; words we don’t say much in affluent Alpharetta. More than anything, they need to learn to respond to God’s love and grace by helping those in need.

So how does baby sitting play into this? Not only do our youth work hard on these projects, they take on some of the cost themselves. It would be easy for our church to pick up the entire cost of the trip (we pay for a lot of it). But the kids will find themselves invested in the project before it even begins if they are footing some of the costs. So here in the Spring they are serving our congregation with projects to raise a few bucks. I won the baby sitting in an auction and am looking forward to using it on a date night with my wife. I’ve got the easy part in all this.

If you’ve chosen Alpharetta as a place to raise your kids then you made a great choice. If you’re not getting your kids plugged into a youth program with service projects like this then shame on you!

Taste of Alpharetta 2011 – A Preview

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

Taste of Alpharetta is next week! If you’ve never been, let me paint you a picture. Imagine sixty thousand of your closest friends, simultaneously jay walking on Old Milton Parkway while eating pork sliders.

The Tweetup

Before I get to my preview of the event, let me invite you to a little event before the event. We’re having a tweetup at Tifosi Gastropub from 5:00 to 6:00. Don’t expect anything fancy here, just a chance to meet some folks and enjoy an adult beverage prior to the festival of eating. Tifosi is the perfect location for this as they are very close to the shuttle pickup points. And if you’ve never been to Tifosi, it’s worth a visit. If you’d like more information on the tweetup, email me, leave a comment or visit our RSVP page at http://twtvite.com/tasteofalpharetta . Come on by and introduce yourself!

A Preview

Taste of Alpharetta is like a slice of Alpharetta’s overall restaurant scene. You’ve got to navigate through a lot of chain restaurant junk to find the gems. I’ve looked through the restaurant list this year and have created this list of must-try booths…

Tasca Latin Bistro – Of all the new restaurants to open this year, Tasca excites me the most. I’ve yet to visit their restaurant, but I’ll make a bee-line for their booth once I get to the event.

Milton’s – By far the best fine dining in north Fulton. Milton’s always comes to Taste of with high expectations of winning. Last year their portions were small but packed a ton of flavor. Spend your tickets here. Get one of everything they offer, whatever it may be. You won’t be disappointed. Last year I shamelessly went back for seconds, then thirds of their shrimp and grits. Or maybe it was fourths.

Tifosi / Erwood’s – These two new sister restaurants will be there, probably in the same booth. I haven’t heard what they are bring to the event, but I expect it to impress. These restaurants have a lot of potential.

Sage / The Diner Northpoint – Also sister restaurants. Neither turn me on in real life, but I was impressed with what they brought to Taste of last year. Worth a ticket.

Sip Wine and Tapas – They disappointed me last year with pre-made food that fell short. But on reputation alone, this place is worth a try.

Wildflour – Alpharetta’s undisputed sandwich king. Like many they fell into the pork slider trap last year, although theirs was delicious. I hope they make a fish sandwich of some kind this year.

Cuzi Fresh – I’m not a huge fan of this Old Milton eatery. I mention them here because they have won awards at this event in years past. Worth a look for sure.

Smokejack – Easily the best barbecue you will find at the event. Williamson Brothers from Marietta is sticking their nose in Taste of events in our neck of the woods. They were at Taste of Forsyth a few weeks ago. Their smoker will be pouring out heavenly aroma I’m sure. But given their distance from Alpharetta, I’m calling a party foul. Stick with Smokejack for your Q at this event.

TRE Vietnamese – Another newcomer to Alpharetta. I’ll blow a few tickets here to test other parts of their menu. You might also try their competitor, Nahm Thai, who will also be at the event.

Pappadeaux – This is Alpahretta after all, so you should hit one chain restaurant. I’ll admit to liking Pappadeaux. Last year they had crawfish etouffee. I love me some mudbugs. If you’ve got extra tickets to blow, this is your place.

There are so many others worth mentioning. I’d also consider Jilly’s Cupcakery, Madras Chettinaad for Indian, Village Tavern or Olde Blind Dog and Durty Kellys for Irish grub. You might even find something delicious at the cartering outfits there or the Publix cooking school. Enjoy!

Taste of Alpharetta is May 12, 2011 from 5:00 until 10:00 along Old Milton Parkway near Wills Park.

Downtown Alpharetta Dealbreakers

The City Council of Alpharetta is about to reveal their plans for downtown. Up until this point the public has not been invited to the party even though the city is already executing on a plan. But that’s another article.

I’m very much in favor of a renewed downtown Alpharetta. Our current scene downtown is embarrassing and pitiful. So I’m likely to support the initiative, with a few gotchas…

No New Taxes

Read my lips. Don’t raise the millage rate or reduce the homestead exemption to make this happen. Given that this is an election year, and with tea party activism what it is, I don’t think this will happen.

Don’t Borrow Money

This article on the Patch suggests that the city could borrow up to $29 million without raising taxes. Can planers pull this off without using other people’s money? I doubt it.

Density

Don’t fill downtown with hundreds of small condos. Mixed use development downtown is fine, and I might be ok with a limited number of townhomes. But don’t transform downtown Alpharetta into a dense, urban environment. Given past experience with this council, this sadly is my expectation.

A Palace of Government

The city needs a new city hall. I won’t argue that point. But the city needs to proceed with caution here. Please don’t propose an expensive and grand palace of government. We like limited government here, right?

I’m sure there will be a lot to say starting next week. I’m likely to support a plan that won’t increase taxes and density. It’s really that simple. In the meantime, would anyone like to take a guess at how many new condos the city will propose next week?

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