Archive - July, 2011

MyFavEats – A Review

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

For a few months now you might have seen table tents on Alpharetta-area restaurants touting a service called MyFavEats. And if you’re like me, you probably dismissed the service, perhaps thinking of it as the deal website dejour.

Curiosity got the better of me so I googled MyFavEats. Soon I learned that Alpharetta-based Radiant Systems was behind this start-up. That was enough to get me on the hook. Here’s a local creation that combines current technology with food. That’s right up my alley! I installed the app on my Android smartphone and have been using it for a few weeks now.

The fact that Radiant is behind MyFavEats is significant. They make point-of-sale hardware and software applications used in stores, gas stations and restaurants. So essentially they are already in the back of the restaurant, now they’re trying to put their technology in the hands of the consumers. If they can successfully merge the two, they have the chance to present unique opportunities to both restaurateur and foodie. More on this in a bit.

To the end user, MyFavEats is like a restaurant loyalty card combined with a daily deal site. Using location-aware mobile technology you check-in, registering your visit and marking off another notch on your virtual loyalty card. Much like physical card-based systems, a certain number of visits earns you a free meal or a discount depending on the restaurant involved.

What peaked my interest as an Alpharetta-area restaurant customer is the number of locations participating. The GA-400 corridor is the first testbed for MyFavEats.  I found it easy to locate restaurants offering free daily specials or first check-in deals, cashing in on three half off deals in under a week.

Wanting to learn even more, I reached out to Radiant and their Vice President for Strategic Development, Chris Lybeer. We discussed the technology over lunch at a participating MyFavEats restaurant in Alpharetta.

Lybeer explained that MyFavEats was hatched at the ATDC technology incubator on the campus of Georgia Tech. Radiant’s goal, in some respects, is to create a dossier on your dining habits at a restaurant. By linking a consumer’s visit to their order in the point-of-sale system, the restaurant can learn about their individual likes and preferences. Sales and promotions can be uniquely targeted.

You might be concerned about privacy but consider this; your grocery store or pharmacy is collecting similar information with their sale cards. MyFavEats is similar. Imagine this scenario… using their inventory software, a restaurant realizes they have excess tilapia fillets in their fridge. They pull up a list of frequent customers and discover that Lee eats a lot of fish sandwiches at lunchtime (which is true). They ping me with a special sale on fish sandwiches.

By linking hand-held technology to the point-of-sale terminal in a restaurant, Radiant can offer much more than sales to restaurant patrons. How about the ability to review your order on your smartphone or even pay the bill? It’s pretty easy to do when the mobile technology syncs with the back office. It’s all coming soon from the smart minds at Georgia Tech.

The technology is still pretty new and they’ve got some snags to work out. I experienced some software defects while trying to redeem prizes at a few restaurants. The application is still in a beta testing period at the moment so be patient. Yet Alpharetta-area restaurant goers have a unique opportunity to be first adopters with MyFavEats. The deals are free and numerous.

What Happened to Manning Oaks Elementary?

Meet Manning Oaks Elementary School, a beautiful school on Cumming Street named after a historic Alpharetta family. In 2008 the school was named a Georgia School of Excellence for student achievement. Today is a far different story.

For the second year in a row Manning Oaks has failed to meet adequate yearly progress, or AYP. This is a key measure outlined by The No Child Left Behind Act. Schools that fail to meet AYP for two consecutive years are lumped into a bucket identified as “schools in need of improvement.” They are subject to immediate intervention by the state.

It’s downright embarrassing that a school in Alpharetta would carry such a dubious distinction. What went wrong? There are probably a hundred factors that contributed to the fall of Manning Oaks. Keep in mind that I’m no educator, but I’ve got an idea.

The Manning Oaks School District

Kids that attend Manning Oaks are from a geographic area that is roughly defined as west of GA-400 and east of GA-9 in Alpharetta. This area, over the years, has become Alpharetta’s corridor of apartments, condos and dense housing. Let’s take a look at what you’ll find in this school district.

On the far north end, Manning Oaks draws kids from apartments and condos in Milton along Webb and Morris Roads. It includes condos off Windward near Costco and densely packed neighborhoods along North Main and Henderson Parkway. Next you’ll get apartments and condos near the school on Cumming Street. Academy Street to the south is loaded with apartments, duplexes and condos. More apartments can be found off Old Milton and Westside Parkways in addition to some condos on South Main. They all go to Manning Oaks. And don’t forget that the future Peridot and Prospect Park projects are also in the Manning Oaks district.

Manning Oaks, with its declining test scores, contains perhaps the greatest concentration of apartments, condos and high density development of any elementary school around. In my opinion the correlation between test scores and development like this is no coincidence. Most educators will agree that apartments and rental dwellings attract transient families that don’t get involved with the schools.

The educated professions that Alpharetta lured to relocate here are the reason behind our high caliber schools. I wrote about this last year and I still believe it to be true. These relos raised smart kids and got involved in their schools. You see the result of this today. It’s also a self-fulling prophecy. Our outstanding schools are a driver to attract more to relocate here.

Alpharetta is urbanizing by approving high-density projects and changing land use plans to encourage more. Some planners believe the city should strive to attract a different type of person to relocate here. There are severe consequences to this. What’s happened to Manning Oaks is the first example. The adjacent schools are likely the next to experience a downturn in test scores. The end result could be a spiraling decline in scores that may hurt our ability to attract and retain families and businesses. It need not be this way.

Libraries or E-book Readers?

I envision having a conversation like this one day with my grandkids:

Lee III: Granddaddy, what were “libraries”?
Me: They were government-funded book sharing entitlement schemes. Taxpayers borrowed money to build libraries. You’re paying for them now.
Lee III: Granddaddy! You’re being a grumpy old curmudgeon again.
Me: They were big buildings with books. You could borrow them.
Lee III: You could borrow the buildings?
Me: No, the books! <unintelligible grumblings>
Lee III: Oh yeah, a library! Like Alexandria in the third century BC? How quaint.
Me: Yeah, except we were still building them in 2011.
Lee III: You still had books in 2011? I thought Alpharetta was a high-tech city?

Smart grand kids I’ve got there, huh?

I continue to follow the public comments on Alpharetta’s downtown plans as they pour in. By far my favorite came as a tweet from Rob Forrest. Rob is a real estate developer, restauranteur and IT startup guy. I’m going to paraphrase his idea a little. First, some background…

The Fulton County library system is set to build a new Alpharetta branch on land donated from the city as part of their downtown vision. The library system will spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $24 million for this branch. The funds come from a bond approved by Fulton County voters back in 2008. This $24 million is in addition to the $29 million the city of Alpharetta wants to pour into downtown.

So what was Rob’s idea?

e-Book Readers for All!

It would cost just shy of $8 million to buy an Amazon Kindle e-Book reader for every man, woman and child in Alpharetta. Based on the 2010 census, you’d need 57,551 devices at $139 each. Sure, that doesn’t include the cost of the books, but if we’ve got $24 million to play with, that still leaves a staggering $16 million after paying for the devices.

Now before you label me a library hater, keep in mind that this is somewhat of an academic discussion. We still need libraries. Yet technology is making obsolete just about every form of physical media, including books. And not only that, the devices themselves are quickly becoming commodities. I wouldn’t be surprised if e-Book readers are soon offered for free, with manufacturers earning their money on content sales and subscriptions.

Rob’s comments on the library put the cost into a creative new perspective. I attempted to do this with the $29 million downtown pricetag back in May when I wrote about city hall’s opportunity cost. We’re talking about significant chunks of money with Alpharetta’s downtown plans.

It makes me laugh to hear politicians talk about how high-tech Alpharetta’s new library will be. It’s ironic considering such an alternative is available at a fraction of the cost. So yes, Alpharetta does need a new library. But more than that, Alpharetta needs leaders that can be creative thinkers and innovators. I expect more coming from such a high-tech city.

Photo Credit: Tsgreer (public domain)

Show me the Money – Campaign Contributions

It’s still pretty early in the 2011 city elections, but I’m chomping at the bit to write about this stuff. Campaign contribution reports from the period ending June 30th are now available online. Most candidates are not even raising funds at this point, but a few are, and some of the data might surprise you. I’ll circle around to this stuff again in early October when the next batch of disclosures come out.

Show Me The Money!

I’m focusing only on city elections in Alpharetta, Milton and Johns Creek. You can see the full disclosures at the Georgia Ethics Commission webpage. I’m only going to mention candidates that have reported contributions this year, both in the March and June reports. I’ll also mention candidates that have cash in reserve from future campaigns. I’ve tried to be accurate with this information, but errors and omissions are possible. Consult the ethics website for the full reports.

David Belle Isle

He’s the leader in fundraising thus far, bringing in $6,081 in contributions this year. By the end of June he’d spent it all in addition to some money he lent his campaign. His biggest contribution is $1,500 from Solomon Senior Living Holdings. They are the folks behind the Dogwood Forest senior living facility on North Main Street in Alpharetta.

Lance Large

Mr. Large is a candidate for Milton City Council post 6, the seat currently held by Alan Tart. Large works for WK Dickson, a firm which performs infrastructure projects (including wastewater collection and treatment projects. Humm).

The word “large” could also describe his campaign at this point. He’s in second place on our list, raising $4,375 in contributions thus far. He’s also loaned himself $10,000. It’s worth noting that 63% of his itemized contributions have come from outside the state of Georgia.

Good people of Milton, pay keen attention to this guy.

Jim Paine

He’s only received one contribution at this point, but his campaign for mayor is just now underway.

War Chests

I cannot find any other candidates for city office that have raised funds at this point. However, DC Aiken transferred over more than $6,000 from a previous campaign. That’s not a terribly bad war chest. Cheryl Oakes reported a little less than $1,000 remaining in her accounts.

Alpharetta Restaurant News – July 2011

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

The summer of 2011 continues to be an extraordinary one for new restaurants in Alpharetta. This food blogger is having a tough time keeping up. Let’s get right to it.

Dulce Chocolat – Old Milton

Alpharetta is about to get a fine chocolatier. Dulce Chocolat has plans to open in September on Old Milton Parkway. Their website is a little sparse at this point, and they promise a facebook page. That’s about all I know but plan to bring my readers more. I believe there is room in Alpahretta for such a shop. Their nearest serious competition would be The Chocolaterie at the Avenue Forsyth.

Scootz Gourmet Grill – South Forsyth

These guys quietly opened recently on Highway 9 in the stripmall with Good Grub Subs and the former Cici’s Pizza. No website is available at this time but they have a menu posted on Urbanspoon. They offer soups, salads, several burgers and some Italian entrees.

Twisted Taco Express – Windward

I first learned of this joint on the blog of the restaurant broker who closed the deal. They are set to open next to Wildflour in the old WOW Wings locations. I looked into the shop yesterday and it appears that they are just now beginning the the demo and buildout. My guess is that they are a few months away. They might be successful simply because of their space next to Wildflour. On days they are bursting at the seams, perhaps Twisted will get overflow customers.

The Coffee Pot – Downtown Alpharetta

Hardly a new coffee shop. This joint is making news by offering liquor with their coffee. The Revue & News has a good article about their concept. This is a great idea in a great location, especially if downtown gets a facelift. I’m in favor of anything that gives local coffee shops a leg up over that chain from Seattle.

 

An Alpharetta Soap Opera

Allow me to write a bit of fiction today. Surely a soap opera like this would never happen in Alpharetta politics.

Imagine you’re a high school kid with a steady girlfriend. Let’s call her Jenny. The senior prom is approaching and you’ve got a pretty safe bet for a date with Jenny. However, a much more attractive girl recently transferred to school. We’ll call her Veronica. You’re considering asking Veronica to the prom, as are other boys. You ponder it a bit and decide that you have a “very high level of interest” in asking her.

It’s a tough problem. If you ask Veronica then you must immediately break up with Jenny. If you wait until the last minute to ask Veronica, then Jenny will likely not have a chance to find a date herself. This isn’t fair to her nor is it fair to others who might want to ask Jenny out. Then again, you have some lingering doubt over asking Veronica for fear that she might reject you, leaving you without a date at all. What’s a guy to do?

You hatch a plan. You decide to tell Jenny of your possible interest in asking Veronica to the prom. Surely she’ll understand. You want to give her the opportunity to find someone else before it is too late to do so. You figure this is the honorable thing to do, plus it still preserves any future courtship opportunities with Jenny. However, your friends protest. They wish to have your blessings to ask Jenny to the prom without you returning to the picture. You make a promise to firmly decide two weeks before the prom, giving everyone ample opportunity to make plans while you work through your indecision.

In the end, your attempt to do the honorable thing comes off appearing opportunistic and may undermine your credibility with girls in the future. The truly honorable thing would be to break up with Jenny now, then make the manly and confident move to ask Veronica to the prom. So man up and do it!

Alpharetta Jobs – July 2011

Around the middle of each month the career websites of Alpharetta’s largest employers are queried. The number of jobs advertised are tallied and trended month-to-month. The results are published to the Roots in Alpharetta blog and used by permission in the Appen Newspapers. This month’s numbers were tabulated on July 18th. All attempts were made to maintain accuracy but some errors are possible.

Siemens added more job openings than any other large employer in Alpharetta with 75 listed on their website. Other companies with gains were T-SYS, Traveler’s, Verizon and Red Prairie.

Governor Nathan Deal visited McKesson recently to speak about Georgia’s leadership in technology. Also in the news is the announcement from Radiant that they will be acquired by NCR for $1.2 billion in cash. It’ll be interested to see if Gwinnett-based NCR consolidates offices after the acquisition. Radiant has large offices in Alpharetta and south Forsyth.

Largest Employers in Alpharetta - July 2011

Company Number of Jobs
McKesson 95
LexisNexis/Choicepoint 49
ADP 57
E-Trade 49
Equifax 23
AT&T 6
Verizon 70
Radiant 22
HP 49
Alcatel-Lucent 1
UPS 10
Siemens 75
Traveler's 12
T-SYS 24
Total 542

Mid-Sized Employers in Alpharetta - July 2011

Company Number of Jobs
Research in Motion 6
Ciena 6
RedPrairie 43
Exide Technologies not available
Ryder 16
Phillips 13
Outcomes Health 0
New York Life 1
GXS/Inovis 6
Infor 13
Hanjin Shipping 1
Scientific Games 12
VeriFone 3
AIG 6
Farmer's Insurance 0
LaFarge 5
Crown Castle 1
Total 132

Tasca Latin Bistro – Johns Creek

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

Tasca’s been on my to-try list for many months now. As my birthday approached this year, I began dropping hints to my wife. Tasca was my first choice for a birthday dinner date. I had high expectations given the chef’s background and some early reviews. I’d say those expectations were half met.

Before Tasca this spot was home to another Latin restaurant called Sazon Grill. They didn’t last long but I recall they put a lot of money into decor. Sazon’s loss was Tasca’s gain as the place looks very similar. It’s classy inside and somewhat casual at the same time. They’ve expanded the bar yet at the time of this writing still don’t serve liquor. They make up for it with a decent beer and wine list.

I don’t often drink beer, but when I do, I prefer $2 import specials on a Saturday night. Indeed it’s true and it took me by surprise. But on a Saturday night they had imported beer from Guatemala on tap for two bucks. That’s hard to pass up. Their sangria is also refreshing and competitively priced. Stay thirsty my friends.

Tasca’s menu is almost evenly divided between tapas and entrees. I started with the scallop ceviche. It’s the perfect summertime appetizer. The scallops, tender and succulent, were swimming in a cool but spicy jalapeno sauce. A bit of roasted corn rounded it out. I’d order it again and again.

My wife tried the tortilla crusted mahi. They use red tortillas which make for a beautiful presentation. I found the fish to be a little too firm for my liking. My wife thought the roasted garlic in the sauce overpowered the entire dish.

My entree, seafood paella, fell flat. They use long grain rice, which isn’t terribly bad but isn’t something I’m accustomed to with this dish. It also lacked that layer of toasted rice that makes paella delectable. The shrimp, scallops and mussels were cooked properly as were the veggies. But in the end, this was just saffron rice cooked in fish stock.

Other Tasca reviews I’ve read mention the young wait staff. Our waiter was a teenager which set me back at first. But I found him to be prompt when necessary, surprisingly knowledgeable of the menu and even a bit funny.

Would I go back to Tasca? Probably so. There’s enough on the menu to hold my interest for a few more visits. If you hurry you can take advantage of a Scout Mob deal for Tasca that’s worth $20 off… or put another way, that’s ten Guatemalan beers!

Tasca Latin Bistro is located at 10970 State Bridge Road in Johns Creek.

Tasca Latin Bistro on Urbanspoon

Evolution of the Playset

When I was growing up the lucky kids had metal swing sets. Remember these? They had metal tubes on each end, propped up in an A-shape, suspending two little plastic swings. It was probably assembled by a frustrated father who cursed the poorly written instructions. What was left was a rickety, squeaky little contraption that began rusting after the first heavy rainfall.

Fast forward to 2011… This weekend my wife and I pulled the trigger and bought a playset for the kids. Had my parents bought me something like this in 1980, I’d have been in heaven. This thing is so much more than a swing set. We’re talking 25 square feet of play area elevated five feet off the ground. The thing’s a fort really, with stairs, a rock wall, roof on top and a slide for making quick get-aways. It’s made of heavy duty pressure-treated lumber with thick bolts holding it together. And best of all, this father will not be assembling it the hot sun. The $100 setup charge will save my neighbors from overhearing what would undoubtedly be many cursing tirades.

I didn't buy this one!

Now before you think I’m tooting my own horn, please consider the fact that I bought one of the cheapest models available. The store we purchased from had playsets costing upwards of ten grand. Keep in mind that these are for home use, not public playgrounds or schools.

I’m not quiet sure when children went from having rickety swing sets in their backyards to these monster forts. Is it a just a sign of the times with higher standards of living, or perhaps a luxury of the affluent suburb?

One thing’s for sure, I never really paid much attention to these until now. It amazes me how many stores carry large selections of outdoor play sets. We shopped a handful of stores, four of which were within a mile of each other. None seem to be hurting for business, even in a slow economy.

I also never noticed how many of my neighbors already have forts in their backyards. There’s probably half a dozen of these within a block of my house. I’m falling behind in keeping up with the Joneses.

We haven’t told the kids about this yet. I’m hoping the setup guy can complete assembly while they are away at vacation bible school or something. I’m curious to see their reaction. Our kids are used to playing on much larger equipment at school, church, the neighborhood playground and public parks. They’re either going to be ecstatic or will call me a cheapskate for buying such a wimpy structure. I just hope no one tries to do a Peter Pan off the top of this bad boy.

New Restaurants – July 2011

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

July is set to be a busy month for restaurant openings. Included in this list are some much anticipated new eateries that I’m excited to try. Let’s dig in!

Azul Agave – Old Milton

I first wrote about these guys way back in November when they were planning to call the joint Blue Agave. Seems like their buildout is finally complete. My sources tell me they will open on July 18th with a soft opening starting next week. They promise to be an upscale, chef-driven Mexican cantina. Look for them in the former Pisces Seafood/Coquettes Steak location on Old Milton Parkway.

Dal Cuore – Johns Creek

This Italian sister restaurant to Burrito Gorilla opened a few weeks ago. Look for them on the Ray Moss Connector near State Bridge and Jones Bridge. Johns Creek is becoming saturated with higher-end Italian restaurants. Can they all survive?

Paradise Biryani Pointe – Windward

They quietly opened in the former Red Hen location on Windward. This appears to be a franchise of some sort. Otherwise I know nothing more. There is a shilling campaign going on with this joint over on yelp. That can be fun to watch.

Abhiruchi Fine Indian Cuisine – Windward

You’ll find these guys right down the road from Paradise in the stripmall with the new Smashburger. They’ve opened in the location of the old Spice Touch Indian. Not sure if this is just a name change or new ownership. Their website suggests that they specialize in biryani. The competition ought to be fierce. And if you’re keeping score at home, this makes four Indian restaurants on Windward Parkway (only two have pronounceable names).

Keso Mexican Grill – Johns Creek

They’ve recently opened in the Johns Creek Walk mixed use development (near Essex Bagels). I know nothing more but it’s good to see more stuff in this depressed development.

Other Openings

Smashburger opened their first Atlanta location yesterday in Buckhead. I drove by the Windward location last night and it appears they still have a lot to do. I seriously doubt they will be ready this month. That’s unfortunate as their Buckhead location is getting some great early reviews.

Marlow’s Tavern at The Avenue Forsyth is set to open on July 26th.

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