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Advice to a future Alpharetta relo

Alpharetta signMy blog’s name was inspired by a New York Times article, and later a book, about  corporate relos who migrated to Alpharetta by the thousands. So I really enjoy getting emails like the one below as they bring Roots back to its roots, my original theme. And with Joe’s permission, I’ve posted his email below.

Joe writes…

Hi Lee.

My family will be moving from Colorado to the Atlanta area in a few months due to a corporate relo. My job will be in Buckhead right next to the Lindbergh Center MARTA station.

My question is where should we buy a house?

Our budget is $500K and we are used to living in the affluent burbs. Is the commute from Alpharetta to Buckhead too far/difficult to consider? I’ve done a lot of research on the Atlanta metro but still feel lost/confused regarding where to live. We have a four year old son who will be starting Kindergarten next year.
Any advice you give will be greatly appreciated.
What advice do you have for Joe and other future relos to Alpharetta? Leave us a comment.

Branding consultant nails it for Alpharetta

The inspiration for my blog’s name came from a 2005 New York Times article on Alpharetta called The Five-Bedroom, Six-Figure Rootless Life. Author Peter Kilborn later turned the idea into a book called Next Stop, Reloville.

The focus of Kilborn’s stores were these nomadic suburban gypsies who would follow jobs around the country, never sinking deep roots in any community. Kilborn also talked about the affluence here in Alpharetta. They are topics I’ve not written about recently. Maybe the economic downturn put the breaks on corporate relocation. Or perhaps I got distracted with other things to write about.

But this topic came crashing back on me recently. Tonight Alpharetta’s Council will receive an update on the city’s branding effort. Their consultant has finished an exhaustive interview process in an attempt to understand this area. And in my opinion, they’ve pretty much nailed it. If you have some time, read their report here (opens to pdf).

The report talks a lot about issues like downtown redevelopment, Avalon, and potential controversial topics like bars and nightlife. It also touches on that topic of reloville. One respondent spoke of Alpharetta’s transient population saying, “You move here to become the boss somewhere else.”

Another spoke of the affluence here, saying “life is not real” in Alpharetta. It was a blast from blogging past for me.

I don’t have time to get into it all today. But there are potentially dozens of tasty blogging morsels in this report. I don’t know where to begin. So I’ll put it to my readers. What in this report stood out to you? Where did they get Alpharetta right, or what did they miss? Do you think this consultant will create a brand that truly captures Alpharetta?

Alpharetta Restaurant News – January 2014

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

If there’s a theme to this month’s article, it’s relocated restauranteurs. I’ve got two new restaurants to announce,  both from folks who owned restaurants up north and have moved to Georgia to do the same.

The first is Tin Roof Kitchen. Robyn Rowles is a busy suburban mother who also has time to open a restaurant. She’s making us all look bad! She’ll open in a month or two in the cute (but hidden) restaurant space at 52 North Main Street in downtown Alpharetta. Her menu will feature locally-sourced ingredients and offer extensive gluten-free options.

And with apologies to Frank Sinatra, some relocated New Yorkers will open Fry Me 2 the Moon in south Forsyth. They’ll be in the former JP Wat Sub location on Highway 9 across the street from Midway Meal House. Expect fried seafood and veggies. Hopefully Ol’ Blue Eyes will approve.

Moxie BurgerRestaurant broker The Shumacher Group announced recently that they sold Borocco’s in Roswell. The buyer is east Cobb’s Moxie Burger who has confirmed they will open a second location in the space. Look for them at 555 South Atlanta Street.

A restaurant called Cafe 101 will open in the former Shiraz location at Jones Bridge and Douglas Roads in Johns Creek. No other information is known about these guys right now. There’s a similarly named Asian restaurant on Buford Highway in Doraville but it isn’t clear if they are behind this new joint. However, relocating restaurants from Buford Highway to Johns Creek certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility (see also – Liu Fu).

Also filed under “needs additional research” is House of Hummus. They will open on North Point Parkway near Figo Pasta in the former 31 Lunch location.

Update: Louis Soon’s new restaurant in downtown Alpharetta will be called South Main Kitchen.

And we’ve heard that Casa del Sol in south Forsyth has closed after being open only a few short months. Taking over will be Keso Mexican Grill, presumably the same folks from a restaurant down the road in Johns Creek Walk.

fish house logoLast week we talked about restaurant closures. It’s probably safe to add Fish House in Milton to the list. They’ve been dark for a while now. We’ll probably see this family again in a few months.

Restaurants Coming Soon
Great Harvest Bread – They are saying February now for this sandwich and bread joint on Windward and Highway 9.
37 Main – A Rock Cafe – According to their Facebook page this restaurant and music venue will open March 1st. They’ll be in the old Barnacles space in Johns Creek.
Sip Wine & Tapas – Second location coming soon to The Collection (fka The Avenue) in Forsyth.
Cuoco Italian Restaurant – The ever renamed Italian restaurant on GA141 near Sharon Road in Forsyth.
Volcano Asian Bistro – Coming soon to Xian’s old space on Windward Parkway.
Mugs on Milton – Indy coffee shop opening January 17th in downtown Alpharetta.
South Main Kitchen – Louis Soon’s new restaurant in downtown Alpharetta.
DaVinci’s Donuts – Opening will be the second or third week of February for these cake doughnut makers in downtown Alpharetta.
850°F Bar Pizza - Neapolitan pizzeria coming to the old Erwood’s location in Crabapple.
Kickshaw Tavern & Grill - Asian steakhouse opening on North Main near Campania.
First Watch – They will anchor the new Twin Oaks shopping center being built on Old Milton and North Point.
Sweet Monkey Frozen Yogurt & Cupcakes – Froyo concept to open at The Collection Forsyth.
Tower Burger – Slowest buildout ever. But the Sonic conversion should look cool on South Main.
Dunkin Donuts – New construction on Peachtree Parkway near Dutch Monkey Doughnuts.

A Microcosm of Alpharetta

This year I’ve served on my church’s membership committee. Part of that responsibility was helping with several new member classes throughout the year. I underestimated how cool an experience this would be. I’m also surprised I haven’t written about this before. Perhaps Thanksgiving is a decent time reflect on it all.

If you could represent Alpharetta around one conference room table, a church new member class would be it. Sit back and listen as everyone breaks the ice. Hear the stories of how these families came to Alpharetta. Listen to their varied faith backgrounds. Here are a few stories I remember, with details obfuscated somewhat…

As would be expected in America’s #1 Reloville, nearly every family that joined isn’t from this area. I was perhaps most amazed with a couple in their late twenties. Alpharetta was their fourth destination in the reloville lottery, surprising for a career that still seemed new.

I met a grandmother who moved to Alpharetta to follow the relocated grandkids. There were road warrior sales guys with impressive Sky Miles balances. We had doctors, lawyers, architects, teachers and software geeks like yours truly.

A lot of couples were newlyweds. Several were also couples of either mixed race or nationality. Most had young children and mentioned schools as being a draw to Alpharetta. We had folks raised in nearly every mainline Christian denomination – Baptist, Methodist, Catholic and Presbyterian to name a few.

But at the end of each story, one theme seemed to cut through. Many were ready to lay down roots here in Alpharetta. Church membership is a great first step towards that goal.

I’m grateful to have participated in this process and I’m fortunate to have met several families who are setting tender new roots in this awesome community. Be thankful you live in Alpharetta.

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.

The Race for Mayor – A Primer

Alpharetta’s 2011 mayor’s race is starting to take shape with three seasoned candidates maneuvering into position. I’m pretty new to city politics so I’m having to bring myself up to speed quickly. I’ve spent time searching the internet tubes and scouring the archives at the Revue and News. Here’s what I’ve learned about the three gentlemen vying for your votes this year.

Jim Paine

An Alpharetta resident since 1971, Jim Paine (no relation to Tyler Perry’s House of Payne) has deep roots. But a recent archeological discovery revealed that he was actually among the original founders of Alpharetta in 1858. Indeed Mr. Paine has very deep roots. He’s also seems to be a super nice guy who runs clean campaigns. The voters like this as they have elected him to the City Council dozens of times. Even Alpharetta’s term limit rules don’t stop this public servant. He’s the Energizer Bunny of Alpharetta politics.

It’s likely Paine will receive the endorsement of Alpharetta’s older establishment players including current mayor Arthur Letchas. And there are rumors that stone tablets exist with endorsements from Moses himself.

Doug DeRito

The 2010 census found 57,000 people living in Alpharetta. If that’s true then Doug DeRito has something in common with 56,998 of them. That’s right, DeRito is a relo. He moved here from New Jersey where he was also a city councilman. He didn’t waste any time upon arriving in Alpharetta and quickly got himself elected to this city’s council. This caused a slight breach of etiquette. Seems that he completely bypassed a prerequisite of service; years of miserable and thankless service on his neighborhood’s HOA board. Derito’s more than made up for the misstep by becoming one of Alpharetta’s favorite councilmen, gaining a reputation for being a bit of a policy wonk.

DeRito made news last year when he was accused of an ethics violation. It was a bizarre triangle involving Alpharetta High School, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Prospect Park’s original developer. The story got legs when a reporter at WSB-TV ran with it. In the end DeRito was cleared of wrong doing. The case got filed under “no good deed goes unpunished” and “slow news day at WSB.”

Recent analysis of DeRito’s past victories reveal his true electoral ace in the hole. Seems that voters make a positive connection between his name and a certain nacho-cheese flavored snack chip. Can he leverage this coincidence into another win? Crunch all you want, we’ll make more.

David Belle Isle, JD

Now would be a great time to satirize attorneys, but that would be too easy. David Belle Isle is a young and charismatic gentleman with a name that easily rolls off the tongue. “Belle Isle” sounds almost like an exclusive enclave of the Windward Community. What’s not to like?

Belle Isle holds the distinction of being the first mayoral candidate to announce, declaring himself a candidate sometime in the early Cretaceous Period. He took a short break last year to campaign for the strangely more interesting position of state Senator, receiving the bronze metal in a three way race. With only three candidates so far for mayor, he stands a great chance of at least making the podium this time as well.

Why won’t sharks attack lawyers? Professional courtesy. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

So there you have it! Alpharetta voters will have a difficult task separating this field. For the last several years these three gentlemen have voted together on most of the significant issues before the city. If they’re not voting together it’s because someone’s probably recused himself from the vote. It’ll be fun watching these guys duke it out. I’m going to recuse myself from the vote and watch from the sidelines. Pass the chips, please.

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.”

I’m Just Weird

I’ve been paying attention recently. I’m listening to experts talk about what people in this community want. I’m reading and listening to planners, consultants, bloggers, politicians and business leaders. I’ve commented on it ad nauseum both here and on other forums. After letting it all sink in for a while I’ve come to this realization… I’m just weird. I thought I was just like tens of thousands of other relos who came here. Not true. Here’s the crazy and weird stuff I like.

My House

I like my house. It’s a single family home that is probably of typical size and value for this area. I like the lot my house sits on; it’s a little shy of a half acre. I like feeling the soft Bermuda grass between my toes. I like playing catch with my kids in the backyard. Weird.

My Cul-De-Sac

I like it too. I like the other families that live in our little curve. My kids like riding their scooters and skates here with little fear of getting hit by a car. Strange.


Yes, we have it here and I like it. Within a block of my home are Dutch, Nigerian, Indian, Chinese, Africian-American, and Cuban families. Yes diversity exists here contrary to what you might believe. I like that.

My Car

I love my car, not that it is nice or anything. I drive an eight year old Toyota with one missing hubcap. It’s a piece of crap really. No, what I really like is the freedom my car brings. It can take me anywhere in almost all forms of weather. I don’t have to rely on others for my transportation or wait for it to arrive. My car’s purchase and operating costs were not subsidized by taxpayers with borrowed money. It travels on roads, a form of infrastructure that is far cheaper to build and maintain over rail.

I love my car, a lot. This makes me very strange indeed. In fact I love my car so much that I don’t own a bicycle, horse, golf cart or any other alternate mode of transportation. Crazy? Certifiably.

My Suburb

I love this place. I like the fact that Alpharetta is safe and free from nearly all forms of violent crime. I like the high caliber of schools here. My family will thrive here and I don’t take that for granted. I would much rather live in a suburb versus an urban environment. I could have four eyes but that wouldn’t be as strange as this.


Yes, for lack of a better word, I like sprawl. *gasp!* I like lower to medium density development and big, wide roads. You could call me pro-traffic if you want, but you wouldn’t be the first to do so.

I love the choices I have for restaurants and retail. And yes, I even like big-box retailers like Walmart, Target, Fry’s and Home Depot. Would it be nice to walk to stores? Sure but I’d never have the choices available that I have now. There are enough restaurants close to my Windward office that I could eat at a different one each day for months. I love choice and I love freedom. This perhaps is my strangest trait of all.

So there you have it. I thought I was just like everyone in Alpharetta. I know better now.

Faith, Reloville and Committee Meetings

This year I started a term on my church’s session. We’re Presbyterians and in our tradition this body is sort of like a board of directors. At this point, two or three meetings into the year, I’m just getting my feet wet. It is amazing to see what goes on behind the scenes of a mid-sized congregation in Alpharetta. It’s a ton of hard work from a lot of folks, something I think most church goers don’t realize by just warming a pew.

I sometimes get distracted in our committee meetings? Why? It’s amazing how many issues come up that pertain to themes I blog about. I find myself jotting notes for future articles. It all makes sense I suppose. Congregations reflect the general community around them. Ours was formed and influenced by the factors that shaped a growing Alpharetta. In just three meetings we’ve discussed topics like relocated professionals, the local job market, showing hospitality to our neighbors and serving needy in the community. Sound familiar? See my category list to the right.

It’s an honor to serve my congregation, I hope I don’t disappoint. In the meantime, I’m positive this will generate some blog inspiration. I never thought writing on faith would interweave into my theme this much. Stay tuned.

Remembering the Forsyth Race Marches of 1987

Today marks the 24th anniversary of a significant event in Forsyth County history. It’s an event that I think largely isn’t well remembered or observed. I think many who relocate to this area are not aware of it at all. I certainly didn’t know about it until I had lived here for several years. It is fitting that the anniversary this year falls on the day we observe Martin Luther King Day. I’ll get back to the events of January 17th in a bit.

Forsyth County has long been a deeply segregated county. The history of this dates back to 1912, a year which saw lynchings and violent racial cleansing. The population of African-Americans in Forsyth dropped to nearly zero and stayed that way for most of the 20th century. It remains low to this day.

So in 1987 a man by the name of Charles Blackburn decides to do something about Forsyth’s segregation. He begins to organize a march on Cumming but backs off after receiving threatening phone calls. Plans for the march continue when others pick up the cause including Billy McKinney and Hosea Williams of Atlanta. On January 17th, 1987 they begin their march. They proceed north on GA-9 towards the Cumming Square but they never reach the city. A group of about 400 segregationists, including David Duke of Louisiana, violently attack the marchers. Hosea Williams is hit in the head with a stone. Police eventually take over and make arrests.

Needless to say, the event gets national attention. Soon a second march is organized. This one draws tens of thousands including civil rights icons Coretta Scott King, Andrew Young, Jessie Jackson, John Lewis and scores of other politicians. This time the march is peaceful, reaching the Forsyth County Courthouse without violence. It went down as one of the largest civil rights protests of its time.

Not long afterward, a new nationally syndicated television talk show host by the name of Oprah Winfrey filmed a show in Cumming about the event. It further exposed Forsyth County and some intolerant views to the nation. Oprah made news last year when she announced she was trying to find audience members from that 1987 broadcast. Given that 2011 will be the last year of her show, I expect her to film a reunion episode pretty soon.

It’s worth noting that I pretty much glossed over these events from the past. The entire south was segregated during much of this time. What makes Forsyth different is the violence that was behind it and just the overall ugliness of it all. I’m not real comfortable writing about some of the hatred that was expressed. If you want to learn more, I’ll note some references at the bottom of this article.

Forsyth Today

Why is Forsyth’s past significant today? It explains the lack of an African-American community in the county. In 1990 there were a mere 14 blacks in the county. In 2000 after Forsyth began to grow, that number was only 684, still less than one percent of the population.

Why did I write about this? I’m not trying embarrass Forsyth County. Many histories I’ve read suggest that the aggressors in the 1987 march came from outside of the county. And in my ten years of living in this area I’ve never witnessed bigotry firsthand. Most long-term residents of the county have put feelings of hatred behind them. At least I like to hope that is the case.

I think Forsyth County has deep wounds that still are not completely healed. The best way of addressing these is not to forget the past. It would be easy to pretend that this never happened. Another generation of relos will move in, displacing a few more locals. It could become a distant memory, right? Yet I assure you that the African-American communities in metro Atlanta haven’t forgotten about our past.

I believe it best to not forget the past. Forsyth County should include these unfortunate events as a part of its history. They should be taught to school children and remembered on anniversaries. And speaking of anniversaries… next year will be the 25th year. Will we forget the courageous actions of Hosea Williams and others on this milestone date, or continue to sweep it under the rug? Something to ponder on this MLK Day.

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