Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – June 2013 redux

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

We’ve got a couple of new items in the last few weeks. Felt the news was worthy of publishing a second restaurant news column this month.

Hop Alley has finally opened in downtown Alpharetta and is generating a lot of buzz. The buildout is beautiful and the location perfect to take advantage of the food truck crowds. I’ve only been once but enjoyed the burger and onion rings I tried. This place has got a tremendous amount of potential.

Great Harvest Bread will open a location on Windward Parkway next to the new Mambo’s Cafe. This will be only the third metro Atlanta location, the next closest being Johns Creek. They’ve closed all their ITP locations. Will Great Harvest steal business from Panera on Windward?

And speaking of Windward… It appears that Xian China Bistro may have temporarily closed. No additional details are available.

Mama’s Pizza will close their Old Milton Parkway location at the end of June to re-open near the mall. Look for them to open in August on North Point next to Figo Pasta where Mango’s Cuban used to be. This is an interesting move for Mama’s. The Brookside office parks have provided a brisk lunchtime business for these guys for years. Will they do as well on North Point? Either way it’s a boost to the mall restaurant scene. Mama’s makes a pretty good New York style pie.

I’m hearing rumors from a reputable source that a new “artisan” pizza restaurant may be coming to the former Luciano’s space in Johns Creek. The concept will be from the restaurant group behind Luciano’s and Pampas Steakhouse. Will the success of Campania encourage competition?

I’ve confirmed that the folks behind Jose’s Mexican Grill (coming soon to North Point and Webb Bridge) are the same guys that ran Rio Nuevo on North Point. Let’s hope they make a better go of things this time.

A new Hungry Howies franchise is opening in south Forsyth on Bethelview Road. While their pizza is nothing to get excited about, this location it noteworthy because it is the first in the northern burbs of Atlanta.

In retail news – we’ve been watching the former Dolce Vita space in Johns Creek for a few months now as someone’s been renovating the space. We now know who. This will be the new home for Alpharetta’s Muse Salon and Spa. They will leave their current digs on Kimball Bridge when the construction is complete. Muse is perhaps Alpharetta’s most trendy salon. A scene from the movie The Joneses was filmed here.

And finally, Alpharetta antique lovers will soon have another store. Cumming antique shop The Green Bean Exchange will open a new location on South Main Street behind the Bank of America.

Avalon’s tax abatement – incentive or icing on the cake?

North American Properties has secured a lucrative tax abatement package for their Avalon property in Alpharetta. Granted by the Development Authority of Fulton County, the abatement reduces Avalon’s tax assessment by 50%, gradually phasing back over ten years. The net result is a huge property tax savings for North American Properties.

The plan is implemented as a sale-leaseback transaction. The Development Authority purchases Avalon using bonds valued at $550 Million. The property is deeded to the authority and leased back to North American Properties. Lease payments service the bonds.

Since the Development Authority is a tax-exempt organization they pay no property tax on their interest in Avalon. North American Properties isn’t tax-exempt and is subject to tax on their interest in the lease. As part of the deal the parties agree that this value is a fraction of the market value of the property, or 50% in this case. That value increases by 5% each year.

Abatement packages like this are controversial. The Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation has sued multiple times over projects in downtown Atlanta and Buckhead. One such case went to the Georgia Supreme Court. Projects in Alpharetta are rare. But with Avalon’s bond price tag hovering at half a billion dollars, the abatement deal ranks right up there with the biggest in Atlanta.

Proponents of tax abatements argue that they are valuable incentives used to lure development and jobs to an area. An argument could be made that the abandoned Prospect Park site was a blight requiring incentives to encourage development. In Avalon’s bond application they claim the project will create 1000 temporary construction jobs and 1,100 full-time equivalent when phase 1 is complete.

Opponents might argue that these incentives are often just icing on the cake for a developer. Many of the deals approved by Fulton’s Development Authority have come after a project is well underway. That argument could be made for Avalon. They have already purchased the property, got the site plan and zoning approved, demolished the old structures and have signed leases from tenants. The site is “going vertical” soon. Property tax abatements were never discussed as a condition of Avalon coming to Alpharetta.

At the end of the day, North American Properties will pay substantially less property tax to Fulton County, Fulton Schools and the City of Alpharetta. Alpharetta’s tax digest will be reduced by hundreds of millions of dollars for a few years. Is it a legitimate incentive to bring a huge project to Alpharetta? Or is this just an extra helping of gravy for a developer?

Sources:

BurgerFi – Windward

Every Friday Roots in Alpharetta features an article on food and dining in a series called Foodie Friday. Today we feature a guest review from Mike Christensen. Follow Mike on Twitter @SCSA31274.

The name BurgerFi reminds me of the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fi, which means always faithful.  BurgerFi must mean “burger faithful” because the place has been packed since it opened just a short time ago. BurgerFi opened to much fanfare and hoards of folks crowded the doors clamoring for the latest, greatest in burger offerings.

BurgerFi is a chain out of Florida with 47 locations. Alpharetta is the fourth location in Georgia.  They focus on all natural, grass fed beef with no additives or chemicals.  In addition to burgers, BurgerFi offers five different styles of hot dogs including a 100% Wagyu Kobe beef dog.

What goes better with a burger than a cold beer?  BurgerFi has several craft brews on tap as well as wine by the glass or bottle for your imbibing pleasure.  I was pleased to see Red Hare represented.

For your sweet tooth, BurgerFi offers frozen custards, frozen concretes and cupcakes.

Let’s start with the space itself.  BurgerFi took over a store front at the end of the small strip occupied by Fed Ex.  The first thing they did was blow out all the windows and walls to create a nice patio outside.  No fences and a hard, heavy roof lends a sense of both openness and coziness.  Large fans outside keep things cool. A variety of seating including picnic tables gives off a vibe of a neighborhood gathering place.

A large sliding door leads you inside. That’s where things go downhill.  It’s very busy inside with no real flow to get to order your food.  You have to squeeze past all the tables to get to the counter.  Seating is tight due to the large outdoor space.  If there is a line, which there has been every time I’ve been there, it extends into the dining area making seating that much more awkward.

You place your order and receive one of those pager buzzy square things. Have a seat, if you can find one. On our first visit, my wife and I had to stand around then leap on a vacated table, claiming it like an explorer in the new world.

Lighting is supplied by really cool chrome ice tongs with bare bulbs hanging beneath them.  The decor of stainless steel and light colored wood really works.  It’s industrial, yet warm. Unfortunately the chairs are a little small for the normal burger consumer.

On our first visit I opted for the basic cheeseburger along with fries and onion rings.  The burgers come with the BurgerFi logo branded into the bun.  It’s cute but it doesn’t really add anything.  The burgers are on the small side but big on flavor.  The bun had a soft, yeasty quality that was welcome on my palate.

The fries were crispy, salty and very good.  You can order your fries with numerous toppings including salt and vinegar, cheese, herbs or chili.  The rings were also good with a light coating over thick cut onions and good onion flavor.  They were greasy to the touch however.

Next time I ordered the cardiologist’s best friend, the B.A.D. (Breakfast All Day) burger. It’s a gut-busting combination of bacon, maple syrup, hash browns, a fried egg, onions and ketchup.  It tasted like any other burger, if not worse.  I couldn’t taste any syrup. The hash browns formed a thick potato mass at the bottom of the burger that made chewing difficult.  It was an interesting concept but poorly executed.

My wife opted for the Kobe beef hot dog.  Looking more like a kielbasa sausage, split and grilled, it was actually very good.  Then again, it didn’t taste much different than what you can make at home.

The milkshakes are extraordinary.  Making shakes with custard instead of ice cream leads to a creamier, smoother shake.

Leave your diet at home when visiting BurgerFi. The calorie count, listed on the menu, is enough to make your belt explode. But hey, who said burgers were healthy?

BurgerFi on Urbanspoon

Cost is the other negative.  Get happy with your choices and two people could rack up a $30 tab.  A burger, fries and a drink can run you around $12.  Add in a $4 shake or a $6 concrete, and your arteries won’t be the only thing taking a pounding.  It’s just a little pricey for a fast casual burger that doesn’t really stand out among all the other choices in the area.

BurgerFi is firmly in the middle of the pack in terms of the burgers.  The throngs of people roosting in the dining room seem to speak to Alpharetta’s desire for something new on the burger horizon.  Too bad there’s nothing really new or memorable at BurgerFi.

Could movie theater relocation sink Alpharetta’s Mansell Road?

In the next two years both of Alpharetta’s movie theaters along North Point Parkway are likely to relocate. The result could leave gaping retail holes along the city’s southern-most corridor.

The first to go will be AMC at Mansell Crossing. The chain is building a new theater up the street in the former Parisian anchor space at North Point Mall. It’s expected to open this fall.

While the chain hasn’t formally announced the closure of the Mansell Crossing location, it certainly wouldn’t make sense to operate two theaters in such proximity. The Mansell Crossing theater space measures 51,000 square feet.

Adjacent to AMC Mansell Crossing is a Barnes and Noble book store.The book store benefits from theater foot traffic. It’s a great place to kill time before a movie starts. This customer base simply isn’t there when the theater moves up the street.

The retail book business isn’t doing well. Barnes and Noble announced recently that they would close 200 retail locations over the next decade. Might this Alpharetta location make that list? The store here measures 25,000 square feet.

Regal theaters is building at the Avalon project on Old Milton Parkway. Their small eight screen theater on North Point will close once that move happens. That leaves 34,000 square feet vacant.

Two large spaces are already vacant along Mansell Road. The former Home Depot Expo Design Center, across GA-400 next to Sam’s Club, has sat empty for years. It measures in at a massive 87,000 square feet.

Also vacant is the old Champps Americana restaurant space. This 10,000 square foot restaurant is fully equipped yet the broker marketing the place can’t seem to find a tenant.

That’s over 200,000 square feet of retail space that could go vacant along or near Mansell Road over the next two years. It’s an alarming statistic that should keep political and business leaders up at night. Could the rash of vacancies cause a closure domino effect? Might Mansell’s restaurant row be next?

What incentives should the city consider to attract new business to this area? And there are uses that might work in these enormous vacant spaces? Leave me a comment!

Photo credit: Alonzo Jeter

It’s never enough in downtown Alpharetta

This year Alpharetta has had a singular focus on downtown. For the most part helping this struggling section of town is a good thing. The city has spent money on landscaping and plantings. They’ve created more parking along streets. Facade grants are available for downtown property owners. The city’s event department hosts all manner of functions and festivals downtown. A lot has been done and it’s working.

But it doesn’t seem to be enough.

That’s the impression you get from reading this article in the Revue and News last week. It takes a certain amount of bravado to be on the receiving end of so much generosity yet still ask for more. I’m describing a particular downtown property owner who’s in the paper, figuratively pictured with his hand out.

Don’t get me wrong. Helping downtown is a good thing. But at some point will it cross a line? Alpharetta is taxing property owners from Windward, North Point and elsewhere to create incentives for a small handful of businesses downtown. When does this go from being helpful to something that violates conservative principles?

It’ll probably happen when other business and property owners stand up and ask for their incentives too. Maybe it’ll be when Windward businesses ask for the city to host a festival in front of their shops. Something like this could  happen sooner than you might think. Later this week I’ll write about a portion of Alpharetta that could struggle with business closures and empty storefronts in the years to come.

And then there’s housing. Remember, it’s never enough. This property owner wants high density residential downtown to create foot traffic to his property. Is this article paving the way to high density residential above city center? Probably. This is an issue Alpharetta’s Council has been too gutless to address and likely won’t before November’s election. But rest assured it’ll be all over the news early next year.

It’s never enough. Eventually weaning has to take place. Let’s work towards creating a thriving and self-sufficient downtown, not one that’s dependent on others.

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – June 2013

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

Don’t have a ton of new stuff to report. But there’s some restaurant news out there that’s sure to generate some conversation. Let’s get right to it.

Legendary breakfast joint BB’s Bagels announced this week that they have closed their second location on State Bridge Road. According to posts on Facebook and Twitter, the restaurant thought the karma of this location was off and that they were jeopardizing their brand. I agree that this location didn’t quite have the same vibe as their original McFarland store (which thankfully remains open).

BB’s continues to talk of franchising plans. Will a franchise store be immune from the karma issues that doomed their second corporate-owned location?

Also closing is the Johns Creek location of the Tilted Kilt. The “breastaurant” chain continues to operate a location on Windward. Could it be at risk of closure as well? A few years back the television show Undercover Boss was filmed here.

Replacing Tilted Kilt in the Medlock Crossing Shopping Center will be Hurricane Grill. This will be the first Georgia location for the Florida-based chain of wing joints.

Fish House Seafood Kitchen has opened in Boga Taqueria’s old space in Milton. Missing is the promised lunch buffet. I was also able to confirm that this is the same family that owned The Shrimp Basket just around the corner. Some Milton gastronomes will be able to draw an opinion based on this fact alone. So that’s all I’m going to say about Fish House!

Chill Restaurant and Lounge is now open for dinner only. The restaurant will offer upscale Mediterranean cuisine. Look for them in the enormous old Rainwater location on Haynes Bridge.

Also opening is Kitchen of Atlanta down in Johns Creek Walk. This is a small little restaurant offering sandwiches, burgers, pastas, chicken wings and a little of everything.

And just when we thought they weren’t gonna make it, OVR Coffee Cafe has opened in Forsyth’s Vickery Village. Look for the vegan bakery and coffee shop in the old Mommy Francis space.

Restaurants Coming Soon

Branchwater – Concept from Todd Hogan coming to Vickery Village in Forsyth.
Salt Factory – Their sign still says “February 2013″. Looks like the buildout has hit a few snags.
Main Street Kitchen – From the folks behind Roswell’s Nine Street Kitchen. They will be at 52 North Main.
Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe – Alabama-based chain coming soon to Windward Parkway.
Hop Alley Brew Pub – Brew pub coming to downtown Alpharetta.
Draft Beer Market – A growler store to open on Jones Bridge in Johns Creek.
Casa Del Sol Mexican Bar and Grill – Mexican joint in Forsyth near 141 and highway 9.
7 Tequilas Cantina – Mexican restaurant replacing Smokejack in Forsyth’s Midway community.
Jose’s Mexican Grill – Opening soon next to Zaxby’s on North Point and Webb Bridge.
First Watch – Breakfast concept building at Northpoint and Old Milton.
Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical, Zoe’s – Making quick progress building on Haynes Bridge near the mall.

Retail Coming Soon

Walmart – You’ll see construction starting soon at GA-141 near Brookwood/Mathis Airport.
Costco Wholesale – It’s big news in Cumming. The land is cleared along GA-400 and exit 15.
AMC at Northpoint – The new theater is taking shape behind the mall. Expect a fall opening.
Aldi – Coming soon to Johns Creek where Ace Hardware used to be.

Bear sightings on Windward Parkway

If you ever need a reason to be on twitter, this is it.

At about 8:00 Friday night my twitter feed for Alpharetta lit up. A bear crept out of the woods near the intersection of Windward and Deerfield Parkways. Traffic at this busy intersection snarled drawing the attention of many hipsters leaving BurgerFI across the street. iPhone cameras whizzed away!

This comes a day after a similar sighting off McFarland Parkway in south Forsyth. No twitter pics were posted from this encounter.

So far none of our local media outlets have covered the story. But bear with them as I’m sure the story is coming.

What’s drawing bears to Alpharetta? I’m told they have an appetite for salmon.

Copper River salmon in Alpharetta

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

Many years ago I traveled to Seattle for business. It was June and the height of the wild salmon season. I wasn’t real fond of the fish at the time but locals insisted I try it. I’ve been hooked ever since.

There’s a tremendous difference between wild-caught salmon and the farm raised garbage that’s available year-round. The texture is more firm and the flavors much more rich and intense.

The salmon fishery at Alaska’a Copper River always starts the wild salmon season. There’s is short season but they produce the best product. You may only have a few weeks to enjoy this fish before it’s gone for the year. But wild salmon from other parts of the Pacific northwest will be available for most of the summer and early fall.

Here’s where you can find this delectable fish in Alpharetta.

Rays on the Creek – They’ve been promoting their Copper River salmon on Facebook quite a bit recently. Yesterday it was pictures of a pineapple and jalapeno salmon topping being smoked on a big green egg. If you want Copper River salmon at a restaurant, Ray’s is likely your only choice.

Vinny’s – They usually offer wild caught salmon as specials throughout the summer. Chances are this isn’t from the Copper River but it’s nonetheless delicious.

Want to make it yourself? Don’t be intimidated! I usually marinate my fish for an hour or two in a citrus juice and soy sauce along with an aromatic veggie like onion or garlic. Pat it dry and pan-sear to medium rare in a touch of olive oil. It’s simple and really brings out the flavor of the fish.

A handful of fishmongers will carry Copper River salmon this year. Expect to pay $25-30 per pound.

Whole Foods/Harrys – Each will carry Copper River fish as well as other wild-caught salmon throughout the summer. Prices are steep.

Kathleen’s Catch – I’d buy from her. Prices will be about the same as Whole Foods or maybe a dollar or two cheaper. The difference is that you’ll get better service with Kathleen.

Other wild-caught salmon is available at Costco. Selection is always hit or miss with your best chances of finding something in the morning after they open. Prices will be good of course.

Grocery stores may also carry wild salmon including Publix and even Kroger. They usually don’t completely remove the tiny pin bones from the grocery store fish so be careful!

The Mediterranean invasion of Alpharetta

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

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe is coming to Alpharetta. This growing chain out of the Birmingham area will open their second Georgia location on Windward Parkway next to Ichiban Steak and Sushi.

But this blogger keeps forgetting to mention their opening! It might be easy to do. Taziki’s is just one name on a growing list of Mediterranean restaurants setting shop in our area. We like to talk food trends here on Roots and this is one that’s caught me completely, and pleasantly, by surprise.

I’m going to lump Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants into the broader category of Mediterranean for the sake of this article. We could split hairs I guess.

In the time I’ve been writing about Alpharetta’s restaurant scene more than ten Mediterranean restaurants have opened. It’s staggering. They outnumber Indian joints. Can this area support so many? Do you have a favorite? Let’s run through a few.

Main Street Alpharetta – You’ve got four options for gyros along this short stretch of road. Mac Meals to the south is small and overlooked. Seven Seas on Devore Road is very good with friendly folks. Cafe Efendi is an Alpharetta institution. I like their new digs on North Main. And don’t forget Gyro King up closer to Windward.

Cubicle dwellers can hit Papoulli’s on Windward or Jerusalem Bakery on Old Milton. Jerusalem’s chicken shawarma sandwich is among my favorite things to eat for lunch in Alpharetta, in any genre of food.

Mediterranean food near the mall is lacking. Fast-casual chain Extreme Pita open and closed in a short time. Close to that was Dalia’s Grill, a rare gem on North Point before they went under. The newly opened Chill Restaurant and Lounge will offer higher-end Mediterranean food in their cavernous space on Haynes Bridge.

Johns Creek shouldn’t be left out. 1001 Nights opened recently on Medlock Bridge offering Persian cuisine. Also doing Persian food is Noosh Kitchen on Douglas Road. On the fast-casual side, try Grecian Gyro in Johns Creek Walk. The portions are huge here. They’re also on Scoutmob for 50% off.

And south Forsyth even figures into the mix. Shiraz Cafe is a beautiful little restaurant that’s hidden from drivers on McGinnis Ferry Road. And don’t forget Baba’s Gyro and Kabob on Ronald Reagan. This gem next to a gas station took Cumming by storm a few years ago once word got out.

Do you have a favorite Mediterranean restaurant? Who’s making the best gyro in town? Let me know!

Potential sites for a convention center in Alpharetta

Alpharetta has received two proposals from private developers that may pave the way to bringing a convention and conference center to town. The city seeks a public/private partnership that would pair a city-owned and operated convention center with a privately built hotel.

The details of the proposals are not yet available but the names of those who participated in the process is. Those submitting an indication of interest are…

Avalon – North American Properties

Avalon’s site plan includes a full-service hotel with development in a future phase. It probably wouldn’t be hard to modify the site plan of the eastern half of the development to include the convention space the city requests. Access to a parking deck is already in place and close proximity to GA-400 is a plus. NAP’s hotel partner Stormont Hospitality Group participated in the bidding process.

Northwinds Land LLC

The second proposal came from this firm along with Duke Reality and Pope & Land. It isn’t clear exactly which parcel they are interested in developing. Chances are good that it’s the 20 acre undeveloped parcel at the northeast corner of Haynes Bridge and GA-400.

It’s interesting to note who chose not to participate in the bidding. Worthington Hyde Partners and Penn Hodge attended meetings but did not submit a bid. They each have ties to the massive Windward Mill project. Its zoning includes a hotel.

The architecture firm Smallwood, Reynolds, Stewart, Stewart attended a Q&A meeting for the project. It’s not clear who they were retained by. Coincidentally this same firm is working on Alpharetta’s downtown plan.

Also missing is Cousins Westside. A 20 acre parcel adjacent to Encore Park was originally set aside in their master plan for a similar convention or performing arts center. However this idea appears to no longer be viable. An attempt was made earlier this year to amend the master plan to allow residential use in this pod. The attempt failed. The city’s request for proposals suggests that the project should be close to and visible from GA-400. Encore Park is neither.

It’s interesting to contrast this convention center project to that of the amphitheater. Encore Park came to fruition without a heavy commitment from the city. Alpharetta and Fulton County each chipped in $1 million towards the project. The rest of the construction costs and ongoing operations belong to the Atlanta Symphony and the Woodruff Arts Center.

Under the current proposal, Alpharetta would sell bonds to build convention center and would also operate the facility. The private developer would donate land and build/own the adjoining hotel.

The scale of this potential public/private partnership is pretty large by Alpharetta standards. Past partnerships considered by the city have not fared well. Alpharetta’s first downtown development plan had similar trappings and thankfully failed to launch. Then there’s the partnership with Coro Reality to development in downtown. It been successful only in creating vacant buildings.

So the proof will be in the pudding with this deal. The public won’t know specifics of the two proposals until Alpharetta’s council considers them in an open meeting. The two biggest questions remain… Will a convention center be viable in Alpharetta? Is there political will to make such a public/private partnership a reality?

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