Alpharetta is thriving despite the naysayers

There’s a certain vibe out there in Alpharetta right now. We’re riding a wave of positive news about this area. It’s a fun ride. This is a cool place, despite the naysayers. What’s been going on?

Forbes magazine made local news a few weeks ago when it named Alpharetta as one of the friendliest towns in the country. It was an awesome distinction, one that certainly will be used by civil leaders for years to come.

Remember that this “suburban experiment” isn’t supposed to be working. Our neighborhoods with their inward designs and cul-de-sacs don’t promote a sense of community, right? At least that’s what opponents of suburban living have been saying for years.

Then there’s economic news. Unemployment continues to remain low throughout the northern suburbs of Atlanta. We’ve got the lowest numbers in the state.

That’s because of the jobs! General Motors is going to open a huge new facility on Mansell Road right where Alpharetta and Roswell come together. It will create over a thousand new IT jobs. It’s a huge deal.

Yesterday the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that HP will add 200 new jobs to their Windward Parkway campus. Last year they finished another burst of hiring at this facility that brought in a few hundred more.

Remember that our ability to attract large employers will be hurt if we don’t dramatically increase taxes and fund billion dollar transportation projects. That’s what TSPLOST advocates told us last summer. All these companies will move to Charlotte or Texas or somewhere, right?

Or how about the hip and creative 20-something generation. Remember that they hate Alpharetta. They desire apartments and urban living. If we don’t change our land use plans to welcome them, their creative jobs will move to Atlanta and this place will die. Remember all that talk?

Alpharetta is a tremendous place. Alpharetta is thriving. We’re blessed to live here. Remember this whenever a real estate developer, urbanist, politician or business leader tries to tell you otherwise.

Photo Credit: Alpharetta CVB (creative commons)

Start/Stop/Continue – Alpharetta Restaurants 2013

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

Sometimes I draw blogging inspiration from my cubicle life. Hey, you gotta get it from somewhere. But it’s cool because this is the fourth year of this story idea. Here’s how it works.

At the office we follow this routine during annual reviews. Your peers are asked to list things you should start doing in the new year, bad habits you should stop and activities you should continue. It is sort of a kinder and gentler way of telling someone what they should or shouldn’t be doing. I’ve adapted this theme for Alpharetta’s restaurant scene.

In this column’s past we’ve talked about things like the froyo craze. It didn’t take a crystal ball to predict closures. Here are a few trends I’d like to see start, stop and continue in 2013. Let me know what you’d like to see happen in Alpharetta’s restaurant scene this year.

Start – Craft Desserts

Why hasn’t the amazing success of Dutch Monkey Doughnuts inspired more? I would have thought by now we’d have a handful of small dessert shops making silly little things like whoopie pies. It hasn’t happened.

Jilly’s Cupcakery was the first cupcake place to open and now has a second location in Roswell. Competitors never quite got traction. Two cupcake joints came close to opening in south Forsyth but never cut the red ribbon.

What I’d really like to see… a craft ice cream shop. They’d make real, honest-to-goodness ice cream in small batches right there in the store. Locally sourced dairy would be nice as well as seasonal fresh fruit.

Stop – Fast-casual Burgers

Enough already! It seems that chain burger joints want to land in the Atlanta suburbs first before going ITP. That’s true of places like Smashburger (which continues to get sub-par reviews). We’re saturated with Five Guy locations, some of which I’d imagine will close.

BurgerFI will open on Windward almost across the street from Smashburger. Down the street is Five Guys and locally-owned Scratch Fresh. Can west Windward support four of these joints? Doubtful.

Perhaps that’s what scared off Burger 21. The Florida chain was eying the Alpharetta/Milton area for a location. They’ve backed down for now. But if you really wanna try their concept, expect the first Atlanta location near Mall of Georgia.

We also have one of Atlanta’s last Fuddruckers locations near the mall. The Counter is on Mansell and Kennesaw-based Cheeseburger Bobby’s is still flippin’ patties.

So unless you have a truly unique burger concept, please don’t bring your spatula to Alpharetta.

Continue – Building Credibility

Alpharetta’s restaurant scene is slowly earning the credibility it deserves. We saw that late last year when notable restauranteurs started lining up at the city’s border. Ford Fry wants to open a new concept at Avalon. Salt Factory is coming up from Canton Street in Roswell to downtown. Expect to see this trend continue in 2013.

Photo credit: Lodigs (creative commons)

Changing downtown Alpharetta’s traffic flow

Downtown Alpharetta sees a ton of traffic from those commuting from Milton and Cherokee County. Their goal is to ultimately get onto GA-400 southbound. They drive Main Street southbound then shift over to Haynes Bridge. They get to Haynes Bridge by jumping a block east on either Academy or Old Milton.

But the new year will bring two big changes to these traffic flows in downtown Alpharetta. How will commuters adapt to the changes?

The first is the realignment of Haynes Bridge Road between Academy and Old Milton. The road is narrowed from a divided four lanes to two and a roundabout has been installed. The road also shifted to the east  to allow for a contiguous city center project.

The second change is the intersection improvement at Main Street and Old Milton. An additional turn lane was added for soundbound drivers wishing to turn left onto eastbound Old Milton. Landscaped medians and granite curbs were also added.

Jonathan Copsey wrote an interesting article on this topic last week in the Revue and News. It seems that commuters are not using the second, left-most turn lane. The destination of most traffic here is to go south on Haynes Bridge. So turning onto the left lanes of Old Milton isn’t desirable. The result is that traffic is stacking in only one turn lane, backing up onto Main Street. The fact that Haynes Bridge was closed no doubt exacerbated this problem.

Commuters will not likely want to travel the new stretch of Haynes Bridge Road. It is a little out of the way now and the traffic calming efforts are designed to discourage heavy traffic flow. If drivers choose Old Milton then the turn-lane stacking problem may continue, blocking Main Street.

The city would love for commuters to bypass downtown entirely by using the recently completed Westside Parkway. But is that a viable alternative for those driving from the northwest?

How about bypassing Main Street using Canton and Roswell Streets? Or will drivers cut over to Haynes Bridge using Devore Road? Both of these options would put commuters on residential streets.

How do you think commuters will respond to changes in downtown’s streets? Will they work or will they be a catastrophe? Or will drivers find creative alternatives that spread traffic around?

Taking the week off

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

I’m going to take the week off from writing my Foodie Friday column to spend some extra time with my family. If you’re looking for restaurant talk, head over to the Revue and News. I’ll have a column there next week called “Hungry for 2013, Guy picks top 2012 restaurants.”

Thanks for reading my blog in 2012!

Parental Guidance, filmed in Alpharetta, opens Christmas day 2012

It’s about time! Parental Guidance, a movie staring Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei, was filmed way back in the fall of 2011. It hits the big screen on Christmas Day 2012.

The film features Crystal and Midler cast as grandparents. They assume the role of parents of a misfit five year old who tends to wreck everything. Hilarity ensues.

Unfortunately early reviews of this movie are not good. This seems to be a common theme of movies filmed in the Atlanta area. But Parental Guidance is worth a watch to look for Alpharetta-area scenes. This is the biggest movie filmed in our area since the 2009 film The Joneses staring Demi Moore and David Duchovny.

The filming crew set up a base in Dunwoody while filming in Atlanta and north Fulton. Here’s a rundown of Alpharetta-area filming locations.

165 Pebble Trail

This ranch-style home near downtown Alpharetta was commandeered by the production company for two full days of filming. On-screen this will be Billy Crystal and Bette Midler’s home in Fresno, California. Look for mostly interior shots.

Shortly after filming ended the house was put up for sale. Of course the listing hyped the movie in a big way. It was reminiscent of a home in south Forsyth that sold after The Joneses was released in theaters. That home was used by Demi Moore during filming, a fact that no doubt influenced the sale of the property.

The Country Club of Roswell

Marisa Tomei was featured during scenes filmed here. They used the club’s ballroom and golf course. Look for country club staff and members as extras during these scenes.

Ocee Park

Little league scenes were filmed in this Johns Creek park. Skateboard legend Tony Hawk plays himself during scenes filmed here.

Independence High School

Filming occurred at the former Milton High School in downtown Alpharetta. No additional details are available.

Other Metro-Atlanta filming locations

  • The former Bloomingdales at Perimeter Mall
  • Piedmont Park
  • Atlanta International School
  • Gwinnett Braves Stadium

Growler Wars – comparing north Fulton and Forsyth’s growler stores

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

To round out 2012 I’m going to run a short replay series in my Friday food column. This week I’ll reprint our extensive review of growler stores.

Growlers are the frozen yogurt of 2012. These specialty beer stores are sprouting up like weeds all over the burbs. Certainly they all can’t survive, so how will they compete? Will it be price, service, variety of selection?

Or will those that were first to market rule the day? Typically the first growler store in each municipality literally wrote the local ordinance. That’s been the case with Crafty Draught in Forsyth County and Blind Murphy in Alpharetta. And in Blind Murphy’s case, they worded the law such that samples are allowed, a clever competitive advantage.

So together with my blogging partner Mike Christensen, we set out to try them all. From Cumming to Roswell we filled our beer jugs with brew from each store. It’s a tough job but somebody’s gotta do it! Here’s how they compare.

Blind Murphy Craft Beer Market
53 South Main Street, Alpharetta
Hours: M-Ths 10-8, F-Sa 10-10, Sun 1-7

Blind Murphy opened a month or so ago in the Kell’s building in downtown Alpharetta. Owner David Sheets doesn’t want to be considered just a growler store. He wants to be an entire beer supplier, from growlers to bottles to home brewing supplies and brew classes. They’ll fill 32 and 64 ounce growlers in addition to tap-poured 12 ounce bottles you mix and match.

And thanks to Alpharetta’s growler ordinance that Sheets helped write, one ounce samples are available, three per person per day. 30 taps are available with plans to offer up to a thousand bottled beers. Selection tends to be more seasonal than the competition with a current emphasis on ales, IPAs and heffes rather than stouts and porters. Local brews include Red Hare and Monday Night Brewing.

Prices are very competitive over the competition. They also plan to donate net proceeds to local charities. Blind Murphy’s social media presence is decent with a focus on Facebook. Watch the tricky parking during peak traffic times.

Crafty Draught
415 Peachtree Pkwy #215  Cumming
Hours: T-Th 11-9, F 11-10, Sa 10-10, Sun 1-6, Closed Monday

The guys at Crafty Draught where the first on the scene and have had time to build a following.  They have 20 taps, glassware and bottled beers. Their growler bottles have different graphics, some quite funny. A rewards card is available.

They have a large social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and their website. Unfortunately Crafty Draught is a little pricier compared to the other shops.

They have a good selection of beers from IPA, ales, stouts, cider and root beer. Local beers include Jailhouse and Terrapin. They are very friendly and are ready and willing to talk beer. A ping pong table is in the store for your enjoyment.

Tap It Growlers
5354 McGinnis Ferry Road #204, Alpharetta
Hours: M-Th 12-8, F-Sa 12-10, Sun 1-6

Unlike the competition, these guys quietly opened with little fanfare or social media push. They are owned by the folks behind Mangia, a pizzeria in the same stripmall.

Tap It is a pure-play growler store. They have little plans to offer much of a selection outside of draught beer. Their 30 taps pour some variety although connoisseurs may bore of mundane selections like Negra Modelo and Sierra Nevada.

What could set them apart, especially to stout drinkers, is their nitro draughts. They also fill growlers via a tube from the bottom up and fill the air with CO2. The claim is that this adds some shelf life to your growler.

Cumming Growler Shop
1770B Buford Highway, Cumming
Hours: M 10-10, T-Th 9-10, F-Sa 9-11, Sun 12:30 – 7

The Cumming Beverage Mart skirted the Forsyth growler ordinance a bit. The liquor store, unable to sell growlers, added onto the back of the store with a separate entrance for their growler business. Clever.

They have 20 beers on tap with the usual 64 and 32 ounce bottles for sale with pretty cool resalable tops. In addition to the taps, there is a small selection of glassware and one rack of bottled beer.  It seems the growler store was just an attempt to cash in on the growler craze with not a lot of thought put into it. You’ll notice a beer pong kit consisting of a few Solo cups and some ping pong balls wrapped up in plastic. Classy touch.

They do not have a website, but they are on Facebook with a list of what’s pouring.  Prices are comparable to the average, with a few very expensive beers running at an eye watering $30. Service was lacking as the staff didn’t seem eager to discuss beer.

Ale Yeah
408 South Atlanta St. #157, Roswell
Hours: T-Th 11-9, F-Sa 11-10, Sun 12:30-6, Closed Monday

Decatur-based Ale Yeah recently opened their second store in Roswell on Hwy 9 south of the Roswell Square. It’s apparent that this is not their first rodeo. The shelves are all built and stocked with many bottles of beer organized by type – Ales over here, stouts and porters over there, fruit, sours and IPAs.  There was even a small section of wine.

18 taps are on the back wall appearing to be as almost an afterthought, as if the bottles were the main show. They have a large selection of local brews from Monday Night, Red Hare, Terrapin, and Sweetwater. Prices are on the website and they are about the same as everyone else. They are on Facebook and Twitter and know what they’re doing. Employees are approachable and knowledgeable with a passion for beer.

City Growler
214C Atlanta Hwy, Cumming
Hours: M 4-8, T-Th 11:30-8:30, F 11-10, Sa 10-10, Sun 1-6

City Growler has been open for nearly three months in the Olde Town strip mall just east of downtown Cumming. They have 22 taps but a limited selection of bottled beers.

They have a large variety of beers such as IPA, heffes, stouts, ciders, and a very popular root beer. There are several local brews available with some limited editions from Georgia brewers. The prices are on par with all of the other stores if not a little lower. They are on Facebook and Twitter with Facebook being the more active.

Staff is knowledgeable, very chatty and willing to educate both newbies and experienced beer drinkers.

Brandon Beach vs Sean Jerguson

The resignation of Chip Rogers a few weeks ago was certainly a surprise. But it created a special election that promises to be a mad sprint to the finish. With election day set for Tuesday January 8th, candidates will scramble. And not only is the race short, this campaign season coincides with the holidays. Hope there are no robocalls over Christmas!

What comes as no surprise is that Brandon Beach entered the race. This will be his third state senate race in as many years. He’ll square off against Cherokee County statehouse representative Sean Jerguson.

Beach is quickly becoming the Chicago Cubs of north Fulton elections. The poor guy has finished on the losing side nearly every time. The last time he won an election Bill Clinton was in the White House. On top of that, ballot initiatives he’s supported also tend not to do well. He opposed the charter school issue on the November ballot, which passed. And then there’s T-SPLOST.

Last year’s primary ballot was uncomfortable for Beach. His name was mere inches away from the T-SPLOST question he wholeheartedly supported. There’s no question it cost him votes. How much will it cost him in this special election?

Beach is way out of touch with most suburban voters. It explains his lack of success on election day. His constituency is business, particularly the real estate developer. They along with DOT contractors have been huge contributors to his past campaigns. And why not? He’s supported plenty of projects that would be a boon to big business but a detriment to the taxpayer. And we’re not just talking T-SPLOST here.

He’s supported managed toll lanes on GA-400. Ask your friends from Gwinnett County how popular these have been on I-85. Even many of Beach’s local supporters oppose this beastly idea. He’s also pushed for heavy and light rail projects into north Fulton. He even went so far as to propose a rail line that would bisect the Windward neighborhood.

In short, voters don’t trust the transportation leadership in Gerogia. Brandon Beach embodies that good-old-boy transportation establishment.

But the third time might prove to be a charm. He’s already got his campaign infrastructure in place. Yard signs are being recycled as are contributions. His opponent, Sean Jerguson, is almost unknown in north Fulton. He’ll need to spend a lot of time and money building his name recognition here, indeed an uphill challenge.

Beach also has a strategic advantage in early voting. Fulton County opened an early voting location in downtown Alpharetta. This almost never happens within the city. Alpharetta and Milton voters were not given this courtesy during the high-turnout general election this past November. Perhaps it was intentional this time. In contrast, Cherokee’s early voting location is on the edge of the senate district in Canton.

So pass the popcorn; this one is gonna be fun to watch. Expect robocalls and mailers galore as the mud is sure to fly.

TopGolf seeks to tee it up in Alpharetta

Fore! The golf scene in Alpharetta may get a unique and high-tech addition. TopGolf USA has submitted a request to the city to build a golf-themed entertainment complex on 16 acres of land near Westside and Sanctuary Parkways.

TopGolf was founded in London by two brothers who grew board of endlessly hitting golf balls at the driving range. What evolved was a game that leverages patented microchip technology embedded within golf balls. Real-time data on shot range and distance to targets is relayed back and displayed to players on flatscreen televisions.

TopGolf hopes to build this high-tech driving range and a structure containing 94 driving bays on three levels. Adjoining that will be a 64,000 square foot entertainment building which includes a large 4,600 square foot restaurant and bar. Golfers can enjoy food and adult beverages in the restaurant, on a rooftop lounge or right in their driving bays. Corporate events will also be featured.

TopGolf currently operates similar facilities in Texas, Chicago, Washington DC and the UK. They aim to open 50 more locations across the county. Alpharetta would be the first in Georgia.

But their plan may not be an easy putt to sink. The company will need a conditional use permit and possibly a variance from the city before teeing up on this project. The city’s Planning Commission and Council will decide if the concept is up to par or if they need a mulligan. In the meantime, expect endless golf metaphors from local writers and journalists ahead of the city’s decision early next year.

Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint – Windward

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

Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint opened in September and has since gathered quite a following. Everyone I’ve spoken to about Maddio’s has mixed reviews.  I am no different.

Uncle Maddio’s is a chain with six metro-Atlanta locations, and according to the website, 75 more stores in development.  It’s a fast casual, design your own pizza concept.  You choose your type of dough (white, wheat or gluten free), your type of cheese and then you get to go crazy with toppings.  The person then assembles your pie per your instruction and lays it on a conveyor belt oven that’s reminiscent of the Quiznos toaster.  As the pizza slowly travels through the oven to cook you continue down the line and pay. You are given an identification number to place on your table.  The pizza is brought out to your table hot and ready to eat.

Along with pizzas, Uncle Maddio’s has a variety of salads and paninis.  If the pressure of all those ingredients gets to you, they also have many specialty pizzas to choose from.

My first experience was for take out.  I ordered the Big Max specialty pizza which has loads of meat and a basil tomato sauce.  My wife and I were disappointed in the taste and quality.  The pizza was bland, cold and uninspired.  I thought that perhaps the travel time between the restaurant and my home really took it out of the pizza.

The seating is an unusual mix of really high booths and crammed in tables.  It is rather tight.  Several employees were trying to bus tables and deliver food.  There’s not much room to walk.  It didn’t help that the place was packed. There are several outdoor tables that will help with the crowds come summertime.

The employees are friendly enough. There is a station with plates, silverware, napkins and condiments.  They also have one of those fancy Freestyle Coke machines with millions of combinations of soda. There were several televisions to watch and pretty loud music piped in.  It was almost distorted and was a tad distracting.

I dined in on my second visit, choosing my own toppings from the massive selection. The pizza arrived and I chowed down.  My theory about the time after cooking was correct.  The pizza was delicious and flavorful.  I ate nearly the entire thing.

There are not many options on the kid’s menu.  Parents, be prepared. There is a small pizza meal and that’s it. The prices are not too bad, even thought you can’t find them on the website.  It was around $20 for a medium pizza and a drink.

Overall, I’ve has ups and downs with Uncle Maddio’s.  It’s worth a shot.  It’s neat picking out your toppings ala Subway and there are several gluten free and organic options. Eat it there for the best taste.  Ciao Maddio!

Uncle Maddio's Pizza Joint on Urbanspoon

Lee’s Take - I’m not going to disagree with Mike on this one. You’ve got to have diminished expectations going into this joint based on their common ancestry with Moe’s. Nevertheless there area few decent items to be found here. Stick to the specialty pizzas. The southwest baja, a spicy chicken pizza, is a winner. My wife likes their Greek pizza. For pies with a-la cart toppings, you’re better off elsewhere.

Their kitschy theme grates on me. Employees say “Ciao Maddio” and “hot pie” under compulsion from management. It doesn’t come off well, very contrived. The make up for it with a decent Facebook page with some specials to be found there. And watch those small kids pizzas, lest you share your own pie with Junior!

Alpharetta Restaurant & Retail News – December 2012

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

The Roswell invasion of Alpharetta has begun! Last weekend the buzz on Twitter was all about Salt Factory Pub. The popular Canton Street eatery has leased the former KFC/Tifosi location at 102 South Main Street. Expect an opening in February. Also expect a bocce ball court on the patio.

And at about the same time we learned of Nine Street Kitchen. They have inked a deal to lease the space at 52 North Main Street according to a source close to the property owner. Mayor David Belle Isle also confirmed this deal.

So that’s two Canton Street restaurants planning second locations in downtown Alpharetta. This is easily the most significant restaurant news of the year. Some might argue this is a glowing endorsement of Alpharetta’s plans for downtown. Alpharetta has done a lot to lure guys like this. The plans seem to be working.

Campania Pizzeria - News downtown shouldn’t overshadow Campania. I’ve learned a bit more about this Neapolitan-style pizza joint coming to 800 North Main. They are indeed trying to bring an authentic product to Alpharetta. Antico in Atlanta was mentioned in my conversation with the manager. They don’t expect to have the same vibe as this trendy Midtown joint, but they do hope to recreate their pies. The wood-fired pizza oven imported from Italy certainly won’t hurt. These first-time restauranteurs want to open in February. That’s probably a little ambitious.

First Watch Café – Sometimes we miss a new restaurant. This one slipped by back in October when the Atlanta Business Chronicle first scooped it. The J Christophers in Johns Creek has been sold and will change into this concept from Florida. How will they stack up to other high-end breakfast joints like Egg Harbor or Another Broken Egg?

The restaurant broker Shumacher Group reports that they have sold Izumi Asian Bistro on North Main Street. Not sure if the concept stays the same or changes to something completely different. Stay tuned.

And while we’re talking about restaurant brokers… you can buy the Dickey’s franchise in Milton for $150,000. Or how about some local froyo joints for sale?

Restaurants Coming Soon

Tap on Main – False start, five yard penalty, repeat first down. Now they are back to being closed. Welcome back to the coming soon list.
OVR Coffee Cafe – A vegan bakery and coffee shop in south Forsyth’s Vickery Village. Look for them in the old Mommy Francis space.
Mambo’s Cafe – Their sign is shining brightly above their new digs at Windward and Main.
Tower Burgers - They are looking at the old Sonic building on South Main Street.
Chipotle, Corner Bakery Cafe, Pollo Tropical – A trifecta of new restaurants to be built on Haynes Bridge near the mall entrance.
BurgerFI – Fast-casual burger concept coming to Windward next to FedEx.
Sushi Mania – Former Brookhaven sushi joint coming to the Camden Village shopping center in Johns Creek.
Mayuri - Building in the old Woody’s/Pizza Hut near Northpoint Mall.
Osaka Steak & Sushi – Small hibachi joint coming to Johns Creek/south Forsyth near Michael’s.

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