How Snowmageddon 2011 Justifies Our Milk and Bread Hoarding

That’s right, I’m going to write an article justifying the southern practice of raiding grocery stores before winter storms. I’m ready for all the hate mail you can bring!

Imagine if authorities announced that gasoline would be unavailable for purchase for 48 hours. What would you do? Gas up of course! What if you already had three quarters of a tank? Well, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so why not top off? Makes sense. Pretty soon everyone will get the same notion and there will be a run on gas. Hoarding behavior takes over.

This might not make a great analogy but it happened in September 2008. Remember? I do because I was one of the poor schmucks in an hour long line to gas up.

Predictions for winter weather are similar. Most snows in Georgia are gone in less than a day. Yet many of us can remember 1993 or other times when snow turned into a several day affair. The snowstorm this week certainly did. It means you’re without access to grocery stores for 48 hours, maybe more. Refreshing your stock of perishable commodities is a reasonable thing to do. So yeah, I was at Walmart last weekend buying milk, bread, fruit, (and my favorite beer, Yuengling) and basically any other groceries I would have bought during the week. Now that I’ve been home-bound for two, going on three days, I feel like my hoarding was a completely justified and rational thing to do.

Maybe you’re an Alpharetta resident who relocated from up north. This will be where you criticize southerns for not knowing how to drive in snow and ice. I’m not going to argue with you. (cue the Rain Man quote) I think I’m an excellent driver, having some experience in weather like this. But you’re right, most in the south don’t know how to drive on snow. I’m more worried about them, not me! I don’t want to be T-boned by Bubba who thinks the laws of physics and friction don’t apply to his rear-wheel drive F-150.

Do you think the Snowmageddon 2011 event has justified our milk and bread hoarding? I’m opening myself up to ridicule and mockery but I’m good for it. Let me have it!

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

Jilly’s Cupcakery – Milton/Alpharetta

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

Cupcakes are hip, baby. There are reality shows about them. How Alpharetta escaped this craze is a mystery to me. But no longer are we without artisan, gourmet mini sweets. Jilly’s Cupcakery opened a little more than a week ago.

It’s going to be hard to avoid comparing these guys to Dutch Monkey Doughnuts. It’s a similar product… Decadent sweet treats, made by hand in small batches, cleaver and inventive use of ingredients, and family operated. The amazing success Dutch Monkey has had in a little over a year made me wonder why someone didn’t give this business model a go with cupcakes.

Jilly’s Cupcakery opened after Christmas in the Kroger shopping center at Windward and Highway 9, just into Milton. The shop is the namesake of Jill, the daughter who bakes along with her mother. At this point the shop is fairly simple. A large counter holds an impressive array of cupcakes, all carefully lined up. Protecting the cute little creations is the world’s tallest sneeze guard. Germs or grubby little fingers are kept safely at bay. A comfy couch is about all that’s left in the smallish space.

Their menu features a dozen varieties of cupcakes, two of which rotate as daily features with the rest being everyday staples. I tried my best to sample several varieties to prepare for this review. To avoid a potential cupcake overdose, I employed the help of my wife and some all-too-eager co-workers. For the most part we all came to the same conclusion.

The single best feature of Jilly’s cupcakes is the frosting. There’s a reason the frosting swirl is their logo. This stuff is delicious. It’s rich, flavorful and smooth as velvet. They infuse it with flavors such as strawberry, lemon or chocolate to match the cupcake ordered. It was unanimous among my fellow cubicle critters… Jilly’s frosting is king.

Jilly’s creations are built on several different cake bases. Unfortunately most of us found the cake itself to be on the dry side. The richness of the frosting counteracts this somewhat. But my fellow reviewers all agreed that a more moist cake would have better rounded out the overall cupcake.

I like that Jilly’s put effort into packaging of their product. You’ll be sent away with sturdy boxes. Inside are specially-made cupcake holders that will prevent your treasures from rolling over or getting mangled in transit. You could drive home like Mario Andretti and never disturb a delicate little cupcake.

Overall, I think Jilly’s is a neat joint that has a lot of potential. Don’t let my comment on the dry cake keep you away from this place. I was critical of Dutch Monkey when they opened for having a chewy doughnut. It was a defect they fixed over time. Jilly’s can fix this as well. I also think that over the coming months Jilly’s will get more creative with their offerings. Wait until spring and summer roll around and fresh fruit is in season. The possibilities are endless. For now, I suggest Jilly’s salted caramel or ultimate chocolate. Totally worth a $2.75 splurge!

Photo credit: Robyn Guy Photography, Alpharetta

Jilly's Cupcakery on Urbanspoon

3.14 Ways to Get IT Guys to Like You

Meet Roy, an uber-smart computer scientist. Roy has a masters degree from Georgia Tech and is a published information technology author. When I met Roy he was the lead software architect on a critical and high-pressure project. Roy was known for biting the head off of many a newbie. Asking a question or favor of Roy became known as “poking the bear.” It was a daunting and intimidating thing to consider.

Over time Roy calmed down and I got to be pretty good buddies with him. But my early experiences with him stuck with me. I realize today that many non-technical cubicle dwellers might have to deal with similar situations. Maybe you got re-orged this year and you’re having to deal with surly information technology guys for the first time. They speak a different language, wear flip flops and are just strange creatures. How do you get them to like you and maybe actually do favors for you?

Bring Chocolate

Ever been to Fry’s Electronics in Milton? Pay attention the next time you’re walking through the checkout area. You have to walk down an aisle containing nothing but snacks, sweets, chocolate and energy drinks. It is the fuel of the IT world. We’ve got a serious sweet tooth.

Another story… meet Sandra, mild-mannered lady who used to work in our accounting department. Sandra started showing up at our meetings a few years ago. She would bring baskets of candy… big baskets. I’m not talking about candy your crabby old grandpa used to have. She had stuff like Snickers, Milky Way, M&M’s and Almond Joys. This was the candy you actually wanted to get for Halloween. At first we didn’t know what to think of Sandra. But before long she became popular at our meetings. IT guys started swinging by her cube for no reason other than a quick boost of sugar. In the meantime she was asking her questions and getting answers from very willing and helpful IT weirdos. And an interesting side note on Sandra… she recently transferred into our department. The candy basket came too. No, we didn’t recruit her for the sweets (at least that’s not what got communicated to management).

Want to kick it up a notch? Here’s a bonus idea (wondering how I would get to the .14 ways? This is it). Go with the vintage candy. This is the hard-to-find stuff from our childhood. I suggest Fuzziwig’s at the Avenue Forsyth.

Nerdy Pop Culture References

You don’t need to be able to hang in conversation about object overloading and polymorphism. Forget it! Try to bring out the inner pop culture geek that’s already in you. Do you know the answer to life, the universe and everything? Can you name all the members of the Jedi High Council? Do you use the new TPS report cover sheet? Didn’t you get the memo?

If I’m not speaking a foreign language to you, then you can hang with an IT guy, seriously. Embrace your inner nerd.

Don’t Ask Twice

If you are going to poke the bear about something, never ask the same question twice. It doesn’t matter if you’re asking how to sum a column in Excel, generate last month’s revenue report or pilot the Space Shuttle. Write down what is said, put it in a document and save it. Nothing will get you on the IT black list quicker than the same annoying question over and over.

But at the end of the day, don’t be intimidated by IT guys. Even the most grumpy of software geeks can be charmed. Do it well and you might even get them to do your bidding for you.

Photo Credit (no, that’s not a self portrait): wetwebwork and Jeff Moser

What I Didn’t Write About

Today marks the first anniversary of my blog, a milestone that no one other than myself probably cares a lick about. A lot of bloggers might take this occasion to mention some favorite articles or perhaps highlight the most viewed. I’m not gonna do it.

In sports sometimes the best call an umpire can make is no call at all; let the game progress without interjecting your opinion. I think some of the best decisions I’ve made as a blogger are the things I chose not to write about. I probably could have been the only person writing about these three topics, but being a responsible and appropriate need to win out at the end of the day.

The human tragedy story – I had the chance to write about a heartbreaking story of loss that occurred in Alpharetta. I knew details from those close to what happened but chose not to write for the sake of the family involved. Looking back, it was the right thing to do.

The crime story – This one was tough to walk away from. I was investigating a series of crimes in the suburbs. I spoke with police on the matter and learned, off the record, that there was more to the story. It might have been very interesting. After discussing the matter with my wife we both felt like it might invite too much attention on a topic I didn’t want to be a part of.

The restaurant train wreck – I love writing about new restaurants. I’m the guy who’s gotta get in there the first week they’re open and crank out a quick review. So one day I hit up a new joint for lunch. The service is a mess. The one poor waitress was completely overwhelmed. It happens a lot in new places and I usually overlook it. But the food was also miserable. The kitchen was slow and making mistakes. Customers were walking out. And the worse part… the manager/owner was sitting on his rear doing almost nothing. I could have written a scathing review. You’d be surprised how much fun it is writing ugly stuff. For some reason it is easier to be creative when being negative. But there’s no reason to slam someone’s business when it is obvious they haven’t got it together.

The NIMBY Mosques – Okay, I actually wrote about this… twice. I think as a local blogger it is perfectly fine to take a stand contrary to most of your peers. That’s what I did with the two proposed mosques (both in south Forsyth and Alpharetta). I don’t regret the stand I took on the mosque issue. I also don’t think we’ve heard the last of this.

When I started blogging I didn’t set a lot of goals. You can’t expect huge numbers writing a local blog like this. As long as I kept finding things I wanted to write about, then I’d be happy. So far that is still the case. What’s been the best part about writing Roots? Making new acquaintances. I’m grateful for each of you I’ve met. Thanks for reading and have a terrific new year!

The Red Hen Has Laid Her Last Egg

About two years ago I wrote a review of The Red Hen over on Yelp. It wasn’t pretty. After two disappointing experiences at the restaurant, I’d written them off. A few weeks later I received a private message on the website from Jason Meinhardt, owner and chef of The Red Hen. I was afraid to open it. I’d been on the receiving end of an angry restaurant owner before and it wasn’t a lot of fun. But things were different with Jason.

What followed was a friendly online exchange that lasted for a few years, both via email and blog comments. In our most recent conversation I learned of Jason’s plans to close his popular avant garde breakfast joint. The Red Hen served it’s last customer this week.

So how did Jason react to my negative review from way back? He handled it in the most professional and genuine way possible. He talked about how he took every online review seriously and used them in constructive ways. He didn’t attack me or try to pick apart my words. I wasn’t pressured to take the review down, nothing of the sort. It was a textbook example of how to handle criticism of your business. He earned my respect very quickly from that point on.

After that initial exchange we talked about how running a restaurant is extremely difficult. He shared some hardships, talked about struggles he overcame but all the while was positive about his business. In the meantime he was turning the place around. As he shared with me a few weeks ago, he’s going out on a high note. The Red Hen was listed in Atlanta Magazine’s Best Of issue. It also ranked in Urbanspoon’s top 100 of Atlanta list. How significant is that? By Alpharetta standards it puts The Hen in an exclusive club that includes the much-lauded Pure Taqueria and Pampas Steakhouse.

So even though The Red Hen is no more, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Jason Meinhardt. I’ll continue to follow his blog foodalong.com and twitter account (@ChefJMMeinhardt). It was on twitter this week that he mentioned trying to get onto a Food Network program. He’s got a background in theater, so combining food and television might be a great fit. The next Bobby Flay? Perhaps!

New/Closed Restaurants – December 2010

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

Not a lot of restaurant news to report this month, but let’s clear out my new restaurant list before the end of the year. If you know of a place I’ve missed, leave me a comment or email me at lee@rootsinalpharetta.com

Jilly’s Cupcakery – Milton

I’m kinda excited about this one. Jilly’s opened yesterday in the Kroger shopping center on the corner of Windward and Highway 9, next to the Hallmark store. I’ve always thought this area could support a high-end cupcake shop, especially after the amazing success Dutch Monkey Doughnuts has had with artisan sweets. Look for a review here on Roots in a week or two.

The Red Hen – Closed

Alpharetta’s avant-garde breakfast joint has closed. I’ll have more to say about this in another article.

Jersey Boyz Pizza – Johns Creek

Boyz in da hood! This small pizza shop is set to open their second location in Johns Creek at 9945 Jones Bridge Road near Soho Hair Salon. Their original location is in south Forsyth on Bethelview Road. I’ve never tried the Boyz so I have nothing to report except to say that pizza in Johns Creek is very competitive.

Extreme Pita – Northpoint and Johns Creek

I recently saw this article about how franchise pita restaurants have their eyes on expanding into Atlanta. Extreme Pita is looking at Alpharetta near the mall. A new franchise restaurant concept near the mall? I can’t believe it. A second location is being considered in Johns Creek. No word on where or even if they have leased space yet. Could just be in the planning stages at this point, so curb your enthusiasm.

Hyperlocal Journalism in Alpharetta

Back when I started my blog, I’d never heard the term “hyperlocal blog”. I thought Alpharetta didn’t have a lot in the way of bloggers talking about stuff going on in our little burb. Thus was born Roots in Alpharetta, my little hyperlocal blog creation. I still don’t think we have many hyperlocal blogs in Alpharetta. However, we’re about to get inundated with hyperlocal journalism.

First, it is important to make a distinction. I’m not a journalist nor do I pretend to be one. I’m just a fella who reads the newspaper and has an opinion. Think of my stuff as the op-ed page, that part of the paper you usually skip.

So what do I mean by hyperlocal journalism? We’ve got it in two formats…

Legacy Media Newspapers

Let’s start with the old-school guys that are still killin’ trees. Alpharetta has several local papers and they are all pretty good. While I don’t subscribe to any of them in print format, I do read and participate in their websites. I like the Alpharetta Revue News run by the Appen Newspapers. I especially like their feature stories that deep dive into issues. This story about north Fulton’s hidden homeless hit me hard. I like the Neighbor Newspapers for their clean website and terrific restaurant critic, Joan Durbin. I don’t read the Beacon Newspaper much as their website has a subscription component to it. They seem to have the best local sports coverage I’ve found.

But the biggest problem these papers will face is their ability to react quickly to news. Let me give an example that will play into hyperlocal journalism on the internet. Recently I read an article on the website of one of Alpharetta’s small newspapers. The article was important to me as it was about a serious crime in Alpharetta. And while they were the first to report on the issue, it didn’t appear on their website for a week! Perhaps they push content online at the time they go to press. Either way, in the online world it was ancient news.

Hyperlocal Journalism Online

Let me give another example… Last week when ice was reeking havoc on Alpharetta’s commute… who gave the best updates, in real-time, of road conditions? Bob Pepalis of the Alpharetta Patch. He was on twitter with a steady stream of updates on ice and impassable roads.

The Patch – This is an effort being funded by AOL. It’s ironic that the dinosaur of the internet is behind such an innovative effort. The Patch’s idea is simple. They’ve built an online news platform to collect and display news locally. Next they hire one person in each small community to cover local news. That local editor will leverage the news platform to publish an online newspaper. They are expanding very rapidly, especially into affluent areas like Alpharetta. Here locally they have editors in Johns Creek, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Cumming and a combined Alpharetta/Milton Patch run by Pepalis (who used to work for Appen). There’s no office, no printing press, little overhead… just news gathering. For the cost of one employee, a laptop and an iPhone they can be a very nimble news organization, reporting in almost real time. This isn’t your father’s newspaper.

There’s another hyperlocal news group called The Examiner. They are not as granular as the Patch, having only an Atlanta edition that seems to cover the entire metro area. I’ve seen articles here about Alpharetta, but it certainly isn’t a focus.

Why is all this important? Because hyperlocal journalism on the internet has the potential to be a game changer. It could transform the way local news is gathered, presented and consumed. And with a larger internet company behind The Patch (albeit AOL), they could change the way news is indexed and searched. If you’re the publisher of a local print newspaper, you’d better be planning to be a much more agile organization. As a local blogger, I’m excited to welcome these guys to town and look forward to continuing the conversation!

Photo Credit: Matt Callow

The “New” BB’s Bagels, State Bridge Road

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

BB’s Bagels has become legendary in suburbia. They’ve been reviewed hundreds of times, have been on television and have even appeared in a rap video. The owners of this game-changing restaurant are taking advantage of this down economy and have opened a second location. Look for them on State Bridge Road between Jones Bridge and Kimball Bridge.

This review isn’t really about the food at the new location as it is nearly identical to the McFarland location. You can read one of the many reviews to learn about their grub. Years ago on Yelp I described their water-boiled bagels as being “better than sex with a Democrat.” I stand by that assessment.

So let’s talk about how the State Bridge location is different from McFarland. First, it doesn’t have the diner feel. If you’ve been to the McFarland BB’s on a Saturday morning you’ll know what I’m talking about. The place is loaded with ex-pats from New York, many who come from all over metro Atlanta to eat there. It is electric with energy. The staff are helpful if a bit surly at the same time. It all adds to the character of the place.

If you’re looking for that same character at the State Bridge location… you won’t find it. At least you won’t find it now. Maybe things will be different once more people find this new location.

The flow of the place is what I like to call a work-aurant. You order at the counter, get a number, sit down and get your own drinks and silverware. However, you will get table-side attention in a way that is similar to a well-run Chic-Fil-A. They will refill drinks table-side and remove plates as you finish. All in all, I don’t mind this flow. The take-out counter is right next to the main cash register, which makes entering the restaurant a little confusing, especially to newbies.

The space itself is very open and provides a good view into the kitchen. The water kettle and oven are visible through a glass wall. What might appear to be a patio dining area is really the dough prep space. My kids and I found a table next to this and watched them roll dough into bagels. It was more interesting than I thought it would be. The large hunks of dough resemble a side of beef. The men use knives to carve off baseball bats of bagel “meat”. They roll and shape in one motion. Very cool. The viewing windows kind of remind me of what Dutch Monkey Doughnuts has for kids to see behind the scenes. It kept my little monsters occupied for a long time. That’s a win.

All in all I liked the new place. If the State Bridge store is more convenient to you then by all means hit this place up. Will they make it here? I think so. The bagel business is getting very competitive, especially in east Alpharetta and Johns Creek. The second location of Bagel Boys is right around the corner. Essex Bagels (a cousin of BB’s) is not far away on 141. And there is also Brooklyn Bagels in Johns Creek and the ubiquitously disgusting Einsteins. I don’t think they all can survive in this market. Are these places even in the same league as BB’s? Fuhgeddaboudit!
BB's Bagels & Diner on Urbanspoon

Christmas in Alpharetta

The other night I was helping my wife with a marathon Christmas gift wrapping session. Something occurred to me while I was stuffing presents under the tree. I was running out of room for presents. They were stacked upon themselves, getting into the limbs of the tree itself and spilling out onto the living room floor. These were gifts for my family and some extended family, but nothing yet from Santa of course. Santa’s gifts are hidden in a closet yet to be delivered on his sleigh.

The sight of presents spilling out from under my tree was a very visual representation of our abundance here in the affluent burbs. We are all very blessed to live here. We’re lucky to be in a community that continues to add jobs in this economy. We’re fortunate to have the means to give generously to those we love at Christmas. Please don’t take that for granted. With everything that goes on in our busy suburban lives it’s easy to lose sight of it all.

Over the past year I’ve come to make some cool new acquaintances through my blog. I want to take the time to wish you all a Merry Christmas. And if you’re an Alpharetta relo who’s off to visit family back home, I wish you safe and grope-free travels on your journey.

Photo Credit: Allie Towers Rice

Alpharetta’s Most Likely Disaster

I’m pretty sure that an apocalyptic disaster is not likely to befall Alpharetta anytime soon. After all, we made it through the lunar eclipse/solstice double whammy this winter as well as the May 21st doomsday prediction. I’m not a fortune teller and I can’t predict the future, but I feel reasonably sure that I know what disaster is most likely to cause financial distress to Alpharetta. It isn’t what you think! First let’s review what we’re safe from before I get to the most dangerous threat posed to our little burb.

Hurricanes

Being so far inland and a thousand feet above sea level, hurricanes simply don’t pose a threat to us. Sure, from time to time one will strike the Florida panhandle and cause us grief. Worst thing that can happen is…

Floods

We’re fairly safe here as well. North Fulton lies on the Chattahoochee River, but we are just downstream from a dam designed to help in flood control. Big Creek spills its banks every few years but only poses a danger to homes in the immediate area.

Earthquakes

We’re not near any major fault lines. On rare occasions a tremor in the mountains might shake windows, but that’s it.

Terrorism

What about man-made disasters? I suppose anyone could be a target for terrorists. I’m no expert, but I’d imagine Alpharetta isn’t on Al Qaeda’s target list. What are they gonna do, plant IED’s on North Point and go after our minivans?

But there is one man-made disaster that could inflict significant damage to Alpharetta…

The Backhoe

In misguided hands, these machines can become instruments of financial mass destruction. Work with me here…

Alpharetta is home to several large data centers. Ever driven around town and noticed them? They can be hard to spot. You might see row upon row of chillers and diesel storage tanks. Most of the companies I feature on my monthly jobs report host mission-critical data centers right here in Alpharetta. These data centers are vital to everyday commerce for millions of Americans.

Tying it all together is a backbone of high speed fiber optic cabling. Disruption to this infrastructure, be it directly on the backbone or on a line leading onto a high-tech campus, could cause significant downtime to critical software hosted in Alpharetta. Downtime could mean unfulfilled financial transactions, many of which add up to millions of dollars. What might cause this type of disruption? One misguided scoop of a backhoe. Snap!

I’m being a little silly, yet serious at the same time because it’s happened before. In 2006 a backhoe mistakenly dug up a fiber optic cable in Arizona. Instantly long distance and wireless coverage for customers in the Rockies went down. Transcontinental internet traffic slowed to a crawl. Operators that relied on this single provider were digitally isolated.

Data centers live and die by building in redundant backups of systems. Hopefully they have multiple data lines going onto their property in different places. For example, the new T5 data center being constructed on Webb Bridge Road uses six fiber optic providers! The idea is that if one goes offline, there is a second in place to take over. But if this scenario happens, often routers, switches and other equipment are not capable of handling the additional load. It can be a nightmare, something that keeps IT guys awake at night. The lowly backhoe has become a symbol of what data center managers fear the most.

Given Alpharetta’s relatively safe location, I feel pretty confident with my assertion. Disruption of our high-speed data communications infrastructure is Alpharetta’s most serious potential disaster.

Photo credit: Senior Airman SerMae Lampkin, USAF

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