Burgers & Barbeque Boost Buckhead Business • by Judy A. Maxwell
General Store expanding to keep up with demand for tasty grub
It was supposed to be a gourmet-foods store, but it has morphed into a greasy-spoon
The General Store at 4420 Buckhead Road in Buckhead is readjusting its business focus to promote more of its fresh-cooked food than the packaged fru-fru food stuffs on its shelves. Co-owners Jessica Royal and Tim Lewis of Madison have seen an unexpected boom in the store’s burger business, prompting them to seek the county’s OK to knock out a couple of walls to make more room for restaurant customers.
Opened last October as a gourmet foods shop, Lewis said they included the grilled burgers and smoked pork barbecue to supplement the grocery store’s income. However, word quickly spread about the half-pound, hand-patted cheese burgers, and the restaurant-side of the business “has now dwarfed the grocery business,” Lewis said, shifting the bulk of the enterprise’s sales revenue to 90 percent food and 10 percent groceries.
Lewis and Royal are seeking a zoning variance from Morgan County so they can expand the kitchen, dining and storage areas to keep up with customers’ demands for more food and more room in which to sit down and eat it.
“We’re taking the business in another direction,” Lewis told the Morgan County Planning Commission at its regular meeting Thursday night. “We need certain things such as more equipment and more space to be a ‘real’ restaurant.”
The planning commission unanimously voted to recommend that the Morgan County Board of Commissioners approve the variance. The only stipulation is the building addition includes a gutter and downspout to handle storm water runoff on the roof. At their meeting Tuesday, county commissioners did approve the variance.
During an interview at the store before Thursday’s planning commission meeting, Lewis said he was not completely sure he and Royal would follow up on their plan, but wanted to take the necessary steps to see if their ideas were feasible. Currently, the business falls under the purview of the Georgia Department of Agriculture as it opened mainly as a grocery store. To qualify as such, The General Store has to keep $2,500 in grocery items on its shelves. If the couple makes the switch to a restaurant, the business would become a concern of the Morgan County Health Department.
The General Store would continue to offer grocery items such as micro-brews, wine, breads and artisan cheeses, but Lewis said, while those items do sell, word of mouth has promoted its burgers and barbecue and “people come in expecting to find a restaurant.”
The business opened with some seating for diners, and soon after the owners replaced product shelving and displays with more tables and chairs.
Lewis said business has slowed down somewhat this summer, and he blames the heat, but it still does a brisk business, sometimes going hours without a customer and then suddenly having to serve an influx of 10 to 25 people at a time – some dining in and others carrying out.
He estimates the store sells up to 250 burgers a week right now. In April and May, the burger count was 300 a week. “On Saturdays, we’ve gone over 100 burgers,” said Lewis. “It can be pretty overwhelming with such a small space.”
Lewis, 32, said he and Royal had “kicked around an idea to open in another location,” but decided instead to stay in Buckhead. “The Buckhead community has been good us,” said Lewis. “A lot of people are willing to drive from Madison and Athens and other places to eat here.”
A current turn of events has dampened any enthusiasm the couple may have had about opening in Madison.
Jessica Royal, 28, is the daughter of Everett Royal, a resident of Madison as well as a property developer and owner of The James Madison Inn in downtown. Royal serves on the Downtown Development Authority, and last week became the focus of an ethics investigation launched by the city council. Attorney Frank E. Jenkins has been enlisted by the council to look into claims that Everett Royal shared “inside information” with his daughter that the former Los Gallos Mexican Restaurant at 863 N. Main St. was in an area being considered as part of a Downtown Urban Redevelopment Program, which would have offered special tax exemptions and grants to developers. The city council soon after approved the DURP’s boundaries. Councilmember Michael Naples started the ball rolling on the investigation last April when he questioned Everett Royal’s involvement in the project.
Printed in the August 4, 2011 edition.