Last night I attended the Town Hall Roswell event sponsored by Roswell NEXT. Roswell NEXT is a great local civic organization that helps promote smart growth and development in Roswell. I'm not a member, but I've seen their name around town and on Michael Hadden's excellent blog. They seem like good people with a lot of pride in their city.
Anyways, they do monthly events and this one was open to the public. It was a panel discussion of restauranteurs in Roswell discussing what issues they face and why they do business in Roswell. It was a really interesting discussion, even if there were no huge revelations or verbal smack downs. This ain't no Jerry Spring sideshow.
The panel consisted of the owners of The Salt Factory/Opulent/Little Alley Steaks, Table & Main, Adele's, Lucky's Burgers & Brews and The Food Movement, which owns about a dozen or so food trucks around Atlanta. I like that the organizers had such a diverse range of restaurants and included food trucks.
One of the things discussed was how Roswell really intends to become a destination dining area, not just for metro Atlanta, but for the entire south east. The owner of The Salt Factory was especially complimentary of Roswell's friendliness to the restaurant business, mentioning that you don't really appreciate it until you try to open another one somewhere else. I can only assume he's talking about the second Salt Factory location in Alpharetta, which is coming soon. I'm a fan of this goal. I think Decatur still has us beat on sheer numbers of destination restaurants, but we're rapidly catching up. And Canton Street, with the shops and galleries around the restaurants gives you something to do while waiting for a table, or walking off a meal. There is better density of restaurants too. It's possible to walk around for a bit and look at a dozen menus before deciding where to eat.
Parking on Canton is definitely an issue and was discussed quite a bit. Folks seem to be learning you can park for free at the nearby City Hall, but the panel pointed out that that's a long walk to the north end of Canton and City Hall is poorly lit at night. It's not an inviting place. Several panelists and audience members expressed a hope that the planned City Walk development replacing the Frasier Street apartments will include more parking and perhaps a shuttle on weekends to take you from Alpharetta highway to Canton Street. That sounds like an expensive prospect for the city though. I don't think we can afford for them to run a free trolley bus outside of special events like Alive After 5. This is one area where I wish we had better transit in Roswell. If MARTA ran a bus from Martin's Landing to the Historic District, I'd probably ride that sucker every week. But folks coming to Canton Street aren't just locals. The panel moderator revealed that quite a bit of that street's business comes from East Cobb, Swanee and Duluth these days.
Alive After 5 is a big boon to the restaurants actually on Canton. But the ones off it? Not so much. Roswell runs trolley busses out to the Square, which is where the food trucks park, but nothing goes to Alpharetta highway. The owner of Lucky's was quite blunt that he sees no real benefit to participating in the festival beyond having an employee pass out paper menus. He doesn't want to set up a booth because he'd hate for his customer's first experience to be something substandard. The other owners had similar things to say about participating in Taste of Roswell. It's hard to be memorable at a festival and you can't bring your A game to something being "served from a tub", to quote Lucky's. That actually answered a question I'd had for years about why I never see the really INTERESTING things at A Taste of Roswell. It's always a bunch of crap like Moe's or Shane's Ribshack. I'm not getting my toes run over by a stroller mom for THAT.
Another topic raised was the impact of food bloggers. I admit, this one had me squirming in my seat a little. This is my fun hobby! I'm performing a community service here! Don't knock me! And yeah, they all had a love/hate relationship with food bloggers and social media. They love being able to interact with their customers and spread the word. They hate getting negative reviews from random idiots having a bad day on Yelp. But they all agree that its part of doing business now and I think most of them say they have a social media person on staff who is responsible for minding all the Twitters and Facebooks and whatnot.
I do get the reluctance about amateur reviews. I'm just some weirdo with a laptop. I have no food background or journalism training. But I still try to be ethical and responsible about how I blog. My dozens of readers demand it! I've been mulling over writing up a restaurant where I've had multiple bad experiences recently. I hate to do it, but that's what I have to say if I'm being honest. So I just haven't done it yet, even though I know a negative review posted here will get me more hits than a positive.
There was also a conversation about food trucks and how they've changed things. Everyone seemed to agree that as long as they are competing fairly, they are a great addition to street festivals and busy areas without dining options. The Food Movement has an exclusive contract with the city to park at Don White park on the weekends, which is an area without any restaurants to compete with. It's a great fit and it helps fulfill Roswell's dream of being a sophisticated foodie town. I'd like to see more food trucks given permission to park there or at other area parks in the future, but this is a great start. I got the impression that The Food Movement approached the city about it, so kudos to them for it.
And that's about all I recall clearly enough to feel confident putting down here. Again, a great event. The mayor and several councilmen were in attendance, along with other business and community leaders. If another event like this comes around, I recommend attending it.
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