2010
12.31

While LaFayette’s economy is still in the dumps and there’s no sign of a badly-needed industrial resurgence, over the last few months competition in the restaurant business has heated up considerably. Three new eating establishments have popped up in 2010 and several older stores plan to relocate or expand in 2011. Competition may intensify in the new year as a handful of local restaurants begin serving alcohol for the first time.

On December 8th a Little Caesar’s Pizza franchise opened in on North Main Street in the old Huddle House building, which was previously occupied by the nastiest restaurant in LaFayette’s history. The franchise operator did an outstanding job completely gutting and renovating the existing store, adding a drive-thru window and removing almost every trace of the disaster that was previously there.

LaFayette had a Little Caesars before, but that location closed with K-Mart in June 2002. The brand’s return to our area after an eight-year break (long enough that most have forgotten how bad the old one was) makes Little Caesars LaFayette’s third pizza-focused store, joining Pizza Hut and Papa John’s and replacing the Domino’s that closed last spring. All three sell pizza but exist in a different segment of the market; Pizza Hut has higher quality, delivery, and a dining room but charges more, Papa John’s provides home delivery with a mid-level price point and better variety, and Little Caesar’s has the lowest prices and less wait time with their $4.99 “Hot-N-Ready” heat-lamp pizzas. Due to that variation all three should be able to survive, if not thrive, even in a bad economy.

Having Papa John’s and Little Caesars literally across the street from each other is good for both stores’ customers; the new store was selling pies for $3 during their first week of business, forcing Papa’s to respond with “holiday special” pizzas for $3.99. Added competition also helped the local job market by pushing Papa John’s to add at least one new position, a foam-suited pizza slice mascot to compete with the foam-suited Little Caesar mascot dancing next door. Dancing mascot isn’t much of a job, but in this economy we can’t complain about any kind of legitimate paying work.

The pizza market may change even further in 2011 if rumors about a CiCi’s Pizza buffet coming to town prove true. (Most stories focus on the KFC building downtown that closed back in August.) If that happens Little Caesar’s might face more pressure than it can bear, but they can always copy the Fort Oglethorpe location and add a co-branded Dunkin Donuts to the same building. (That store started as a Dunkin and added pizza a few months later.) LaFayette currently lacks a donuts-n-coffee eatery, so hopefully it will happen soon even without an additional competitor coming to town.

Twin’s Pizza and Steaks also serves pizza, but has enough menu variety that owner Key Koukous doesn’t have to lose sleep over his “Hot-N-Ready” competition. Twins does, however, face competition from Rafael’s, a new Italian chain that opened this fall in the Walmart shopping center. Rafael’s menu is similar to Twins’ but not executed nearly as well, offering faster, cheaper dishes that are good by themselves but can only be described as “adequate” when compared to those prepared at Twins. Rafael’s customers are also expected to carry their own trays and refill their own drinks, something not experienced during a visit to Twins. Earlier this year we criticized Twins for having slow table service but the store has improved quite a bit since then; If Key can keep his servers on the ball without screaming at them, his high quality food will keep Rafael’s from putting Twins out of business even as the new competitor draws in price-conscious customers.

Unlike the pizza/italian eateries, LaFayette’s mexican restaurants compete in an identical part of the market, offering customers full table service and a nearly identical menu with similar pricing. Don Lolo, the oldest Mexican restaurant in town, continues to coast on reputation and familiarity despite a drop in overall food quality and service we rated worst in town (tied with Twins, which has improved) back in April.

Right now Don Lolo’s only competitor is YYY (known as Yan Yesica and Yaniria until late in the year), a Mexican restaurant that opened last winter on North Main St. YYY has an uninspired menu and sometimes creepy service, but manages to survive due to its friendly staff and location near Walmart. That superior location allowed YYY to bury El Cancun in January despite El Cancun’s better food and service. (El Cancun was located in the unfortunate Food Lion shopping center and poorly visible from the highway.) YYY also hopes to gain a competitive advantage over Don Lolo by being the only restaurant in town (so far) serving alcohol, which we’ll discuss more in a bit.

YYY’s location won’t help much once a new competitor opens in 2011. Alex & Martha’s is quickly moving into the old Advance Auto between McDonalds and Arby’s on North Main, in front of the same shopping center that housed El Cancun but with a larger and more visible building. Alex & Martha’s location should cancel out any advantage held by YYY and will likely euthanize that struggling store. A&M is owned by former managers of Don Lolo and we expect them to bring in enough loyal Don Lolo customers to bring heat down on the older store and hopefully prod the Don to try a little harder than it has in recent years.

North Main Street between Hendrix St. and West North Main is becoming a virtual restaurant row for LaFayette. The existing Papa John’s, Hardee’s, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Arby’s, and Twins restaurants have been joined by Little Caesars and A&M, with one more competitor, China Buffet, moving into the vacant Movie Gallery building in late January or February 2011. That new location will provide more space for customers and possibly make room for a larger buffet, but the owners’ reason for moving is a rent increase at the Bi-Lo center. (Higher rent in that shopping center pushed Heavenly Creations and CVS into buying their own buildings last year.) China Buffet has a Chinese food competitor, #1 Chinese at Walmart, but remains the city’s only buffet for any kind of cuisine – at least until the rumored CiCi’s materializes.

One other new restaurant opened in LaFayette during 2010: Chicken-N-Fish To Go. CNFTG opened back in the summer in a former gas station on Chattanooga Street between Queen City Cleaners and (now closed) Shelia’s Flowers & Gifts. The store is on the “wrong side of the tracks” and the building’s rough appearance betrays the quality of food inside, but customers who ignore appearances are rewarded with a selection of excellent chicken, catfish, ribs, and fries. Food quality is sometimes lacking, but the store is becoming more consistent as employees gain experience. CNFTG is is one of only three restaurants left on the west side of town, and we strongly encourage everyone in LaFayette to stop by to support the endeavor. Hopefully they’ll get enough business to not just stay open but expand their operating hours outside the current 11-6 Thursday-Saturday window.

Some people hesitate to eat in local restaurants with unknown names because of fears about quality or cleanliness, but we’ve observed most chain stores have no real advantage in either of those areas. Obviously a fast-food or chain restaurant is going to be faster than a locally-branded eatery, but fears about dying of food poisoning after eating in an unknown restaurant are unfounded. Several months ago Georgia began posting all health inspection scores online, providing a convenient way to check out a restaurant before going in. The site keeps current health reports along with four previous inspections to give a picture of a store’s history. Interested customers should read the reports, not just look at each store’s letter grade, since an A or B inspection can still include some serious issues if the problem cited doesn’t knock off enough points.

Back in July the LaFayette City Council overturned 2009’s non-binding vote against liquor-by-the-drink and decided to allow restaurants within the city limits to sell beer and wine. The original decision to write up a beer ordinance passed in a 4-1 vote (councilman Wayne Swanson opposed), and the ordinance itself was approved 2 to 1 (2 councilmen were out of town when it passed, Swanson again opposed.) That all happened in July and August, but so far only one restaurant, YYY, has actually applied for a beer license and begun serving alcohol. Others are interested, but none wanted to pay the annual $500 fee for each type of alcohol served (one for beer and one for wine) plus a $150 administrative fee just to pour during the last four months of 2010.

In the first few weeks of January other restaurants will begin selling alcohol. Twins Pizza lobbied for beer licensing as hard as YYY and will certainly offer beer and wine to accompany an Italian meal. The owners of Choo-Choo BBQ on South Chattanooga Street indicated an interest in alcohol sales back in October, and Pizza Hut stores always serve pitcher beer in areas where it’s allowed. After opening Alex & Martha’s will probably also serve alcohol to compete with YYY. Lunch-only Ivy Cottage restaurant might also put beer on the menu, but we’ve not heard anything about it one way or the other from their management.

Other establishments, including Susie’s, Dari-Dip, and Don Lolo, have gone on record vowing not to sell beer or wine – and those downtown locations probably couldn’t anyway since the city ordinance doesn’t allow alcohol sales with 100 yards of a church, school, recreational facility, or housing authority apartment. (That clause also disqualifies CJ’s Southern Traditions, located next to the main rec. department and across from a church.)

Legalized beer and wine sales will potentially add to the profit margin for several of the city’s existing restaurants, and will likely drive more to open or relocate to “restaurant row” since that’s one of the few parts of town that isn’t within 100 yards of an alcohol-restricted building. Alcohol sales will also pad the city budget, with an excise tax of $6 per keg, $.05 per 12 oz beer, and $.22 per liter of wine. But what the legalization won’t do is bring in big chain restaurants like Applebees or Logan’s Roadhouse, because those kinds of businesses can’t operate in a community the size of LaFayette. As we predicted in 2009, legalizing restaurant alcohol sales within city limits isn’t going to bring about an economic resurgence or send the town over a drunken cliff – but in 2011 we will have a few more eating places to choose from, and some of those places will offer customers the option of drinking a beer with their meal. At this point that’s probably the best we could ask for.

On a Final Sad Note…

Today we’ve learned that LaFayette Printing Company has closed down. LPC joins Sheila’s Flowers, The Book Exchange (next to Fred’s), BlueBird, and KFC on the list of local businesses that shut their doors during 2010. We hope you’ll be inspired by this piece to eat more often in local restaurants and will remember to patronize local stores and services when possible. Some local businesses don’t do what they should do and are difficult to support, but the ones that are deserve our business and need all the help they can get. Let’s try to make 2011 a year of buying at home first.

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15 comments so far

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  1. In case you were wondering or needed to know, here are two reports from WQCH detailing the alcohol ordinances and their passage through the city council:

    “PATRONS OF RESTAURANTS IN THE CITY OF LAFAYETTE MAY SOON BE ABLE TO ORDER BEER AND WINE WITH THEIR MEALS. THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL VOTED MONDAY NIGHT TO DRAW UP THE NECESSARY ORDINANCE AFTER ANOTHER APPEAL BY TWO LOCAL RESTAURANT OWNERS. KEY KOUKOS TOLD THE COUNCIL HE IS LOSING BUSINESS TO CHICKAMAUGA AND FORT OGLETHORPE EVEN IF ONLY ONE PERSON IN A PARTY WANTS TO ORDER A DRINK.”

    “COUNCILMAN NORM HODGE MADE THE MOTION TO ALLOW THE SALE OF BEER AND WINE WITH MEALS IN LOCAL RESTAURANTS AND THE MOTION WAS SECONDED BY COUNCILMAN ERIC TALLENT. THE VOTE WAS 3 TO 1 IN FAVOR. THE NO VOTE MADE BY COUNCILMAN WAYNE SWANSON. THE COUNCIL ASKED CITY MANAGER JOHNNY ARNOLD AND THE CITY ATTORNEY TO DRAW UP THE ORDINANCE FOR THEIR CONSIDERATION AT THE NEXT COUNCIL MEETING.”

    WQCH, 07/13/10:
    “A NEW ORDINANCE ALLOWING BEER AND WINE SALES AT QUALIFYING LAFAYETTE RESTAURANTS, WAS PASSED BY THE CITY COUNCIL AT IT’S MONTHLY MEETING MONDAY. THE VOTE WAS 2 TO 1 IN FAVOR. COUNCILMEN ANDY ARNOLD AND NORM HODGE WERE OUT OF TOWN, ATTENDING THE ANNUAL MEETING OF ‘MEAG’… THE CITY’S ELECTRICITY SUPPLIER.”

    “AS THE SUBJECT CAME UP ON THE EVENING’S SHORT AGENDA MAYOR NEAL FLORENCE ASKED FOR COMMENTS ON THE PROPOSED ORDINANCE AND THERE WAS A LENGTHY SILENCE. COUNCILMAN BILL CRAIG MADE A MOTION TO ADOPT THE MEASURE AS PRESENTED. MOTION SECONDED BY COUNCILMAN ERIC TALLENT. THERE WAS NO DISCUSSION AND ON THE VOTE, COUNCILMAN WAYNE SWANSON MADE THE ONLY DISSENTING VOTE.”

    “THE NEW ORDINANCE ALLOWS CITY GOVERNMENT TO LICENSE ‘EATING ESTABLISHMENTS’ IN B-1 OR B-2 ZONES FOR THE SALE OF WINE OR MALT BEVERAGES – SO LONG AS 70 PERCENT OF THEIR REVENUE COMES FROM FOOD AND RECREATION ACTIVITIES. THE ORDINANCE CAN ALSO INCLUDE AN ‘INDOOR NONPROFIT CIVIC OR CULTURAL CENTER’ CAPABLE OF SERVING FOOD.”

    “QUALIFYING BUSINESSES HAVE TO BE 100 YARDS AWAY FROM CHURCHES, SCHOOLS, HOUSING AUTHORITY PROPERTY OR CITY RECREATION PROPERTY. ANNUAL FEES ARE $500 FOR BEER AND $500 FOR WINE, PLUS $150 FOR ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS. SALES ARE PERMITTED FROM 10 AM UNTIL MIDNIGHT, MONDAY THROUGH SATURDAY AND BEER AND WINE MAY NOT BE SOLD ON SUNDAY. SERVERS MUST BE AT LEAST 18 YEARS OF AGE. BROWN-BAGGING WILL NOT BE ALLOWED. CUSTOMERS WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO LEAVE THE PREMISES WITH AN OPEN CONTAINER OF BEER OR WINE AND THEY WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO GATHER OUTSIDE THE ESTABLISHMENT AND DRINK.”

    “CITY GOVERNMENT WILL COLLECT AN EXCISE TAX ON THE ALCOHOL SOLD. IT AMOUNTS TO $6 PER KEG 5-CENTS PER 12 OUNCE CAN OF BEER AND 22-CENTS PER LITER OF WINE. LICENSE-HOLDERS WILL HAVE TO PAY THEIR EXCISE TAX ON A MONTHLY BASIS.”

    Just FYI for our readers, and that gets the information out of our bursting collection of notes. Have a Happy New Year!

    — The LaFayette Underground

  2. Hey LU, I know this is just my opinion but I think Twins Pizza & Steaks has the best Pizza in the Eastern U.S.A. I absolutely love the “Twins Special” Pizza made from there. If you have never tried one and you like pizza with all the toppings, Its a must have.

  3. Will the Golf Course Club House adhere the same rules and regs as they are to impose on the tax-paypaying businesses these retrictions are aimed @?

  4. After reading your article on Lafayette restaurant’s I would have to disagree about the comparison between Twin’s and Rafael’s in several respects. First to the quality and variety of food. Rafael’s wins this hands down. Second as far as my getting my food when its ready and filling my own drink order I would much rather do it myself than wait for a server that is too busy talking to a friend at another table than to bring me food when its hot or fill my empty glass. And last as far as management Key might be friendly to people he knows outside of his business with but to the general patron his attitude leaves much to be desired. I have never seen the management at other restaurants screaming at the help in front of customers. Maybe his take it or leave it attitude will change now that he is losing business. It’s a little to late for me, Rafael’s is my choice now.

  5. The golf course isn’t going to need a license to serve and won’t have to pay the excise tax, of course. They also let golfers wander the course with beer, saying they would just bring it in anyway if they weren’t allowed to carry it out of the clubhouse. Most of the other rules will be followed, but if they’re not followed nobody will say or do anything about it.

    The rule keeping alcohol-serving restaurants at least 100 yards away from churches and schools is a standard thing for this kind of law, to protect students and churchgoers from being tempted by satan’s beer store. But keeping them at least 100 yards from city-owned recreational facilities is another thing entirely – perhaps it’s there to keep restaurants from competing with the city’s own clubhouse and concession stand sales. Once the new softball fields open, if they ever do, the city might begin selling can beer there, and they already sell it at the golf course. We wouldn’t want a private enterprise to take away any potential $2 can beer sales from the city recreation department budget in these hard economic times.

    As for the whole Twins vs. Rafael’s issue.. Twins has vastly superior food, there’s no real debate about that. They have a salad bar, steaks, seafood, and italian meals. Rafael’s has some of the same italian meals but they’re not prepared as thoroughly or with the same level of detail and expertise as Key prepares meals at Twins. That said, Rafael’s service (which is self service, not really any kind of service at all) is usually better than the distracted, confused, or overworked service at Twins. And Key does scream at his employees, rumors of sexual harassment and the like. He has high standards for food but not for how he treats his people. So it comes down to an issue of what you like to eat vs. how much tolerance you have for crappy waitresses and an abusive owner.

    — The LaFayette Underground

  6. We’re still open at Accent Graphics. http://www.accentgraphicsga.com.
    Located in Lafayette next to Shaw Industries.
    706-639-1833

  7. Alex & Martha’s is now open:

    “Los Guerreros Mexican Restaurant held its grand opening in LaFayette Wednesday. The restaurant, at 1103 N. Main St., will be open Mondays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. and Fridays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.”

    http://catwalkchatt.com/view/full_story/11060798/article-Los-Guerreros-Mexican-Restaurant-in-LaFayette-holds-grand-opening?

    $12.95 Steak entrees.. That’s their highest price. How long will LaFayette have three Mexican restaurants? Not long with this place competing. Will Don Lolo close first or YYY?

    — The LaFayette Underground

  8. I think YYY will close first. I’ve never seen that place at even half capacity. Don Lolo’s has more repeat customers.

  9. I have eaten Mexican food from Arizona to the east coast , from Florida to New York and the absolute worst I’ve ever had was at Don LoLo’s. I don’t know why people pay for that stuff.

  10. Yeah that stuff is all La Fayette needs. Places to eat and no place to shop.

  11. China Buffet has now moved into their new location. The old store’s signs are gone. Let us know how it is..

    Was less than impressed with Alex & Martha’s. The food was pretty much the same as Don LoLo, somewhat uninspired for what they’re charging. Nice building, good service, food was so-so.

    — The LaFayette Underground

  12. China Buffet hasn’t opened yet. I went there for lunch Saturday and they were still working on the inside. They didn’t have any signs up, and I managed to get inside the main doors. Looks nice inside.

    Rafaels is good. I’ve never eaten pasta at Twin’s, but Rafael’s portions are huge! The chicken cacciatore comes on a large oval plate and is piles high. Plenty of chicken in it.

  13. I prefer Rafael’s to Twins, too. I can see what you’re saying about the difference in quality, LU, but for me it comes down to the fact that Rafael’s serves its food on plastic plates, uses plastic utensils, and has fries with almost every meal. It creates the appearence of lower quality, but their actual entrees are better, in my opinion. Plus, their prices are low and their menu is wayyy bigger than Twins’, too (their paper menu includes tons of stuff that the board doesn’t, if anybody missed that). Plus, John, the owner, is always around and very friendly and ready to help. Supposedly, Rafael’s is interested in serving beer, too.

  14. I like both, Rafael’s and Twins. There are good points for both places. Twins is too high but to me most of their food is better than Rafael’s.

  15. I grew up in LaFayette and left home 20 some odd years ago. I am glad to see that Key Koukos is still in business and still yelling at his servers just like he did when I worked for him! I will have to make a point to stop in for some Lasagna the next time I make it up that way!