Valdosta Daily Times


April 13, 2014

Local restaurants thriving despite economy

VALDOSTA — It’s a question as old as time or at least as old as the Shekel: how’s the economy doing?

And like a lot of old questions, it’s complicated.

Still, you can get a sense of it by looking around at your local business community and perhaps no area of local business is as instructive as the food business.

Eating out is one of the first expenses to get cut when families are tightening their budgets, and one of the last to be added back on, making opening up a new restaurant a tough decision during an economic downturn or slow recovery.

“My belief is that in order to be successful in anything, you have to take a risk, and there’s never a perfect time,” said Jeremy Pate, co-owner of the Smoothie King at North Oak Square. “If you wait for the perfect time to do anything, you’re going to be waiting forever.”

Although Smoothie King just opened this past Valentine’s Day, opening it up is a decision Pate has been thinking about since 2012.

He started talking about it with his son-in-law, Ryan Steis, who managed nine Smoothie Kings in Nashville, Tenn.

Pate, a former bodybuilder and triathlete, and Steis started working on it at the end of 2012, getting approved by the corporate office, searching for the right spot.

It took a little more than a year to get the doors open, but since Valentine’s Day, the wait time they took has been paying off.

“Honestly, it surprised me how well we are doing, and I say that with the most humility and humbleness possible. It’s our guests that do it, not us.”

While Pate and Steis took a chance opening something new, Aysha Awad, her husband Najeh and brother-in-law Mo took a chance in expanding.

When the three of them moved to Valdosta from Chicago, Ill., a decade ago, it was with the intention of opening up a restaurant, similar to the one they ran in Chicago.

They opened Hip Hop Fish & Chicken on South Patterson Street and 10 years later, it’s still going strong, having survived the economic troubles of the Great Recession.

And they’re not just surviving, they’re thriving and expanding.

In 2012, they opened a second location in Lake City, Fla. When that did well, they opened a third one in Thomasville in the last part of 2013.

This past march, they opened a fourth location, their second in Valdosta. It’s something they’ve wanted to do for the last few years.

“We knew whatever it took to get it open, we were going to do it,” said Aysha.

After deciding they wanted to find a building as opposed to building from the ground up, the Awads finally hit upon a location on North Ashley Street.

“We saw this building and thought it was a good opportunity, so we did it.”

Their newest location happens to be right across the street from the newest Little Caesar’s.

It’s the second Little Caesar’s for Valdosta, but for husband and wife team Rich and Sherra Bondanza, it’s their seventh, all of which have been started in the last few years.

The Bondanzas leave the day-to-day Valdosta management to General Manager Christina Booth, who credits the decision to open the second Valdosta location to customer input.

“A lot of people who came to our Baytree store told us we needed to get one on this side of town,” said Booth.

It was also a decision based on the economy, which Booth sees as slowly improving.

“I think we’re working our way out of it, but I think it’s going to take a little bit more time before you see any major results.”

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