Alan LeBlanc, President & COO of Brewed to Serve Restaurant Group, for Saporta Report
My wife Cindy and I have operated restaurants on Peachtree Street in Downtown Atlanta for over twenty years. Opening Max Lager’s Wood Fired Grill & Brewery in 1998, and subsequently opening White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails in 2012, our restaurants filled over 25,000 square feet of empty ground-floor retail space in one of America’s greatest cities. Over these two decades, we have faced numerous hurdles, but none have approached the uncertainty that surrounds the COVID-19 pandemic and the disparate approaches that businesses and governmental agencies have taken to deal with challenges.
Downtown Atlanta feels like a small town, with many companies residing here for decades. Everyone seems to know one another, and waving across Peachtree Street is a common occurrence as pedestrians make their way to lunch, to the bank, or to a meeting. There is no waving now.
In the quest back to normal, the hospitality industry has been asked, by default, to take the lead in reducing the fear of the pandemic. For months, senior hotel managers at the city’s largest hotels have been checking in guests, responding to guest requests, and assisting in keeping their hotels clean and ready on a daily basis – you can’t Zoom a change of linens. Restaurateurs have been updating websites to offer online orders for take out and delivery, adding outdoor dining and removing indoor tables, adhering to changing mandates, and, in short, investing to save their livelihoods.
After closing our restaurants on March 16th, we reopened White Oak on August 9th to service those attending AmericasMart. Since reopening, our team at White Oak has graciously and safely served visitors from around the country, exhibiting Southern hospitality at its finest. Max Lager’s remains closed as we undertake improvements, with plans to reopen in the first quarter of 2021.
From an office occupancy standpoint, major corporations continue to keep their employees working from home with an unclear timetable for returning to the office. This has left a void in pedestrian traffic, which is critical to the healthy functioning of the core of any city – for as everyone knows, if a void is created, it will be filled. The only question is – what activity will fill this void?
We have worked with landlords, police, CAP, and neighbors to ensure our streets are safe and that the City is aware of any issues. We have seen improvements. We know that once people start returning, the streets will be revitalized and our Downtown community will once again do what we do best – live together, do business together, and serve visitors together.
In the meantime, warm wishes from our community to yours for a safe and happy holiday season.