Scuttlebiz: Mom-and-pop closes while chains remain the same

Funny how your tastes change.


There once was a time – back when Coolio actually was cool – when I desperately wanted to live in a town with an Applebee’s. I now reside in a metro area with five, and I’m more concerned that a hole-in-the-wall joint like Silla Cafe is closing.

The Broad Street eatery, whose teriyaki chicken has been beloved by downtown denizens for more than two decades, is calling it quits next month. Owned and operated by Felton and Tae Mitchell, the literal “mom-and-pop” restaurant serves its last dish at 855 Broad St. on Sept. 14.

“We had fun, but we’re ready to retire now,” Tae said. “We’ve been talking about retiring for a couple years now.”

She said that decision to retire was hastened, however, by a steep increase in their rent.

“It’s almost double,” she said in a phone interview.

Last year the building was purchased by Rafik “Rafi” Bassali, a young real estate investor who is becoming somewhat of a downtown property mogul. The owner of The Swank Company boutique has amassed an impressive portfolio that includes the old Planned Parenthood building and the former Coburn Furniture store on upper Broad.

He said via e-mail that he closed on three downtown properties in just the last month and is working on another this month. However, he said he does not have a tenant lined up yet for the former Silla space.

“Several people (are) interested,” he wrote. “(I’m) Working through prospects currently.”

The Mitchells opened Silla in 1994 and doubled its seating capacity by expanding to an adjacent storefront in 2002. Tae said she and her husband will continue operating their catering business and will finish their run on Broad Street by offering their signature teriyaki entrees and daily specials at the “1994 price” of $3.95.

Think of it as a “Fantastic Voyage” back in time.


MEANWHILE, AT APPLEBEE’S: Fans of Applebee’s have nothing to worry about – at least not in metro Augusta. The chain’s five “Neighborhood Grill &Bar” franchises are unaffected by brand owner DineEquity’s announcement this past week to close as many as 135 of the ultra-casual, ultra-consistent and ultra-common eateries nationwide.

Aiken’s Applebee’s is owned by a nebulous Delaware-based LLC; the four on this side of the river are run by San Francisco’s Flynn Restaurant Group, the franchise giant that owns 477 Applebee’s, 274 Taco Bell and affiliated Yum! Brand restaurants and 130 Panera Bread bakery-cafes nationwide.

“(The company) has no plans to close any restaurants at this time,” Flynn said in a statement. “Our…locations are 100 percent open for business and we look forward to continuing to deliver an excellent dining experience that our guests have grown to love.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think an Applebee’s in this town has ever gone out of business. I don’t count the one that used to be on Bobby Jones Expressway; it had to close. It was bulldozed along with a Waffle House, a Checkers and the Stardust Skate Center to make way for the expanded Interstate 20 exit in 2005.


YOU GOT ANY BISCUITS FOR SALE IN THERE?: A restaurant chain folks seem pretty excited about is the Flying Biscuit Cafe, a regional diner specializing in all-day breakfast entrees (think Sunrise Grill).

Founded in Atlanta’s Candler Park neighborhood in 1993, the cafe’s first metro-area location will be in Evans at the new Market Place at Riverwood strip mall under development behind the Publix-anchored Riverwood Town Center at the corner of Washington Road and William Few Parkway.

Blanchard &Calhoun’s Davis Beman, the tenant rep, said the restaurant will occupy about 2,700 square feet at the center that is just a stone’s throw from the entrance to the massive Riverwood Plantation neighborhood.

Flying Biscuit, which has 14 restaurants in Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, says it focuses on a “Southern-inspired menu of comfort food made with fresh ingredients” and claims to bake about 5,000 biscuits a week at each location.


BK’S NEW LOOK: Beman, by the way, also happens to be marketing the former Burger King space at 1815 Walton Way. That location closed last year after operating as a Burger King for an astounding 50 years.

The nation’s No. 2 burger chain started in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1953 as “Insta-Burger King.” The company’s newest metro-area location is under construction near the I-20/U.S. Highway 1 exit in Aiken.

The model for the 2,800-square-foot restaurant – sited on a 1.9-acre tract at 2368 Columbia Highway North (next to the Bojangles’) – is the company’s semi-new “20/20” design concept. The architectural scheme prominently displays the “Home of the Whopper” slogan and features an “industrial-inspired” interior with corrugated metal finishes, exposed brick walls, earthy colors and yada-yada-yada – you get the point.

Like other quick-serve restaurant redesigns, BK’s 20/20 is designed to give fast-food consumers a “casual dining” experience. Sort of like an Applebee’s, I suppose.

The 87-seat restaurant is sure to be a hit with interstate travelers as well as employees of the Shaw Industries’ carpet plant just off the frontage road.


SPEAKING OF SHAW…: The company’s former 170,000-square-foot warehouse in Trenton, S.C., is now occupied by a2b Fulfillment, a Greensboro, Ga.-based logistics company.

The third-party shipping and order-fulfillment firm said the facility at 14 Pine House Road will bring its total square-footage to 560,000 and will support its “growing business-to-business and retail logistics” operations. Company President Ayal Latz noted the Edgefield County warehouse is equal distance to ports in Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.

“The Trenton facility will help a2b service new regional markets as well as get us closer to two of the nation’s fastest growing container ports,” Latz said in a statement.


SOLDER AND CINNABON: I stopped by Augusta Mall the other day so my son could do some back-to-school shopping, which gave me time to hit Sears’ Craftsman section for a new soldering iron. While waiting in a lengthy line for a couple of Classic Rolls at the recently opened Cinnabon, I noticed the Motherhood Maternity store is moving to the mall’s promenade section.

The pregnancy fashion retailer is relocating from the lower level near Macy’s to the 1,700-square-foot storefront sandwiched between the Chico’s and Loft boutiques. The space was formerly occupied by the Handpicked jewelry store.

The soldering iron, by the way, worked just great. So did the cinnamon roll.


SUITES, NOT SWEETS: If you’re like me, you prefer to bypass the mall’s congested north end by exiting to the south through Wylds Road. Then you hang a right on North Leg Road, hit Gordon Highway and head west to Bobby Jones Expressway.

If you decide to keep motoring down Gordon Highway toward Fort Gordon, you’ll spot one of Augusta’s newest hotels under construction. Augusta-based Singh Investment Group is moving forward on plans to build two four-story hotels near the Gordon Highway/Timbercreek Lane intersection: a 72-room Holiday Inn Express and an 89-room Homewood Suites by Hilton.

The two hotels, both overseen by Martinez-based Attaway Construction, will be situated on 4.2 acres directly behind the Hampton Inn-Gordon Highway, which also is a Singh property, and just west of the Baymont Inn &Suites, which is not. You might remember the Baymont property by its former brand, Holiday Inn.

Headed by Dr. Harinderjit Singh, the hospitality company is apparently fond of clusters; it also owns the Holiday Inn Express on Jimmie Dyess Parkway and the nearby Holiday Inn-Augusta West at the I-20/Belair Road interchange. It also has a string of hotels on Stevens Creek Road near the I-20/Washington Road interchange: the Sheraton Augusta Hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn and another Holiday Inn Express. It also owns the Double Tree by Hilton on Perimeter Parkway near the Wheeler Road/I-520 interchange.

Needless to say, if you need a room near Fort Gordon, Singh has you covered.


ROOM FOR ONE MORE?: The construction you see going on behind all those hotels off Stevens Creek Road is…you guessed it, another hotel. This one, though, is being developed by Warner Robins, Ga.-based Peach State Hospitality LLC. It is developing a 100-room Fairfield Inn &Suites on the 3-acre tract at 3023 1/2 Washington Road, property previously occupied by America’s Best Value Inn.

Peach State also owns the Residence Inn and SpringHill Suites properties next to each other off Marks Church and Wheeler roads.


AND THEN THERE’S ANSLEY: Chicago-based Cushman &Wakefield’s Southeast multifamily group announced this past week it brokered the sale of the 358-unit Ansley at Town Center apartment complex in Evans for $53.3 million.

For those counting, that’s a cool $149,000 per unit. For comparison, the average per-unit multifamily sales price in Jacksonville – a market twice our size – last year was $85,000.

The class A apartment community off Rountree Way, just south of the Evans Lowe’s store and the InFocus Church, was purchased from Atlanta’s Cortland Partners by Spyglass Capital Partners, a New Jersey-based private equity firm. The sale closed June 30.

Cushman &Wakefield’s Robert Stickel said in a statement the Ansley complex “is a top-tier asset located in a superb school district.”

“Furthermore, it provides residents an outstanding amenity package and convenient access to premier job centers throughout Augusta,” he said. “These factors will all contribute to substantial organic rent growth.”


ABOUT THAT RENT…: San Francisco-based Apartment List says Augusta-area rents in July were 2.6 percent higher than they were last year. But that’s still below Georgia’s 3.3 percent increase and the 2.9 percent gain in the national average.

The company said metro Augusta’s median rents – that’s the mid point between the highest and lowest – are $630 for a one-bedroom apartment and $760 for a two-bedroom.

Obviously, nice and new units command higher rents than the austere and old ones. Ansley at Town Center, for example, lists one bedroom units between $950-$1,100 and two bedroom units between $1,100-$1,300.

“Renters will find more reasonable prices in Augusta than most similar cities,” Apartment List says in its report. “Comparably, San Francisco has a median (two bedroom) rent of $3,060, which is more than four times the price in Augusta.”


POLISH YOUR PRESENTATION: Are you entrepreneurial, tenacious and articulate? Then you might be able to pay your month’s rent with $1,000 in winnings from the G60 Pitch Contest being held Aug. 22 at theClubhouse.

The contest, described as a mashup of American Idol and Shark Tank, is being organized by theClubhouse and the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon to help promote entrepreneurship and innovation in the metro area.

The rules are simple: You’ve got 60 seconds to give your “elevator pitch” – no notes, no PowerPoint slides – to a panel of judges from Startup Junkie, an Arkansas-based consulting firm that is putting up the prize money. Two $1,000 checks will be written; one based on the judges’ vote and one “People’s Choice” award that will be selected by audience members attending the event at 540 Telfair St.

Your path to glory in 60 seconds starts by registering for the event by 1 p.m. Aug. 21 through the Eventbrite link at website.

That’s not much time to register, but certainly more time than you’ll have to convince a crowd of aspiring entrepreneurs, angel investors and business leaders why your business idea is worth $1,000.


Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or