Restaurant owner John Sampson’s red delivery truck, loaded with a dozen take-out boxes, sweet tea and red velvet cake, rumbles down Highway 56 toward an isolated plot of Burke County land. Thousands of construction workers with limited options for dining out on their lunch break are the key to making him a richer man.
Sampson, like a handful of other restaurant owners, saw a lucrative opportunity to grow his business by catering to the workforce building two nuclear reactors at Georgia Power’s Plant Vogtle. With just a convenience store and a bar and grill near the construction site, Burke and Richmond County restaurants are capitalizing on food deliveries.
“It’s created a very positive cash flow,” Sampson said, minutes before hopping in his truck for his daily drive from Mike Padgett Highway to eastern Burke County.
Plant Vogtle’s $14 billion expansion project, the first new reactors built in the U.S. in three decades, employs 3,500 workers. The workforce will peak at 5,000 before the Westinghouse-designed AP 1000 reactors start producing power in 2017 and 2018.
The economic impact of one of the largest infrastructure projects underway in the nation has never been calculated, but the project’s effects on the local economy can be seen at many small restaurants and other businesses, said Ashley Roberts, executive director of Burke County Chamber of Commerce.
Georgia Power, which owns 45.7 percent of the project, has made a strong effort to support local businesses, Roberts said.
Howard Dye, owner of Dye’s Southern Catering, leased a former Kentucky Fried Chicken building in Waynesboro, Ga., to run his food operations for Plant Vogtle workers. He hired six new full-time employees and several part-timers to keep up with demand.
His business delivers an average of 40 lunches each day to the construction area and runs a home-cooking, cafeteria-style food line at the operations training center for units 3 and 4. Several times in the past three years, Dye has catered events for 3,000 to 5,000 people at Plant Vogtle.
Delivery trucks such as Dye’s and Sampson’s can drop off food orders at a designated area near an entrance gate to the site.
Typically, coworkers assemble group orders to place in advance by phone. Sampson charges a 15 percent delivery fee.
Sampson, known as “Chef Redd,” said delivering lunches and catering events at Plant Vogtle has helped grow his restaurant business in other ways.
“The unique thing about it is, as I feed those guys at Vogtle, a lot of times those people are back on the weekend with their families,” he said. Plant Vogtle employees have also hired him to cater their own events outside of work.
For Curtis Martin, owner of Pineland Bakery in Waynesboro, the new reactor construction has doubled the number of his customers connected to Plant Vogtle, where workers at the existing reactors have been loyal customers of the bakery for its 35 years in business.
Now, Vogtle workers stop at Pineland Bakery during their morning commute, often picking up five to 10 dozen doughnuts and pastries for entire office divisions. Martin sometimes opens early for the workers.
“I try to accommodate them because they are good customers, no doubt about it,” he said.
In the past six months, he hired a few extra employees because of the boost in business from the Vogtle expansion.