Originally created 04/10/98

Dining options expand in time for Masters



You've been out on the course and in the sun all day, battled the gridlock on Washington Road and now you have to wait two hours to get a table at a restaurant.

It doesn't matter, it's Masters Week and it's a party.

"It's the one week of the year that Augusta's pretty fun," said Jon Dietz, 26-year-old operations analyst for Kimberly Clark, enjoying some drinks earlier in the week at T.G.I. Friday's on Washington Road. "We'll fight the crowds and go have fun."

Despite the hectic nature of eating out Masters Week, dinnertime is supposed to be fun -- an event, a happening.

"We're looking for everybody to come join the party," said Bunny Duncan, manager of French Market Grille in Surrey Center.

Take note, there are a few new restaurants around town this year, vying for your party and dining dollars.

New additions to Augusta's dining menu include Cooker Bar and Grille near Augusta Exchange shopping center; Sweet Basil Grille in Surrey Center; the Kingfish Seafood Grille and Oyster Bar on Columbia Road in Evans; Geeche Boy Seafood on Laney-Walker Boulevard; and Seven Gables Restaurant in North Augusta.

Pizza options in the city have also expanded with the Pizza Joint on Broad Street, Yo Pizza in the Big Tree Shopping Center on Washington Road, Fox's Pizza Den in the Daniel Village Shopping Center on Wrightsboro Road and Central Café on Central Avenue.

Gone since last year's Masters are the Moghul on Washington Road, which has been replaced with the Mexican restaurant Camino Real, and the Broad Street Diner, now home to Malley's Bagels and Grits downtown location. Also, Pablo's Mexican restaurant in the West Town Shopping Center on Washington Road is now El Valle.

Besides a substantial checkbook, diners should bring along their patience. Many restaurants are anticipating waits in excess of two hours -- and that's a conservative estimate.

So establishments have come up with ways to occupy their customers while they wait to be seated. The French Market has tables on the patio and serves drinks and appetizers. At Hooter's on Washington Road there's a putting green to help pass the time.

Several popular restaurants have boosted their capacities, including Damon's and S'mores Caffe on Walton Way Extension, which doubled its size.

Vallarta on Washington Road has remained open during renovations, which store managers said should be complete in time for dinner tonight.

For restaurants handling the masses of Masters patrons, the operative word is more: more food, more drinks and more staff.

For instance, at French Market Grille, 12 extra people were added to the staff just for Masters Week, and Kingfish owner Cyndi Culpepper is working everybody she has available on the restaurant's schedule. "I'm making sure we have enough help," she said.

In preparation for the Masters, Seven Gables ordered four times as much food and six times as much alcohol.

Fred Weisboldt, manager of Cooker Bar and Grille, hopes his restaurant's first month in operation served as a test run for Masters Week.

Since its opening in mid-March, Cooker has been packed, an atmosphere anticipated this weekend.

"We've pretty much been wall to wall," he said. "We should be fine Masters Week."

He'll find out this weekend because eating out in Augusta is serious business during the Masters Tournament.

Approximately $9 million is spent on food retail sales in Augusta during the Masters Tournament, according to the Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"A lot of people who have money to blow," said Adriana Zamora, 24, who works at Hooter's.

"It's like an extra month's revenue made in just a week," said Barry White, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Staff Writer Wendy Grossman contributed to this article.