Originally created 02/23/03

Women open restaurant to work for themselves



Alex Askew was 17 the first time she stepped inside the restaurant at 3160 Back then, she was a waitress, and the place was known as Maxwell's.

Today, nearly 20 years later, she's leasing the place, and the sign out front bears her name.

"This building has always been in my life," said Ms. Askew, co-owner of Alex's Famous Restaurant and Sports Bar. "It was kind of like it was meant to be."

The Augusta woman and her mother, Brenda Palmer, opened the bar and grill in February 2002 after working in the restaurant industry for most of their adult lives, serving as everything from dishwasher to manager.

"You name it, we've done it," said Ms. Palmer, a former employee of The Green Jacket and Williams' Seafood of Savannah, two restaurants that occupied the building after Maxwell's closed in the 1980s.

Ms. Askew said she and her late husband had always dreamed of opening their own establishment. In late 2001, two years after her husband was killed in a car accident, she and her mother decided to make the dream a reality.

By draining their savings accounts, mortgaging their homes and borrowing money from friends, the two women began scouting for a location. They seemed to keep coming back to the same building at 3160 Wrightsboro, partly because the landlord, Tommy Williams, owner of Williams' Seafood of Savannah, was willing to give his former employees a good deal.

"We had the first three or four months rent-free," said Ms. Askew.

The women needed the grace period because the 8,000-square-foot building, which sat vacant for more than two years after Mr. Williams closed the Augusta location, needed lots of work.

"We were calling in favors to everyone we knew who worked in construction," Ms. Askew said.

Today, the building features a new bar, seven televisions, six pool tables and a 500-person capacity.

The women planned the business as a restaurant first, bar second. But the opposite has happened, and that's OK with them.

"It pays the bills, so you do what pays the bills," Ms. Palmer said.

They now market the establishment as a night club that serves food.

"The kind of place where if you want a grilled chicken sandwich at 2 in the morning, you can get it," Ms. Askew said.

Wrightsboro Road.

The restaurant hasn't turned a profit yet nor do the women expect it to any time soon.

The lifelong restaurant workers are just happy to be working in the business they love.

"For two women who started with nothing and are still here a year later, we're pretty proud of that," Ms. Askew said.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or dcline@augustachronicle.com.