Shopping local small businesses helps Middle Georgia

Everyone shops national chains or buys off Amazon.com from time to time. Sometimes it is the only option for certain items, or the only sensible choice for bulk items that are sold as commodities. However, there are a number of great reasons to shop small local merchants that should be considered that go beyond finding the minimum price in an online retailer or the familiar of a national chain.

Bearfoot Tavern Bar
The Bearfoot bar has a classic design that reminds one of an old American pub or continental brasserie. Photo by Doug Deal.

The biggest advantage is financial. Small local businesses are owned by your family, friends, and neighbors and their profit mostly stays in town. Local business profits are used to help the local economy–which creates jobs for your neighbors. Several recent studies in multiple cities of the economic impacts of buying from local businesses showed that 2-4 times as much economic impact is generated locally per dollar spent at small local businesses than their national chain competitors. This multiplier means that there is more money for investment, development and taxes.

Li’l Benny’s is tucked away behind Suntrust and Mikado Japanese Steakhouse, across from Ingleside Baptist Church. Photo by Doug Deal.

The reason for this is that national chains, even franchises, direct a large amounts of the profits back to the corporate owner and supplies are generally always purchased from a national distribution network. Online retailers do not even have the economic impact of hiring local employees. On the other hand, a local business not only hires local workers, all of the profits go to local owners who then spend locally and are taxed locally. Instead of profits generated in Macon generating taxes to pay for roads in New York or California, they remain in Middle Georgia.

Dinner Bell Sign
Dinner Bell is located near Sams and next to Serena Wholesale on Eisenhower. Photo by Doug Deal.

Another advantage of shopping local small business is that it increases variety. National chains work long and hard to make sure your experience in one store is the same as the next. This can be a good thing if uniformity is what you are looking for, but it also means that when the options available are simply a handful of national branded stores, anyone looking for something different is out of luck.

Small businesses are often built on a level of customer service that national chains cannot match. Usually this is because no one really has the level of commitment that a business owner possesses. That store represents a significant investment on the part of the small business owner. A worker at a national chain store can find a number of other jobs and isn’t on the hook for the debt and liabilities of a local proprietor. Owning a small business is hard work, and is impossible without a high level of dedication. Frequently, that dedication to the success of a small business carries over to a broader dedication to success of the surrounding community.

El Camino Front
El Camino means “the road” in Spanish and can be found on 2nd Street in downtown Macon. Photo by Doug Deal.

Local businesses also can provide a niche of service that national chains are reluctant to offer. When you have a large national store, profit is highly dependent upon normalizing your operation to be as efficient as possible. All too often, this means cutting corners in ways that shave pennies off the costs but when multiplied by the millions of items sold, represent a large margin. This means reducing the stock of less popular items and marketing to the “average,” which often times means no one is truly happy, just not offended.

A smaller operation can tailor their business to meeting a niche market. If it is collectibles, antiques, service providers or just a local grocery store, they can easily decide to stock whatever they want, from whatever suppliers they want. If the community suddenly has a demand for something new the store can purchase supplies immediately, while a national chain has to clear it with their headquarters and justify adding it to their list of offerings.

Tommy's Outside
Exterior view of Tommy’s. Photo by Doug Deal.

Taken together, this allows communities with a tradition of shopping locally to remain unique. There are some people that want to see every shopping area have a Best Buy, Staples, Bed Bath and Beyond, a Chipotle, Olive Garden, Kroger, McDonalds and a Lowes, but for others, this is best described as a real drag. When so many dollars flow into these stores and out to their corporate headquarters it kills the local character that makes a community unique. Every time someone decides to buy a low quality yet consistent 10-taco pack from Taco Bell, it is a choice against a neighbor with his own small Mexican restaurant…a neighbor who likely has kids in your child’s school or attends your church.

Grey Goose Players Grill
The Grey Goose Players Grill is in the Forsyth Landing Shopping Center. Photo by Doug Deal.

One doesn’t have to completely eschew national chains and online retailers to buy local. Some things are not reasonably provided for by the local economy. But some thought should be given to the impact a purchase will make. If you are tired of seeing so many closed shops littering the roads of Middle Georgia, the way to change it is in the palm of your hand, just as soon as you take out some bill or a credit card. Be okay with paying a little more for better food, more variety and a better economy that can even benefit you directly.

 

Bearfoot’s history lesson of hamburgers are so good they must be tasted to be believed

Middle Georgia has been experiencing a hamburger renaissance which has been a major benefit for anyone who likes America’s favorite sandwich. One of the hardest decisions I’ve had lately is whether to turn left into Bearfoot Tavern or right into Ocmulgee Brew Pub. How dare they force us to make such a tough choice. I’ll get to Ocmulgee in a future post, but this one will sing the long list of praises for Bearfoot’s version of the famous shredded beef patty.

Bearfoot Tavern Bar
The Bearfoot bar has a classic design that reminds one of an old American pub or continental brasserie. Photo by Doug Deal.

Walking into Bearfoot, the first thing you’ll notice is the classically decorated bar. This warm and inviting area reminds me of a mix of classic American with a classic continental brasserie and is a great place to catch a bite or drink and adds a bit of class to the atmosphere. Non-drinkers and families, don’t be intimidated, this is a full-blown restaurant with an amazing menu. You really don’t want to miss their weekend brunch and their breakfast pizza which should be the talk of the town, but since we are here for burgers, we’ll leave that for another article.

Bearfoot has plenty of options for seating, including a beer garden and this, the main dinning area. Photo by Doug Deal.

The Hamburgers, and I capitalize that because each has a proper name, based on former and current Mercer University Presidents, are as delicious as they are varied. On one end, they have a Greek-inspired lamb burger, the Underwood, which is named after Mercer’s esteemed current President, William D. Underwood. This burger features lamb, feta tzatziki, tomato, and red onions. Toward the more traditional end is the gigantic Dowell Burger, named after Spright Dowell, Mercer President during the depression and World War two era. This meal-and-a-half is two 8oz beef patties smothered with sauteed onions, pimento cheese, and bacon and then served on Texas toast. There is a sense of irony in the name as the period he served as President was known for shortages and deprivations. However, perhaps it is an homage to the prosperous times that followed.

Pinckney Pollack Burger
Pinckney Pollack Burger unclothed in a bun and ordered as a double. A low carb delight. Photo by Doug Deal.

For those interested in a new take on buffalo, try the Pinckney Pollack, named after Mercer’s President at the turn of the century. Tossed in buffalo sauce and paired with bleu cheese fried onions and ranch dressing, it disguises your burger in the costume of buffalo wings. The sandwich is pictured in this article without a bun or onions and double meat for a carb cutters delight. (An extra half pound patty is only $4 extra.)

Bearfoot Godsey Burger
The Godsey Burger is unbelievably good with a bitter sweet taste due to the slow cooked shallots and brandy peppercorn reduction. Photo by Doug Deal.

The Godsey is named after Raleigh Kirby Godsey, Mercer’s 7th President. This meaty delight is set off by the wonderful bittersweet taste of brandy peppercorn sauce melded with braised shallots. If some of the juice drips out, you’ll want to sop it up with your truffle fries which I found I could not stop eating. I am not sure who came up with the trend to put these flavorful mushrooms on fried potatoes, but that person deserves the Nebel prize in culinary arts and Bearfoots version is perfectly executed.

Bearfoot Godsey Closeup
The scrumptious pink of a Godsey Burger ordered more on the rare side. Feel free to order it cooked more well done. Photo by Doug Deal.

My patty was prepared just as I ordered it, pink in the middle from end to end. Bearfoot accommodates any preference as you can char that burger to your heart’s content, but I love the juiciness a medium rare to rare has to offer. And speaking of juices, the sandwich oozed the juice of not only the wonderful brandy sauce but the moist and delightful interior of the burger itself. I go with the truffle fries, but there are other options for sides which are included with the $10 burger combo. The list includes whipped potatoes, muffuletta pasta salad, mac n cheese, tater tots, veggies and for the traditionalist, house cut fries.

The quality of the food here raises the expectation of a higher price, but to their credit, it is still reasonable considering the ingredients and level of service. Having been several times, the knowledge and training of the staff are excellent and the customer service is top notch. If you like a great burger, give Bearfoot a try and don’t forget to sample their other fine menu items.

Bearfoot is located downtown at 468 Second Street near the corner with Poplar a couple doors down from perpetually renovating Ginger. It is open from 11 AM – 10 PM Monday through Thursday, Friday and Saturday it stays open until 11 PM and on Sunday closes at 9 PM. Brunch is served 11 AM – 3 PM. Call them at 478.305.7703.

Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen has potential

I am not one to write negative reviews of restaurants and will simply not write a review if there is nothing positive to say. I must admit that Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen came close to that for me, but I think there are some things people might like even if it is not a place I see myself returning. This happened to be my birthday dinner, so the disappointment was compounded due to the missed opportunity.

Piedmont Brewery and Kitchen is located on Third Street near Kudzu Seafood. Photo by Doug Deal.

The concept has potential and people who enjoy a rotating selection of craft beers might fall in love with the restaurant on that alone. Putting a retro game room in the basement is something that will generate some buzz, but I think it came off as trying to hard to be hip. Overall, it is a positive, but I am not sure it makes up for the negatives.

If you enjoy talking to your companions at meal time, this is not the place for you. One of my biggest pet peeves in an eatery is one that plays overly loud music at a volume where all you really hear is a distorted cacophony. Although I am not a bar person, I have been to enough in my life to know that this is a common thing and some people prefer it. On the other hand, if you like to talk, you will find yourself shouting and that just makes the place louder. An obvious improvement would be to place partitions as acoustical dampeners to cut down on excess noise.

Piedmont Brewery and Kitchen has an impressive bar and it is clear why brewery comes before kitchen in the name. Photo by Doug Deal.

Be careful if you are someone that has a harder time getting around due to crutches, a wheelchair, or just an unsteady gate. Not only does the floor have a significant slope upward from the entry, there is a treacherous uneven spot near the stairway to the game room. On three occasions I nearly twisted and ankle or tripped on the edge of the floor discontinuity. I am not sure how hard it would be to replace that section, but including it in the final layout was a big mistake and I think will lead to injuries and accidents.

For starters, we ordered a beer cheese pretzel. My German heritage had me eagerly anticipating this taste treat, but what was delivered didn’t live up to the billing. The pretzel was average but passable, and the beer cheese sauce was mediocre at best. I love beer cheese and pretzels and would normally gobble up this dish with great haste. With this incarnation, the sauce was weak and water thin and was best described as boring. A more potent and thicker sauce would really step things up. $6 for something not much better than I could get at Sam’s club for $1.50 doesn’t really impress me. Again, this is correctable, and lots of people will enjoy it as many people do not like strongly flavored food.

The sauce is great on the pulled pork, but the pulled pork has a greasiness on its own that is unpleasant. Photo by Doug Deal.

Our meal took what seemed like an eternity plus a week or so to arrive. Considering our selections, it is unclear why our order took so long. I had the pulled pork and my kids had grilled cheese. The pulled pork had way too much oil in it and it left a very oily mouth feel. It had a wonderful flavor that was enhanced pleasantly by the smoky sweet sauce I had selected, but they only provide a little over a tablespoon. Left on its own without sauce, the oiliness of the pork was overwhelming. My guess is that it was at the bottom of the batch and perhaps with better luck it might improve the next go. Even with the oiliness, I did like it immensely with the smoky sweet sauce, what little there was. I also liked that it was served without bread. Anyone looking to cut down on the carbs of baked goods will appreciate that.

The sides I had were not horrible, but could be improved. I am not sure what caused it, but the mac and cheese had an unpleasant aftertaste. I suppose it was some component of the beer cheese, but being a fan of beer cheese I have never had that issue before. Potato salad was the other side and it has a bit of spiciness I do like, but if you closed your eyes, I could almost pass as tuna or chicken salad. It wasn’t bad, but it was slightly sweet instead of savory and that was unexpected.

Downstairs sharing the floor with the arcade is the brew room with equipment to appeal to the brew master in all of us. Photo by Doug Deal.

My drink was the “handcrafted root beer” which I did like. Refills aren’t free, they are $1, but I am fine with that because it is definitelt a premium beverage. Root beer just isn’t enough to bring me back to a restaurant. But, if they work through some kinks, it would be something I would look forward to.

The kids had grilled cheese and they liked them, but my son thought it was “too spicy”. Since I didn’t try them, I have no idea what that could be, but he is sensitive to certain flavors. My daughter at hers without any complaints. The side dish for my son was mac and cheese which he didn’t like at all, but kids usually like something that resembles Kraft instead, so that did not surprise me. Isobel, my daughter, had the mixed fruit and she ate and enjoyed every morsel.

In between bites, you can wonder down to the game room and practice your putting. Photo by Doug Deal.

At the end, the final damage was $50 after tip for one adult and two children. This is with no alcohol, just three fountain drinks, one being a root beer with one charged refill. For that price, I could have had a passible steak and the kids could have had burgers. I am not sure oily barbeque and two grilled cheese and a pretzel is a good value.

If you are a fan of beer and like a more bar, less restaurant type of atmosphere, I think you will find Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen more appealing. For a bar, it has good food. As a restaurant I would not recommend a friend unless they make some changes. I wish them luck and would love to give them another chance in the future after they had some time to shake things out.

Piedmont Brewery & Kitchen is located at 450 Third St in Macon.

Business Image hosting “Conversations of a Poet” April 30

Business Image, an event planning firm in Macon, is sponsoring “Conversations of a Poet” on April 30th. This is described as a “Poetic Glam Slam” experience and will allow poets to bring focus and attention to the art of the spoken word, showcasing their talents while awarding a prize of $200 based on audience preference. The MC will be Marquis “Que” Norton.

The event will also include vendors, live entertainment, and food and drinks in an upscale décor at Theatre Macon, 433 Cherry St, from 6-9 PM. Artists and poetry connoisseurs are welcome and the affair will be black-tie with a strictly enforced dress code.

Tickets are $15 on Eventbrite or $20 at the door.  Donations are welcome and appreciated and can be given through the Eventbrite portal. 100% of the funds collected will go to the artistic participants.

Guests are requested to being their printed ticket to the event to present at the door and early arrival is encouraged as the doors open at 5:30 PM. Announcements can be followed on Facebook and questions can be directed to email at businessimage.exec@gmail.com or call 800.242.3110.

Business Image presents “Conversations of a Poet”, a black tie event at Theatre Macon on April 30 at 6-9 PM. Image courtesy Business Image.

When: April 30, 2017 & (Quarterly)
Where: Theatre Macon
Why: Because culture, the Arts and Great Literary events are vital to every community.

Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse has outstanding ribs, BBQ and smoked chicken

A few places in town have special meaning to me because I watched them grow from the ground up. I had the great fortune to be at ground zero while Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse came into being.

From time to time, Li’l Benny’s offers specials and deals. Here was a two BBQ Sandwich plate for $6 with an added side of slaw. Very filling and a nice quick lunch. Photo by Doug Deal.

Long before the restaurant opened, I had several opportunities to taste Ben Burks’ recipes. I happened to work with his wife and she would bring in samples of his food from time to time which was always a nice treat. Long hours of tweaking the recipe slowly evolved into what is served today, some of the best ribs, BBQ and smoked chicken anywhere.

Li’l Benny’s is tucked away behind Suntrust and Mikado Japanese Steakhouse, across from Ingleside Baptist Church. Photo by Doug Deal.

Just talking to Ben, it is clear how much he loves his food and his customers. His enthusiasm truly comes through in the quality of every one of his dishes. The ribs literally melt in your mouth and the explosive flavor of the smokiness and glaze leave an impression you will never forget. These come served in the restaurant hot on a plate with two sides or alone. They can also be taken home in a refrigerated pack that reheats in the oven quickly and with no trouble. If you have found that you don’t like ribs because they are difficult to eat, or because you have to pull the meat forcibly off the bone, be ready to experience an epiphany as the meat on Benny’s ribs slides right off.

Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse offers their outstanding ribs to go in their takeaway packs. Just heat these quickly in the oven and you are good to go for an outstanding family meal, or reheat them on the grill for a nice picnic. Photo by Doug Deal.

For those who want something unique, try their smoked chicken salad, either as an entrée or in a takeaway pack. The smokiness of the chicken comes through in every bite, but it is not in the least bit overwhelming. The smoky flavor enhances the taste, but it is mellowed by the creaminess of the wet ingredients to a perfect balance. Every time I’ve picked this up and shared it with another they’ve been instant fans. I’ve never had anything like it in Macon or anywhere else for that matter. If you order a takeaway pack I suggest serving it with crackers for a nice appetizer or snack. You can serve it on a plate for a lower carb entrée or just make sandwiches for lunch and be the envy of your coworkers. No matter how you eat it, you’ll end up craving it and asking for more.

Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse has their food to go in convenient packs that are ready to reheat. On the way home or out for a picnic, you can pick up a pack and reheat them in the oven in a crock on the grill. Try it in a sous vide for the perfect serving temperature. Photo by Doug Deal.

The sides are also all excellent quality. I am a fan of sweet coleslaw, but Li’l Benny’s has a more savory variety that I still love, especially spread on top of a BBQ sandwich. The slightly tart flavor and crunch really add something, and it is also excellent straight as a normal side. You should try it both ways. You can also choose from smoked potato salad as well as your traditional sides like green beans, mac n cheese and Brunswick stew.

Proprietor Ben Burks gets the dining room ready before lunchtime. Li’l Benny’s offers dine-in, takeout and takeaway packs to satisfy your BBQ, ribs and smoked chicken cravings. Photo by Doug Deal.

On this visit, though, I went for lunch and was offered a two BBQ sandwich entrée for $6 and upped the order with a drink and side of slaw. The sandwiches were huge and more than filling for someone my size all for the price of a combo at a fast food restaurant, but much more satisfying and several steps up in the quality of food.

Li’l Benny’s has had great support from the community as evidenced by their buddies board. Photo by Doug Deal.

It isn’t flashy place, and it can be hard to find. Li’l Benny’s is tucked away behind Suntrust and Mikado Japanese Steakhouse on the corner of Wimbish and Riverside, but is well worth the effort to find. As you can see by the consistent 100% health score on the wall, they take health and cleanliness very seriously, as seriously as the quality of their food. Everyone I know passing through town who asks me about a great place to get ribs and BBQ in town, I always think of Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse. Give them a try.

Ben Burks is serious about health and cleanliness, I always expect to see a 100% posted in their restaurant. Photo by Doug Deal.
Li'l Benny's Smokehouse menu page 2
Li’l Benny’s menu page 2. Photo by Doug Deal.
Li’l Benny’s Smokehouse Menu Page 1. Photo by Doug Deal.