Opening a restaurant in the current economic downturn scared Johnny Mitchell.
But that’s exactly what the Euharlee restaurant owner did. Mitchell has opened Johnny Mitchell’s Express, a spinoff of Johnny Mitchell’s Smokehouse, in downtown Cartersville.
“It does scare me, but I really, truly believe that we have a strong enough following to be successful,” Mitchell said.
The demand is there, Mitchell said, because people who work in Cartersville can’t drive out to Euharlee to eat at his restaurant on their lunch breaks. The patrons who asked him to open a restaurant in Cartersville made him take the plunge.
“Restaurants have a bad time in a hard economy. When people have less disposable income, they eat out less. But we’re fortunate we have two coming downtown that have a great reputation.”
The express restaurant serves five sandwiches, five sides and a few vegetarian options.
“Let’s do it,” he said. “Let’s open up the lunch in town.”
Mitchell’s restaurant opened at 117 S. Tennessee St., the former location of Gumbo to Geaux and Miru Sushi.
While Mitchell is getting his new business up and running, another business owner has opened one store and is planning to open another restaurant, both in buildings plagued by business failures.
The Sweet Spot, a frozen yogurt shop, opened about a month ago in Integrity Plaza—the building that formerly housed Drink, Local Sun Market and Jittery Joe’s.
In the next few months, The Oakwood Café also is planning to open in Integrity Plaza, which also was once home to El Pueblito, Schroeder’s Deli, Zydaco’s and Ambra. The Oakwood Café will offer eight meats and 15 vegetables daily.
Liz Hood, the director of the Downtown Development Authority, said those businesses fell victim to the economic downturn.
“It’s mostly the economy,” Hood said. “Restaurants have a bad time in a hard economy. When people have less disposable income, they eat out less. But we’re fortunate we have two coming downtown that have a great reputation.”
Kasey Carpenter, who owns The Sweet Spot and The Oakwood Café, said he hasn’t hesitated about opening his businesses in Cartersville despite the weak economy. Carpenter opened The Sweet Spot in three cities—Cartersville, Calhoun and Dalton—in three months.
“The structure of this business is pretty simple,” Carpenter said. “It doesn’t require a lot of employees, the overhead is really low, so there’s not a lot of risk with it. After we opened up the first one, we knew this was a big opportunity.”
One of the benefits to The Sweet Spot is that it’s not a franchise, whose extra costs can push a restaurant toward failure, Carpenter said. Franchise fees are 6 percent of business profits, and start-up costs can be as high as $3,000 to $4,000.
Carpenter said Jittery Joe’s was a franchise, but Drink was not.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s not that there’s not a place for them. There’s not a place for them in a small town.”
While The Sweet Spot is an independent business, The Oakwood Café is a franchise. However, Carpenter said the ability to get a better price for food when buying for three restaurants makes up for the franchise fees.
The Oakwood Café currently has two locations—Dalton and Forest Park.
“If I’m buying three times more food, I’m going to get a whole lot more buying power,” he said.
The National Restaurant Association’s 2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast projects restaurant industry sales to reach $604 billion, and 2011 is expected to show positive growth after three years of shrinking in the industry.
Mitchell said those businesses that survive the current economy will shoot far ahead of those that come on the scene after everything turns around.
“We believe that, and we believe it’s good for our business and good for Cartersville,” he said.
This article is part of "Dispatches: The Changing American Dream," our ongoing series about how people in Cartersville are adapting to the challenges of life in the 21st century. You can find more Dispatches from across the country at The Huffington Post.