The economic downturn forced her to whittle her staff down to three, including herself, and the restaurant was serving only lunch.
“I was breathing through a straw under water in 2008,” Hodge said. “I really didn’t think I was going to make it.”
But the restaurant survived, and next week it will celebrate seven years in business. That’s something Hodge said she still thinks is unreal. Public relations, a good staff and realistic expectations about not being an immediate hit are what she credits to her success.
Hodge said it takes two to four years to make a business successful in Cartersville.
“I don’t care what you do, you can’t do it without good people,” she said.
Swheat Market opened in 2005 as a grocery store with a small area in which food was sold by the pound. It didn’t take long, though, for Hodge to see that the bulk of her business was in prepared food, and a couple of years later she changed her business to solely a restaurant.
“When I have a slow day seven years later, I’m like, ‘Where is everyone?’ ”
“I’m glad that I got out of the grocery business," Hodge said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here. You can’t compete with grocery stores, price-point-wise.”
Those nerves haven’t gone away.
“When I have a slow day seven years later, I’m like, ‘Where is everyone?’ ” she said.
Several restaurants in Cartersville have shut their doors in the past few years, including El Pueblito, Ambra, Schroeder’s Deli, Zydecos and Gumbo to Geaux.
According to a 2010 report in Nation’s Restaurant News, more than 4,000 restaurants closed nationwide in spring 2009.
For the 12 months ended March 31, the number of quick-service restaurant locations declined by 2,521, and the number of full-service restaurants decreased by 2,683, resulting in a 1 percent decrease overall for both.
Now, seven years later, the local restaurant by the railroad tracks has a staff of 10, including a second chef who recently was hired, and 16 months ago it began serving dinner.
Each night the chef prepares one kind of shellfish and a fresh fish, a red meat, a poultry, vegetable sides and a side of his choosing. Friday night is the “chef’s kitchen” when he comes up with his own menu on top of the restaurant’s regular menu.
“I really strive to have a lot of options,” Hodge said. “Typically, every day you can try something different.”
The restaurant will be open Valentine’s Day with its full menu and a special for dinner as well as beer and wine.
Despite the ups and downs the past seven years, Hodge said that owning the restaurant has been the most rewarding thing she’s ever done.
“I don’t know what I would be doing if I wasn’t doing this,” she said. “Cartersville has been very good to me.”
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.