Getting a group to agree on where to belly up for breakfast, lunch and dinner will become a bit harder in coming weeks.
Three new restaurants along Highway 84 in Hinesville and Flemington are nearing completion, with the first shooting for a June 26 opening.
Panera Bread operating partner Bo Gdovin said the café hopes to be in business in a week, bringing new life to a former Shoney’s in Flemington that sat vacant for about two years.
“There wasn’t anything like us in this market,” Gdovin said. “We thought that was pretty exciting — to be early and to get a chance to work with something like Fort Stewart … our colleagues, there’s another franchise group that operated in Raleigh, and they opened in Fort Bragg, and it turned out to be a great relationship.”
“We’ll know more in the next day or so, if everything goes to schedule … we’re pretty committed to Wednesday barring something unforeseen,” said Gdovin, one of three franchisees involved with Southern Bread. The company has 15 Panera restaurants that span Hinesville to Columbia, S.C.
“It’s open doors, here we go at 6 a.m.,” he said, adding hours of operation are slated to be 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. The café includes a drive-through and outdoor seating, and it will employ a general manager and three to four salaried managers as well as about 70 people on the crew.
And while people often are familiar with Panera’s menu from other cities, Gdovin said the store plans to become involved with the community and establish local connections.
One such venture is through the company’s “Day-End Dough-Nation” program, which donates unsold baked goods to area food-insecurity organizations. Gdovin said the group was in the process of identifying a beneficiary.
Farther west on Highway 84, restaurant owner Zoe Zhang and her team have invigorated the former Chinese buffet that sat vacant at 708 E. Oglethorpe Highway.
Zhang said she is hoping for a July 1 opening of The Rolling Crab, a laid-back, original-concept seafood restaurant.
The menu includes blue, Dungeness, king and snow-crab varieties, as well as Lowcountry boil, oysters, mussels, shrimp, clams and crawfish. Meals are served in a bag, and finger foods are the primary focus.
“We don’t have silverware, we don’t have forks or knives, we just use hands,” said Zhang, who is not a native English speaker.
“Everybody can come here and enjoy it,” Zhang added about ensuring the menu is affordable. “Not very high prices.”
Zhang wants her staff — primarily composed of military spouses — and customers to interact as friends would and with little formality. In keeping with the casual vibe, the restaurant has wood-paneled walls where visitors will be encouraged to leave their marks with graffiti.
“They can write down anything, ‘I miss you, I love you honey,’ or a baby’s birthday, whatever, you just write it down,” she said.
The eatery is awaiting its alcohol license, which Zhang expects will be issued in August. Hours are set for 11 a.m.-11 p.m. seven days per week.
Across the street, new construction is nearing completion at Golden Corral, a Fayetteville, N.C.-based buffet chain that serves steaks, shrimp, pork, seafood and chicken.
The restaurant still is awaiting its certificate of occupancy and should open in a few weeks, but an exact date has not yet been chosen, according to manager Tasha Wall. She said store franchisee Rajan “Rock” Patel did not want to reveal more information until the opening draws nearer.
The buffet anticipates hiring about 100 people and will be open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday through Sunday, which means breakfast will be served on the weekends.
Monday through Thursday, the restaurant will serve lunch and dinner between 10:45 a.m. and 10 p.m., Wall said.
When asked whether they have any qualms about opening new restaurants within a close geographical window and time frame to other ventures, Wall and Gdovin both indicate they want every business within the corridor to flourish.
“For me, anyone who does a good job, I think is where customers are going to gravitate … whoever is doing it well, I think is what’s going to capture customers,” Gdovin said. “We have found if everyone is doing well, better for all of us … if everyone is, the town’s growing.”