Loretta’s Country Kitchen
Hours: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
Location: 4305 Mundy Mill Road, Oakwood
More info: 770-532-0370 or lorettascountrykitchen.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Location: 3603 Southland Drive, Flowery Branch
More info: 770-536-3532 or Nichols Diner Facebook page
When you’re Alan and Craig Nichols, catering to hungry customers runs in the family.
Both men worked in restaurants a long time before opening their own. Now the two brothers strive to maintain their success, because they remember where they came from.
“When you come from nothing, you know it could all go away tomorrow,” Alan said.
When they were growing up, their father taught them the value of a dollar and made them work for everything they had.
“We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor,” Craig said.
The two men own restaurants in Hall County. Alan, 51, owns Loretta’s Country Kitchen, a Southern-style eatery off Mundy Mill Road in Oakwood. He named it after his wife, Loretta, who stops by sometimes and helps out.
Craig, 56, owns Nichols Diner off Southland Drive in Flowery Branch. He used his family’s last name for the American-style diner.
Together the brothers feed the hungry masses of South Hall County and attribute their success to hard work.
“(Alan) has really worked hard. He works harder than I do,” Craig said of his younger brother.
The men started their careers in the food industry together at Dairy Mart off Atlanta Highway.
For 12 years, the Nichols brothers worked side by side. When the place closed in 2004, the brothers went their separate ways, opening their own restaurants. It has helped them grow from brothers into friends.
“We used to fight like crazy when we was kids,” Craig said. “We got older, and now we’re glad to see each other and we get along great.”
The two also look out for each other’s best interests.
“We are always there for one another,” Craig said. “He needs something, I’m always there. I need something, he’s always there for me.”
The two brothers don’t compete for business, Alan said. That message rings true as both restaurants have different menus. In fact, Alan will send customers to Craig if he does not serve the food they desire.
“If they want a burger, I’ll send them to Nichols,” Alan said.
Instead, most of the food competition comes from neighboring fast-food joints such as McDonald’s and Burger King. But the two men don’t worry about the chain restaurants.
Alan said his business and his brother’s separate themselves from the “bottom-feeders” by selling fresh food at affordable prices. For example, every item on the breakfast menu at Loretta’s is less than $3.
Alan also attributes his restaurant’s success to its commitment to fresh ingredients and staying true to the slogan “Where It’s All Good.”
For example, Loretta’s goes through 1,000 pounds of potatoes in a week.
“We use real potatoes in the potato salad,” Alan said. “The mashed potatoes are real.”
The dinner menu at Loretta’s consists of quintessential Southern home-cooking food, such as fried chicken and meatloaf, Alan’s favorite.
The side dishes accompanying the entree also are made fresh, Alan said.
“The lettuce, the tomatoes, everything is hand-done,” Alan said. “It’s the little things that separate us.”
Craig follows the same philosophy of fresh food at Nichols Diner. All hamburgers are made to order, which differentiates them from the big chains that serve the same kind repeatedly.
“We cook our hamburgers fresh,” Craig said. “We cook almost everything to order.”
The chicken is his favorite menu item, but the most popular are the hamburgers and hot dogs. The diner also features simple cuisine, including ballpark favorites such as french fries.
“I’m a microwave cooker at home, so I ain’t much on the recipe part,” Craig said.
But for customers who want food fast and good, be prepared to wait. A steady line of cars is usually wrapped around Loretta’s as customers use the drive-thru lane.
Breakfast and lunch rushes also seem never-ending, Alan said, adding the parking lot is full most of the time.
“Every year I say, ‘We’re topped out,’ but we’re not topped out yet,” Alan said.
But Alan and his staff maintain a customer-friendly environment despite the heavy traffic.
“You put your customers first and the rest will follow,” he said, pointing out one customer who sits in the same seat every day. “We’ve been really blessed.”
Keeping a happy and well-paid staff is another key to the brothers’ bustling businesses.
“I try to treat (the staff) like family,” Craig said.
Alan even has a few faithful employees who have been with him since opening Loretta’s 14 years ago.
“We pay them well,” Alan said.
The two brothers also believe in supporting their communities, which includes Flowery Branch, Johnson and West Hall high schools. In fact, Loretta’s occasionally caters school events.
“West Hall is in my backyard,” Alan said. “It’s hard to say no to them.”
To accommodate large events, Loretta’s established a new catering headquarters next to the restaurant. It serves as a private venue, which accommodates 50 or 60 people. However, Loretta’s still caters birthday parties or corporate events inside the restaurant.
With all the hectic lifestyle of a restaurant owner, the brothers show no signs of quitting.