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A boom in the Branch?
S. Hall going through a restaurant explosion
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Ernie Simmons installs a monitor for food orders in the new Chick-fil-A in the Stonebridge Village shopping center. The new restaurant is one of four different restaurants that will be opening soon in the shopping center on Spout Springs Road in Flowery Branch. - photo by Tom Reed

1026RESTAURAUD

David Norman, director of operations at the Chick-Fil-A restaurant opening Thursday in Flowery Branch, talks about the new location.

FLOWERY BRANCH — Eating out in Flowery Branch used to mean eating up gas.

Hungry residents would have to climb on Interstate 985 or some back roads and either drive north to Oakwood or Gainesville or head south to Buford.

That’s less and less the case, thanks largely to Stonebridge Village shopping center developing on Spout Springs and Hog Mountain roads.

And in what is a practically unheard-of move for this once eatery-starved area, four restaurants are opening at about the same time — Chick-fil-A, Fini’s Pizzeria, Shane’s Rib Shack and Shogun Japanese Steakhouse — all in and around Stonebridge.

Fini’s, Shane’s and Shogun already are open. Chick-fil-A opens Thursday.

Employees at the restaurants said they don’t mind the competition and, in fact, expect to be eating at each other’s establishments from time to time.

David Norman, director of operations at the new Chick-fil-A store, said he believes the shopping center will "draw more people to the area and then (shoppers) will have a choice of where to eat.

"We do have the only drive-through, which is a real plus for us."

Norman is moving to the store from the Atlanta-based chain’s Oakwood store, where he was general manager.

Looking at the hectic pace of traffic on Spout Springs Road from the store’s outdoor seating area, he said he is expecting a high volume of cars to head his way.

"One of the things we love about this location is you can see the interstate ... and you can hear the cars going by," Norman said. "... We feel like we’re in a small city down here."

The surrounding area is seemingly bucking the national economic slowdown.

Cars regularly fill the parking lot of the Publix-anchored shopping center across the street from Stonebridge. An 84-unit, five-story Hampton Inn & Suites is set to open in November, a Habersham Bank is set to open just east of Hog Mountain Road and plans are under way for a new Walgreens Pharmacy.

Also, the Flowery Branch City Council recently approved an area resident’s request to put up nearby developments, one involving another possible hotel and restaurant.

For Mark Carter, the opportunity to open a Shane’s Rib Shack near his hometown of Oakwood was worth the venture.

He had been working as the general manager of Shane’s restaurants near Perimeter Mall in Dunwoody and Smyrna.

"Getting off at this Flowery Branch exit for many years, it was just a small town," said Carter, a Johnson High School graduate. "I saw the growth coming this way and then saw that Home Depot and Target were going in over here.

"I did some research and found out (Stonebridge was) going to have space for restaurants and decided this would be a great opportunity for me to come back home and bring the restaurant business here."

Joanna Fini, who manages Fini’s Lawrenceville restaurant, said the Stonebridge location caught the eye of her sister, Michelle, who had moved to South Hall a few months ago.

"She told mom and dad that would be a great place to get in," she said. "We took a look and we loved this building. When it was available, we decided to go for it."

Byung Son, owner of Shogun, has two other locations, one in Duluth and one in the Mall of Georgia area.

He also recognized the area’s growth and, like Carter, was particularly drawn to Stonebridge because of its major retailers.

"Also, this area (doesn’t have) many restaurants," Son said.

He said business has been OK since the restaurant opened Sept. 26."(People) don’t know we’re here," he said.

The area may see a throng of people this week as Chick-fil-A opens with promotional events.

The restaurant is giving away $26,000 in free food to the first 100 adults in line Thursday morning.

Also, the chain is giving away coupons for one free meal per week for a year to the first 100 adults, age 18 and older with identification, between 6 and 6:30 a.m. that morning. The line can begin forming up to 24 hours before the opening.

Chick-fil-A officials said the "First 100 Fans" event, begun in 2003, has a huge following nationwide.

The restaurant plans to feed those who show up the day before and commit to staying in the line, plus put on a late-night movie and throw an ice cream party.

"I think it’s more about the fun and hanging out and doing things versus getting the free food," Norman said.

Regional events