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In the market: Lettuce Talk
Where: 833 Dawsonville Highway, Suite 210, Gainesville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Michelle Jeffries wanted to eat at a good salad bar, but in the past she had to drive to Dawsonville to find one.
Jeffries, a senior business analyst by trade, decided to change that on her own. Tuesday, she opened Lettuce Talk, a restaurant offering a salad bar, fresh soups and mix-and-match pasta options.
“I spent the last 19 years in corporate America,” said Jeffries, who opened the restaurant with the help of her mother and a close family friend. “I wanted to do something different.”
Located behind the Starbucks on Dawsonville Highway near the corner of McEver Road, Lettuce Talk lets customers custom-order their dishes.
“It’s not like going to another restaurant where they have something on the menu and you have to order it the way they make it,” she said. “You mix it, you match it, you create it and you enjoy it.”
The focus of the restaurant is providing fresh ingredients. Soups are made from scratch every morning, with vegetables and meats brought in daily. The recipes have been passed down through “generations,” according to Jeffries. The salad bar is refreshed multiples time a day.
“There are two people on staff that do nothing but (add) fresh fruits and fresh vegetables for the salad bar,” she said.
The mix-and-match pasta menu allows customers to pick a sauce, meats, veggies and pasta and it will be prepared accordingly.
Even the herbs used in the soups are fresh. Jeffries grows them in clay pots hanging on display against the restaurant’s front wall.
“I like fresh herbs,” she said. “I like to cook with fresh vegetables, so I also like my herbs to be fresh. There’s a way to use them fresh and to dry them. But this way, you know where they are coming from and we don’t have to go out and buy something, not knowing what farm they came from.”
The 21-foot-long salad bar is double-sided, with different options all the way around. Jeffries said it has everything from basic iceberg lettuce to pickled watermelon.
“I think we can pretty much guarantee that if you can’t find it on that salad bar and you tell your server about it, if we like it, we will put it on there,” she said.
The first week at Lettuce Talk was a bit slow, but Jeffries said traffic was continually picking up. The location was empty for three years before she opened, and she suspects people are still learning about it.
Jeffries credited her partners, Jenny Hill and LaDonna Bennett, for their expertise in the kitchen and help with the business. She said the community has been supportive of efforts to offer something new.
“Small business in Gainesville — well, anywhere — is difficult to get off the ground,” she said. “There have to be other businesses that support you in order for you to make this possible.”
In its first week of business, Lettuce Talk received 16 five-star reviews on Facebook from customers. Jeffries said she believes response has been strong because of the fresh ingredients and “warm, fun atmosphere.”
“And you won’t pay $30 a head,” she said. “It’s a reasonable price to come in, feed your family and know what they’re eating is good and nutritious.”
In the spring, an outdoor patio will be set up for dining. There already is strong Wi-Fi service, which will be accessible from the patio.
Jeffries said she is optimistic about the business.
“I think we’ve created a fabulous concept,” she said. “And according to everybody that’s come in so far, they think so, too.”