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Features Venture Local series takes a look at Franklin eateries

This area boasts a wide variety of tastes and venues

As part of the Venture Local Franklin (VLF) initiative, Macon County News is teaming up with VLF to highlight local businesses throughout Franklin. Each week, MCN will select locally owned and operated businesses in a different industry ranging from retail to tourism, to manufacturing. It is our goal at MCN to work with VLF to encourage residents to shop locally and utilize the resources Franklin has to offer.

Locally owned restaurants have a tremendous appeal within the Franklin city limits. Currently, about 40 locally owned and operated restaurants are conveniently located in Franklin and range from pizza joints to sports bars from Italian restaurants to sandwich shops. With so many menu choices available for residents, Franklin's restaurants provide breakfast lunch and supper for visitors of all tastes. Regardless of the items on the menu, Franklin's restaurants stand apart from others by each offering a unique and perfectly decorated atmosphere that complements the delicious foods.

In an effort to promote eating locally, each week The Macon County News provides its readers with an “Eating Out” section offereing a guide to dining out in Macon County. “I think the Eating Out section of the Macon County News is a wonderful asset to local restaurants,” said Erin Morgan, Advertising Sales Representative with the MCN. “I personally check it every weekend to see what specials are available or who has live music. I know many locals and tourists do the same. Advertisers receive great feedback from their weekly ads.”

Mulligan’s Sports Bar & Grille

Josh Drake, co-owner of Mulligan’s Sports Bar and Grille and Jeremiah Drake, General Manager, worked to create a fun atmosphere for customers. From the decor to the menu, everything at Mulligan’s sticks to the fun, family-friendly sports theme.In 2008, Sean Callahan and Josh Drake began brainstorming on how to create a place in Franklin where friends could meet after work, have a refreshment and enjoy great food in a fun, casual, but tasteful atmosphere. The duo opened Mulligan’s Sports Bar & Grille located on Depot Street on December of 2008.

Centered around a sports theme, Mulligan's décor features sports memorabilia hanging around the restaurants 12 flatscreen TVs, which always have a game on. Even their menu offers fun specialty items that go along with the sports theme, by offering dishes like “sandwedges,” one of which is called “The Grand Slam,” which is a tasty “build your own” combo. Mulligan’s not only features great food, they also have 12 different beers on tap as well as daily drink specials from wine to cocktails and a never ending specialty drink menu.

Although Mulligan’s was the first restaurant to open in Franklin that served alcohol, they have since began working to offer more of a family friendly environment.

“Mulligan’s has worked towards creating a family atmosphere since it opened and we have finally achieved that with a new menu and wonderful customer base,” said Jeremiah Drake, general manager of Mulligan’s.

As the restaurant is approaching its fourth year of business, according to Drake, Mulligan’s has seen a constant influx of customers. “Business is good, it has been fairly steady since we opened,” said Drake. “We have felt the effects of the economy like any other local business, but we have worked very hard to establish our brand with locals as well as visitors to our area.”

Despite the sluggish economy, Mulligan’s has worked to help community and civic organizations by donating to local charities and other local groups, like sponsoring a little league softball team because the owners feel it is important to work together as a community. The restaurant is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and uses Venture Local in order to not only promote their own business, but to also support other local businesses.

As the economy slowly turns around, Mulligan’s has been working to update their menu in order to keep customer's happy. “We strive to improve our menu and offer as much fresh and healthy food as we possibly can,” said Drake. “We are always testing daily specials to see how our customers like the food and to see if we should put it on the menu.”

According to Drake, it is important to support local businesses because it offers a boost of the overall local economy. “The importance of supporting your local economy helps several ways but the most critical issue is to help create jobs for people in our area,” said Drake. “Instead of money being filtered up the chain to a John Doe in New York the money stays and is circulated in our area which in turn gives others the opportunity to create more jobs.”

Gazebo Creekside Cafe

Owners of the Gazebo Creekside Cafe in the Heritage Village, Kurt Knechtel and Rick Mode, work to provide customers with a laidback, relaxed outdoor dining experience that fits everyone’s schedule. The Gazebo has been catering to locals and visitors to the area for 14 years.Fourteen years ago, Franklin resident Kurt Knechtel began working on a business plan to bring a family-friendly restaurant that is centered around being convenient and easily accessible to Macon County residents. On March 14, 1998, he opened the Gazebo Creekside Cafe off of Palmer Street in Heritage Hollow. Rick Mode became a part owner in the business seven years ago, and the two have worked together ever since.

Knechtel wanted to offer customers the choice of having an easy way to pick up lunch when their schedules are busy, or provide a fun outdoor atmosphere for sit down dining. The Gazebo Creekside Cafe's unique design features a Gazebo where all the food is made and an ordering and paying window for convenience.

The “dining room” is a series of levels of a deck that resembles a tree house. The intimate outdoor setting alongside the creek provides diners with a relaxing atmosphere that is matched with an exceptional wait staff. “It's outdoors in a great location,” said Knechtel. “We have great prices and great food. There is a little something for everyone.”

The Gazebo offers a variety of deli-style sandwiches and salads to choose from, with nothing on the menu priced higher than $6.

Over the years, the Gazebo restaurant has seemingly remained unchanged. The owners have made a few upgrades to the building by painting the walls or hanging new signs, but the overall business plan has remained strong and has been well received by locals and visitors to the area. According to Knechtel, with an unusually mild winter, so far this year, the Gazebo's business is up about 20 percent. Typically, the restaurant experiences the most traffic in the spring and summer months.

Tucked away alongside the creek, the Gazebo’s multiple level deck provides a unique experience for customers while they enjoy delistyle dishes, and nothing on the menu is priced more than $6.With the cost of living going up, and day to day expenses like gas or clothing constantly rising, Knechtel has worked to maintain a fairly priced menu. “We want to keep our prices the same and have a menu that is affordable,” said Knechtel. “We want to offer great food and be consistent so our customers know what to expect from us.”

According to Knechtel an important component of the Gazebo's success has been the ability for management to be aware of the change in the economy and in the way businesses are influenced by technology. “It is important for the owner to evaluate everything on a daily basis,” said Knechtel. “In order to make changes and to help profits.”

Although the Gazebo has a loyal local customer base and gets lots of business from tourists who want to enjoy the beauty of downtown Franklin as they dine, Knechtel hopes to work toward improving the restaurant in order to offer customers the best dining experience possible. “We want to serve everyone in Macon County and want to make the Gazebo their choice to eat,” said Knechtel.

The Gazebo networks with the Chamber of Commerce to provide visitors to the area with their menu before arriving at the restaurant. Their menu can also be found online.

One reason Knechtel chose to open a restaurant in Franklin was to keep his investments local in order to support the community he loves. “When keeping money in our community, it helps to build all businesses,” said Knechtel. “Building a better business brings money into our entire community and helps our local economy.”

Livingston's Bar & Grill

The dining area of Livingston’s is brightly decorated with vibrant colors and Palm trees to offer customers a “getaway” while they dine.Just nine months old, Livingston’s Bar & Grill opened on September 19, 2011 on Highlands Road in the Village Plaza. While Livingston's is a new concept at the current location, the manager, Jamee Pelcher and her family have been in the restaurant business in Franklin for more than 15 years. “Originally starting in 1996 as “The Chef & His Wife” at Mill Creek Country Club, then opening the first store front in 1999 behind the courthouse on Iotla Street, and then a name change to “The Hidden Gem” a few years back, gave us all the experience we needed before opening Livingston’s,” said Pelcher.

Before opening, Pelcher took all of her family's experience, the changing economic conditions of Franklin, and her family's personal loves and strengths and created the concept for Livingston’s. “We wanted something unique, fun and different while keeping our menu prices reasonable,” she said. “We believe we created that and our customer response has been great!”

Pelcher and Jim Ashman are the managers of the restaurant and most of the staff and family is the same “core” staff that started with Pelcher back in the 90s, which brings a homey, friendly atmosphere to the restaurant. “It takes all of my staff, friends and family to keep this place going,” said Pelcher. “We all support this restaurant and each other and that’s what makes this place so special. To have the same staff for over 10 years in a restaurant is almost unheard of.”

Livingston’s is a casual full service restaurant with a very “tropical” flare, with pink flamingos, Jimmy Buffet tunes on the radio and bright, vibrant colors adding to the décor. It is more than a restaurant, it is an overall experience.

According to Pelcher, the restaurant was named after a Jimmy Buffet song. “I was in the car listening to Jimmy Buffet on the radio and trying to think of a new name, when one of his songs called “Livingston Saturday Night “ came on and I thought to myself, “Livingston’s?” It had a ring to it and I wanted something different,” she explained. “After bringing the idea to everyone, which wasn’t well received at first, we started discussing the name when we remembered our time living in the Florida Keys.We were lucky enough to have a small boat named Livingston. Many great days of fishing were had on this little boat. Livingston’s just seemed to fit after that.”

Livingston’s is located on the Highlands Road, in FranklinLivingston's menu features a unique menu with items ranging from delicious fried pickles to Cuban inspired dishes. “We serve the same menu all day long, so guests can come in and get dinner entrees at lunch and lunch at dinner,” she said. “This has been a big piece of our success. There is a full service bar available with many beers, both bottle and draft, full wine menu and of course, mixed drinks.”

They serve many items including deli sandwiches and homemade soups, salads, burgers, specialty sandwiches, steak, seafood including oysters, conch fritters and crab cakes, chicken. Their special dishes have a Caribbean taste, including coconut chicken & shrimp. “Our Cuban dishes are our most popular, including our Cuban Sandwiches which are made with real Cuban bread imported from Tampa and our homemade pulled pork, which is marinated in our house-made mojo for two days before being slow cooked for 12 hours,” said Pelcher. “We also feature this pork in our Cuban plate, which includes coconut rice, our own black beans and fried plantains. Our food is all cooked fresh to order with quality ingredients.”

Instead of opening just another local restaurant, Pelcher wanted to bring something new to Franklin. She wanted to offer a get-a-way for residents, even if it is just for an hour over lunch. The inside of the restaurant is very unique and is split into three separate areas. There is a family friendly dining room, completely separate from the bar. The bar area that has four high definition TV’s for customers to enjoy sports events. The entrance is a small retail area that features items for sale that includes Beads for Life jewelry, candles, soaps and tshirts.

To add to the overall feel of the environment, the front entrance also has a custom made fountain that adds to the ambience. “We tried to make this place feel like a getaway for people, even if only for an hour,” said Pelcher. “Bright colors, tropical décor, hand painted art on the walls, Jimmy Buffet music and lots of markers to write all over the tables are just some of the features to make it casual and fun for everyone.”

The location on the Highlands Road was a change for Pelcher and the staff, and according to Pelcher, the more visible location was selected in hopes of coping with the negative effects of the economy.

“Moving to a more highly visible location was our first change,” she said. “Being open seven days a week from 11 to 9, including most holidays was another large change. We are trying to accommodate everyone's schedule in Franklin and be open when many other restaurants are not. Having the same menu all day long so people can get lighter items at dinner and also having “lighter fare” entrees (smaller portions at a lower price) have been very well received by our neighbors.”

Livingston's was also designed to cater to local groups to offer a relaxed meeting room. “All these new ideas have helped us stay open during the recent economic downturn in our area, as well as continuing to serve quality food, and large portions for the price, which has kept us in business for 15 years,” said Pelcher. “During these trying times, our main goal is to keep the doors open to be able to provide customers with a unique getaway. We are using many social media products including Facebook, websites and e-mails to keep people up to date on our offerings. These are great tools to reach people. Being members of the Chamber of Commerce is a large part of our advertising due to their website and ability to distribute our menus to visitors. Our future goals are simple, to keep serving quality food and providing great service in a unique atmosphere that makes people happy and relaxed.”

Like most local restaurants, Livingston's depends heavily on local support in order to stay in business. “We all love what we do and want to keep on doing it, but we need the local residents support to do so. We only have a few weeks of year that we see a large influx of visitors to our area, so local support is what we depend on to keep us in business and that is our main focus, trying to keep our neighbors happy and coming back throughout the year,” said Pelcher. “That is why venturing local is so important. To let our residents know how vital they are to local economy, and how much we depend on their support for the economic growth of the community.

Without it, none of our locally owned businesses will be able to stay open.

Ms. Lois’ Restaurant

Next May will mark 20 years since Lois Stamey first opened the doors to Ms. Lois' restaurant on the Highlands Road. On May 6, 1993, Lois Stamey opened the restaurant in hopes of providing Franklin residents with a place to get real, southern, homestyle cooking. On August 1, 2001, the restaurant changed owners when Stamey sold Ms. Lois' to her daughter and son-inlaw, Marcie and Randy Cochran, the two now own, operate, manage, and Marcie even waits.

According to Marcie Cochran, the main goal of the restaurant is to offer an atmosphere that is warm and inviting and “where everyone feels at home.” The walls of the restaurant are lined with pictures of Cochran's three children, Harley, Kent and Kenley and art work they have done over the years. The family photos make you feel right at home. “Customers like coming in a looking for the newest pictures on the walls,” said Cochran. “They always ask about the kids and how they are doing. The customers have become family. I know most of them by name.”

The majority of the traffic through Ms. Lois’ is from local people, but she does have a strong customer base in seasonal residents who stay in Franklin during the summer months. Occasionally new faces will stroll into the restaurant, but by the time they leave, they have joined the Ms. Lois’ family.

Mirroring old fashion diners, Ms. Lois' menu features an impressive variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner items ranging from homemade biscuits and gravy to specialty seasoned grilled catfish and vegetables. In the spring and summer months, the outside patio offers a refreshing change of scenery for customers.

Over the years, the biggest change to the restaurant has been the appearance of the inside. When Cochran took over in 2001, she rearranged the tables to make the dining area more functional and accessible to her five person staff. During the lunch rush, locals stand and wait to grab a table, so Cochran wanted to offer as much seating as possible in order to accommodate her customers. To better serve local businesses, Cochran began offering delivery service to businesses in town. Now, during breakfast and lunch, businsses call Ms. Lois' to order their favorite dishes.

Marcie Cochran, owner and manager of Ms. Lois’ Restaurant located on the Highlands Road, also works at the restaurant as a waitress to be able to stay connected with her customers.Cochran has also expanded her menu over the years to keep up with changing meal habits. One big change has been the decision to offer healthier food. “We added a grilled chicken and grilled catfish so people could have healthier options for their meals,” said Cochran. “Last August we also made the decision to start serving dinner. Our customers have really taken advantage of that. I have customers that I see two and three times a day. They come in here for all of their meals.”

The menu at Ms. Lois' has changed over the years, with lots of input from customers. “About eight years ago one of my regulars, Bud, suggested I starting serving pan-fried chicken,” said Cochran. “So I tested it out and now on the day we have pan-fried chicken as our lunch special, it’s our busiest day. We have customers who rearrange their schedules not to miss it when it is the special.”

Despite the economy, Ms. Lois' has maintained a steady stream of business. “We have a great local clientele,” said Cochran. “We have people who have eaten here consistently since my mom owned it. They come in and get the same thing everyday. They have watched me grow up and are now watching my kids grow up. I get really attached to them and look forward to seeing them each day.”

Cochran hopes to continue to build Miss Lois' in order to offer the best possible service to customers. “We want to continue providing great food to everyone who comes through our doors,” said Cochran. “We want our customers to keep coming back to see us because we love taking time to talk with them because they may start as customers, but they become family.”

Ms. Lois' often praticipates in community organizations and donates to groups and events that give back to Macon County. “I think it is so important to support each other locally personally as well as professionally,” said Cochran. “Whether it is eating out or shopping, every little bit helps, and as long as it is done locally, the money stays here in Macon County and that is important.


See next week’s issue for the continuation of the Venture Local series highlighting tourism




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