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Features Macon County offers wide array of local food options

Ruka’s Table offers a casual yet elegant atmosphere in Wright Square in Highlands.As part of the Venture Local Franklin (VLF) initiative, Macon County News is teaming up with VLF to highlight local businesses throughout Franklin. Periodically, MCN selects locally owned and operated businesses in a different category. It is our goal at MCN to work with VLF to encourage residents to shop locally and utilize the resources Franklin has to offer.

No doubt about it, food is the gateway to the soul. Food helps create the identity of a community, and Macon County certainly has its share of one-of-a-kind eateries. From specialty themed diners like the Motor Company Grill on Main Street to eclectic ethnic cuisine like Sakura Japanese restaurant on the Highlands Road, Macon County's restaurants offer a little bit of everything.

Right at a year ago, Donnie Bishop saw a gap in Franklin's food offerings with the lack of deli style choices and wanted to do something about it, so on June 19, 2012 he opened the Frogtown Market. "We are in the heart of Frogtown," said Bishop. "We have deli sandwiches, fresh seafood and meat market, as well as a dine-in or take-out restaurant. We also have in-town business delivery available free of charge."

With the doors being open for just a year, Bishop has not changed his business model too much, and is still working out what is best for his demographic. "Business has been great," said Bishop. "We have a great loyal local crowd, as well as several visitors to Franklin. Summer and fall are the busiest for us, however locals keep us busy in winter and spring. We are very blessed with a variety of customers."

To give business a boost, Bishop has tried out various specials and menu additions to keep things fresh. One of his best deals is catfish night. "To get more people in the doors, we started an All-You-Can-Eat-Catfish night on Thursday nights," he said. "We also use social media to help promote business. We put our daily specials on facebook and our weekend specials as well."

Moving forward, Bishop hopes to continue listening to his customers and building a place where locals and visitors alike can enjoy a great meal. "We hope to continue to grow and be successful," said Bishop. "We hope to have more ideas that attract customers and get our name out even more."

Frogtown Market at 61 S. Patton Ave., offers a very popular All-You-Can-Eat-Catfish night every Thursday.Frogtown Market utilizes the chamber of commerce and the networking tools available there to market to a diverse group of people. "When you "venture local" you are helping your own community," said Bishop. "That is the goal. You help the county, as well as people in the county. We love all of our customers and appreciate everyone that comes into Frogtown Market. It has been a great year and we can't wait for many more to come."

Just a few miles and a beautiful scenic drive away, Ruka's Table in Highlands provides a great place for locals to dine out as well as a wholesome southern experience for tourists.

"We are a farm-to-table restaurant serving modern southern food," said Ruka's Table executive chef Justin Burdett.

Ruka's Table, owned by Josh Drake and Charlie Hyland, opened its doors three years ago in the old Fireside space in Wright Square in Highlands.

Focusing on farm-to-table-style dining, Ruka's table offers the unique experience that focuses on creating a menu and eating experience with locally grown products that allows for the freshest dining options.

Burdett noted that Ruka’s Table embodies the spirit of Highlands with a casual but elegant atmosphere, excellent food and service, and a commitment to quality that Burdett believes is unequaled.

"We buy as much local produce as possible to sustain our farming communities," he said. "Ruka’s is family friendly and open for both lunch and dinner."

The restaurant's decor features a beautiful, copper topped, full service bar that offers creative small plates and fondue from 11 a.m. until late night. The bar is flanked by a large stone fireplace, an in-house wine cellar, and is situated under a 30-foot, beamed, cathedral ceiling.

According to Burdett, Ruka's Table has recently undergone a management change as well as hired a new chef, and with those changes, has improved the dining experience.

With the bulk of Highlands' population being found in second home owners and tourists, Burdett noted that the "busy" season for Ruka's Table comes between July and October. "Business has been really good although the busy season seems to have started a little later this year," said Burdett. "We use a PR company to help market the restaurants and work toward expanded our busy season to bring in more regular business."

Ruka's Table strives to cater to a diverse group of diners by working to implore a large range of menu items for different taste buds and affordable menu prices to fit any budget.

"Our goal is always to see more yeararound business," said Burdett. "We work with the chamber of commerce and other local endeavors in the community in hopes of doing that."

Ruka's Table's entire mission of farm-totable service is not just about the freshest foods, but it also focuses on supporting the local economy, explained Burdett.

Cajun Connection offers New Orleans seafood specialties with a Cajun flair, the only restaurant of its kind in Franklin. The restaurant is located on the Highlands Road."Venturing local is so important because it helps to stimulate the economy all the way around. If people support our local business then we can employ more local people and in turn they can go and support other local businesses with the money they make," he said. Cajun Connection on the Highlands Road brings a little bit of New Orleans to Franklin. In business for 10 years, Cajun Connection specializes in Gulf Coast seafood and Creole and Cajun cuisine.

Ernest Pignola and his wife Bea opened the Cajun Connection in August of 2003. Pignola had lived in New Orleans for 20 years before moving to Franklin in 1995.

“After leasing the Gazebo and Whistle Stop Cafe, I decided it was time to bring a taste of New Orleans to Franklin,” said Pignola.

Pignola says business is fair and that summer and fall are his busiest seasons. He said they have had to adjust their hours and their inventory according to the amount of customers they have on any given day. They have recently expanded the space for the restaurant and added entrees to the menu. He says the secret to his success is staying true to his original roots, which is Cajun/seafood, and not to stray from that.

To expand his business and “get his name out there,” the team recently participated in The Taste of the Southern Highlands in Hiawassee, Ga., taking awards for Best Entrée, Best Overall Presentation, and Best Use of Theme in the Southern category. They also use radio ads and have recently joined the Towns County Chamber of Commerce in Hiawassee, due to the fact that they are a very active and much involved chamber.

“We feel that Venture Local is in touch with what is happening with our current economy and the need to support local businesses” said Pignola. “We need to support each other and band together as a community to help one another remain in and/or increase our businesses. We are all that we have here in Franklin. With businesses failing at an alarming rate in the past two years, we are all that is left to make this town a town.”

The Venture Local series appears periodically through the summer months to highlight local business and encourage the community to shop locally. Visit our facebook page to make suggestions on future installments.


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