Is a new Olive Garden or Red Lobster restaurant — or both — headed to Mount Airy? So far only rumors have been served up, but nothing actually brought to the table, city officials say.
“There’s nobody that’s come in for a permit — but yeah, those are persistent rumors,” city Community Development Director Martin Collins said earlier this month.
Collins is in a position to know, due to working with industries or businesses exploring new operations in Mount Airy, and is based at the planning department where items including building permits and site plans are processed for such establishments.
“Still nothing on my end,” Andy Goodall, city planner, responded when asked about any contacts with Olive Garden or Red Lobster officials about possible restaurants here. While Red Lobster is a seafood chain, Olive Garden specializes in Italian dishes.
However, Collins says the lack of bureaucratic involvement so far doesn’t mean deals for one or both aren’t being cooked up behind the scenes. The possibility of such a restaurant coming is a strong one along the busy U.S. 601 corridor, where a Cracker Barrel opened last month and has attracted mobs of customers since.
Long John Silver site
Although talk concerning a new Olive Garden has circulated locally for some time, one catalyst for the most recent round of rumors was the July 21 closure of a Long John Silver’s restaurant at 1996 Rockford St., which had been in business since 1980.
A source who cited contacts linked to the ownership of that property related that an Olive Garden or Red Lobster could be coming to that spot in a project also involving property next door where Advance Auto Parts has a store at 2038 Rockford St.
The possible Olive Garden-Red Lobster combination reflected a corporate relationship between the two, which were sister restaurants until last year when owner Darden Restaurants Inc. sold off its Red Lobster holdings.
County tax records list an out-of-town entity, S & S Associates, as the owner of both the Long John Silver property and the Advance Auto site. Each is valued in the half-million-dollar range counting the buildings and land.
Collins hinted that it is only a matter of time before the Long John Silver site, at least, gets a new occupant, due to its prime location and the fact there are limited spaces for development along the well-traveled U.S. 601 corridor. He pointed to a lack of “greenfield” sites in that area.
“Now the developers are faced with buying property that maybe already has a good building on it,” Collins said of what can be involved with a search for property there. “Every bit of it is extremely valuable.”
The community development director added that some business group might obtain an option to buy a certain parcel, which is what usually causes rumors to fly.
But much planning is required before a restaurant is constructed, Collins said, citing the new Cracker Barrel as an example.
“It was a pretty lengthy process,” he said, which tends to be the case with advance preparations for such commercial projects.
“It’s typically about a year before you see anything happen,” Collins said, “and that’s when you have all these rumors.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.