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Wholesaler helps restaurants serve more for less

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- In the business world, desperate times call for creative measures.

The lingering recession that refuses to go away has taken a large bite out of most businesses' bottom lines, and survival for many has come down to some innovative, outside-the-box thinking.

The manager of a popular buffet-style restaurant and the owner of one of Dougherty County's two produce wholesalers have come up with a plan that they think will "bust the myth that people in Southwest Georgia can't afford to eat out and eat healthy."

Po' Boys Produce owner Bruce Young, who supplies fresh produce to a number of local independent restaurants and grocery stores, is teaming with Ole Time Country Buffet Manager B.J. Fletcher on a plan they say will be good for diners in the area living on a tight budget.

Young will search all of his suppliers for bargains on fresh fruits and vegetables and make purchases that will allow Ole Times to increase the number of healthy foods it provides daily on its lunch and dinner buffets. In return, the restaurant will make a trial run at cutting its prices dramatically.

"This city is full of people with diabetes and heart disease," Fletcher said. "Part of the reason is that people too often settle for food they're handed through a (fast-food drive-through) window. People settle for that kind of food because they say they can't afford to eat healthy.

"Well, we're going to take a leap of faith and not only provide more healthy fruits and vegetables for our customers, we're going to cut our prices and rely on volume. I think we have a market where we can do this. We'll try it for December, see if it works, and if it does we'll keep these prices."

Starting Dec. 6, Ole Times will serve its lunch and dinner buffets on Mondays-Thursdays for $4.99. The price will increase to $8.99 starting Fridays at 3:30 p.m. and will remain at that price through the weekend.

"We'll have our fresh seafood and barbecue buffet on the weekends, and there's no way I could put out fresh shrimp, mullet and catfish for $4.99," Fletcher said. "But for this to work, we're going to have to have zero tolerance for waste. I'm going to instruct our managers and servers to tell our customers that if they're loading down plates with food they're not eating, they'll be asked to leave."

Young, who's run Po' Boys, located at 1540 N. Washington St., for the past 10 years, said he sees no problem with looking out for bargains for Fletcher's restaurant. In fact, he says that's what he's always tried to do for all his customers.

"I have to watch out for my customers," he said. "If I don't look out for them, I won't stay in business. But I've established a lot of good friends in this business over the years, and they're going to give me their best prices. I can then pass them along to my customers.

"Produce is seasonal, so I buy my products according to the time of year. I deal with local farmers in places like Camilla and Moultrie; I have good contacts with growers in Florida and Tennessee, and I make regular runs to the wholesale markets in Atlanta."

Young said he provides produce at local independent restaurants like Villa Gargano, Terry Lee's Olde World Sandwich Shop, Build Your Burger and Texastar Steakhouse and independent grocers like Taylors Market in Albany and Jenkins Supermarket in Leesburg.

"I like to believe I have pretty good connections, pretty good sources for produce," he said. "Those folks are going to give me a good price, and if I'm careful my customers can serve fresh foods as cheaply as they do frozen. They're depending on me to watch out for them, and that's what I try to do."

Fletcher, meanwhile, said she'll count on her customers as well as Young to help keep the cost of meals down.

"I've got Bruce and the folks at ACC Distributors (which supplies meats, condiments and paper products) keeping an eye on the cost of my products," she said, "but it's going to take some help from the people in the community who eat with us. If they'll cut back on waste, the cost of food can come down.

"In this market, you have to be savvy. People say there's a 12 percent unemployment rate, but I bet it's actually closer to 20 percent. I want to help people whip this economy. I'm offering them a chance to eat a meal with meat, salad, fresh vegetables and dessert for $5. And we're talking about a healthy meal. It's up to them to make it work."

Healthier food for less money? That's about as far out of the box as you can go.