B.J. Fletcher, owner of B.J.’s Ole Times on Dawson Road, continues to do what she can to help the people of Albany even after losing her bid for mayor last year.
ALBANY, Ga. — It’s almost imperceptible — something you wouldn’t particularly notice if you weren’t paying close attention — but after posing a question to once mayoral candidate/restaurateur B.J. Fletcher, there follows the slightest of pauses.
As you look back on the mayoral race and all it involved, are there any regrets?
“There are no regrets,” Fletcher says after that pause that suggests there might be more to her answer than her words indicate. “I’d definitely do it all again.”
There’s another pause, this one more pronounced, and she continues.
“During the election, I had some very good families come to me and say, ‘B.J., the pastor in our church stood up and told the congregation not to support you, in the election or in your restaurant,’” she said. “These were the same African-American preachers who attacked me in the media during the campaign, and that really hurt me.
“I had some of my most loyal customers come to me and say, ‘B.J., I’m going to vote for you, but I can’t put one of your signs in my yard. Not in my neighborhood.’ I know white people who’ve supported black candidates who went through the same thing, and that right there is one of the main things that’s wrong with Albany. That has got to stop.”
Fletcher’s reflections on the mayoral race, which she lost in a runoff last year to Albany’s first female mayor, Dorothy Hubbard, came during an afternoon break in the dining room of downtown’s Hilton Garden Inn. Fletcher started work there in May as catering/sales director, puzzling many in the community.
Isn’t this the same woman, they ask, who owns Cafe 230 downtown ... and Ole Times in West Albany ... and Cafe 230 in Lee County ... and My Daily Bread ... and the Corner Cafe ...?
“I know people associate me with all those places, but the reality is that I took over Ole Times on July 1 because the owner was planning to shut it down,” Fletcher said. “There are people who have worked with me there for 10 years, and they rely on those jobs. Six of them have cancer. I couldn’t leave them with no way to make a living.
“In January, (business partner) Sarah (Edmonds) and I looked at Cafe 230, and we asked if there was enough money coming in for both of us to make a living. We decided there wasn’t, so she bought out my part of the restaurant. I gave away my part of the Lee County Cafe 230 and My Daily Bread, and I was only serving as a mentor at the Corner Cafe. I figured if the owners of these businesses make enough money, they’ll pay me back.”
Fletcher decided to focus her time on her position at the Hilton Garden Inn, which she says is set to undergo some $8 million in renovations, including adding a Starbucks in the lobby, and on stopping the downturn that had convinced owner Pat O’Neal to close Old Times.
“I was stretched way too thin,” she said. “After being contacted by the Hilton Garden Inn about the position with them, I took the job for the security of having benefits and a steady income. Then I became sole owner of Ole Times (officially, B.J.’s Ole Times) in July, and I now split my time between the two.
“It’s the least amount of work I’ve done in a long time. I sometimes don’t know what to do with myself.”
Fletcher said having so many irons in the fire diverted her focus from the things that were always so important to her.
“I made the mistake of trying to compete with the chain restaurants, and that was a mistake,” she said. “We kind of lost our identity. So we’re going back to what made Ole Times work for 10 years, to cooking fresh vegetables every day and cutting up fresh watermelon and taking the time to talk to our customers.
“Look, the only way we can compete is by giving the best service and the freshest food. Olive Garden’s about to open up, and they’re going to do $100,000 a week in business. We have the new Buffalo Wild Wings and Merry Acres restaurants that just opened. We have no new industries, so their customers are going to come from other restaurants. We have to roll up our sleeves and work harder to make it.”
That sounds like someone who was elected to public office, not someone who lost in a runoff.
“I’ve talked with Mrs. Hubbard, told her to let me know if there’s anything I could do,” Fletcher said. “I still say we’re in a fight for our lives to keep people and jobs here. That’s still what I’m all about. I’m not doing what I do for B.J. Fletcher. I’ve chosen Albany as my home — I’ve had plenty of opportunities to go elsewhere — and I’m still in this for the people here.”