The Riverfront Bar-B-Q on West Broad Avenue in Albany.
ALBANY, Ga. — One of the mainstays of Albany’s downtown district announced Wednesday afternoon plans to pull up stakes.
Dale Saunders told The Albany Herald he will close the doors of Riverfront Bar-B-Q on Jan. 31, ending a 5 1/2-year run as perhaps the most unlikely success story in a revitalization effort that has had trouble maintaining momentum.
Saunders closed his next-door satellite restaurant, Grace’s Country Cooking, last Friday.
“I’m not saying anything bad about downtown, but things started slowing down at that location about a year ago and it just hasn’t picked up,” Saunders said. “When B.J. (Fletcher) closed her store (Cafe 230), I expected business to pick up. But it’s actually gotten worse.
“I don’t have an answer. We didn’t expect all of B.J.’s customers to come to our place, but we definitely expected some increase. When it didn’t come, I decided to consolidate all of my business at the Lee County location.”
Saunders said he will focus his culinary energy on the Riverfront 2 Bar-B-Q location at U.S. Highway 19 South in Lee County and on his catering and mobile trailer businesses. Saunders operates one of his trailers at the Albany Mall and said he will look into having the other at a location downtown.
“When you get as big as we did, there’s a lot of overhead in things like running large coolers overnight,” the restaurateur said. “For that to work, you have to have a dinner business or a lot of customers.”
Downtown Manager Aaron Blair said Wednesday he was disappointed that Saunders had decided to close the downtown restaurant, but he expressed optimism that a new establishment would fill the vacancy.
“Obviously, it’s awful that one of our downtown businesses would close, especially Riverfront Bar-B-Q,” Blair said. “But Mr. (Bob) Brooks (the property owner) has assured me that location would not be without a tenant very long, if at all.
“While I’m disappointed, I understand that Dale has got to do what’s best for him. We just hate to see him go.”
Saunders, who opened the 105 W. Broad Ave. location in 2007 and twice enlarged it to meet demand, said he’d enjoyed three years with sales of $850,000 or greater. But he said sales had fallen sharply over the past year.
“The economy probably had something to do with it, but I wish I knew what the answer really was,” he said. “Maybe it had something with the work on the (Broad Avenue) bridge; maybe it was other things. I know for all 5 1/2 years I was downtown, there was always talk about major changes, but they never happened. People just quit believing it.
“I’ve told a few people about my plans — young and old — and almost all of them have said the same thing: ‘I don’t blame you.’”