Two people walk down the sidewalk in front of Riverfront Bar-B-que and Grace's Country Cooking Monday afternoon. After announcing they would be closing this week, the owners of Riverfront say they'll keep the doors open.
ALBANY, Ga. — Not so fast with that "Vacancy" sign for Riverfront Bar-B-Q.
Restaurateur Dale Saunders confirmed Monday morning that he had decided to keep open the popular downtown restaurant after all. While he recently announced plans to close the doors of the restaurant Thursday following a 5 1/2-year run at its 105 W. Broad Ave. location, Saunders said he had a change of heart.
"I want this restaurant to work; I want downtown to work," Saunders said shortly after meeting with businessman Bob Brooks, who owns the property in which the restaurant is located. "I think this move is in the best interest of my business, and it's in the best interest of downtown."
Brooks, who has significant holdings in the city's Central Business District, said he actively worked to convince Saunders to keep the barbecue restaurant open.
"I think it sunk in that he has built a good business, so why would he let someone else come in and take advantage of all his hard work?" Brooks said. "We had a big discussion (Monday) morning, and Dale has decided he wants to give it another try. He loves Albany and he loves downtown."
Saunders said he was reconsidering his decision to close the restaurant even before he met with Brooks.
"Last week I had the flu, so I wasn't able to go to work," said Saunders, who also owns/manages the Riverfront 2 Bar-B-Q restuarant in Lee County, two mobile barbecue restaurants and a successful catering business. "I spent a lot of time thinking — just me and my dog sitting around the house — and I was considering giving it another whirl before closing down a business that has been a part of my life for almost six years.
"I talked with Bob, and he convinced me that there were some good things coming downtown. We talked about improving the patio area adjacent to the restaurant and about the possibility of applying for programs like (the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority's) facade grants. I thought about all the people who have supported me over the years and how proud I was to make the business work when others said it couldn't be done."
Albany City Manager James Taylor welcomed Saunders' announcement as good news for the district.
"Citizens, especially those who work downtown, were concerned about losing one of their favorite places to eat," Taylor said. "We were all sad to hear that Riverfront was closing, but we're excited to hear (Saunders) has reconsidered."
Brooks said another businessman had reached a tentative agreement to immediately move into the Riverfront location if Saunders had closed it.