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Chick-fil-A takes 1st step toward new design

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The long anticipated makeover of the Shorter Chick-fil-A Dwarf House is finally getting underway. Sort of. Site preparations for a new modular, or containerized temporary Chick-fil-A drive-through in the RiverWalk shopping center, 315 Riverside Parkway, got started last week.

Plans for a complete overhaul of the Dwarf House at 264 Shorter Ave. have been on the drawing board for close to two years. “We opened the first prototype in New­nan,” franchisee Greg Major said. “I’m going to be the second one.” He said that once a learning curve has settled in from the restaurant in New­nan, Chick-fil-A designers will probably make a few design changes before starting work on the Rome restaurant.

“It’s going to be a total demolition, even the parking lot. We’re going to re-grade the parking lot because it has a pretty good amount of slope on it now,” Major said. “We’re going to try to flatten out the lot.”

Regular Chick-fil-A customer Armin Maier said he sits down in the dining room of the Dwarf House maybe three or four times a week for a meal. Asked what he would do when the restaurant is being torn down to make room for the modern replacement, Maier said, “I’ll starve.” Maier said the restaurant is the first one he comes to when coming from his home off Horseleg Creek Road.

Jean Murphy, Rome, said she would simply use the drive-through at the new location to get her Chick-fil-A fix. Norma Jean Smith, who was having lunch with Murphy one day last week, said the Rome Dwarf House was “the nicest Chick-fil-A” she had ever been to. “And it’s always busy, extremely busy,” Murphy said. “And another thing I like is it always gets good (health department) grades.”

Major said he is still waiting on word from the Cathy family as to when work on the replacement Dwarf House would begin. “If I had to make a guess it would probably be first quarter of 2018 when we shut down the Dwarf House to start the demolition,” Major said. The construction timetable is an aggressive 20 weeks. “We might even be able to push it to 18 weeks. We’re going to be working through the winter; there may be some weather issues that might pop up, but the goal is still 20 weeks.”

Major is excited to finally get the work at River­Walk underway. Since he is opening the temporary unit while the Dwarf House is still open, Major is adding about 30 employees to his current workforce of nearly 160. “They can apply online or they can apply at the Dwarf House, that would probably be the easiest,” Major said.

The temporary restaurant will be a single-lane drive-through restaurant. The opening date has not actually been set, Major said.

Robert Ledbetter Jr. of Ledbetter Properties is equally happy to have worked out a deal to bring the temporary restaurant to a small 0.27-acre parcel in the RiverWalk center.

Ledbetter is hopeful that the anticipated traffic at the temporary Chick-fil-A will offer solid proof of the viability of the site for a permanent tenant at some point in the future.

Ledbetter said his company actually has a 20-year ground lease with Steak ’n Shake for the 0.27-acre parcel in the RiverWalk Center, but when an investor took over Steak ’n Shake he took a different direction to franchise restaurants rather than continuing to build corporate shops. That’s when Wayne Robinson and Brooke Temple acquired the franchise for Rome and opted to build the restaurant across Turner McCall in the Village shopping center.

“We hope it will generate some interest. There are no guarantees, but I think it will be good for that area,” Ledbetter said.

Ledbetter said the company has had discussions with other companies about taking the site over the years. Ledbetter said he sold the Chick-fil-A deal to Steak ’n Shake executives by telling them, “This was an opportunity to help maybe get you guys off the hook.”

The Shorter Avenue Chick-fil-A Dwarf House is located on an outparcel of the Midtown Crossing shopping center, also developed by Ledbetter Properties.

The menu at the temporary restaurant will be pared down slightly from the existing menu at the Dwarf House.

“All your Chick-fil-A favorites will be there, but especially on our breakfast menu it will be pared down,” Major said.

Harold Murphy, who was having a meal with his wife, Jean, and the Smiths last week, said he hopes one of the items that goes back on the menu when the new shop opens is a carrot salad.