Photo credit: Le Petit Marche

Despite higher median income and traffic counts than other Atlanta suburban areas, trendy fast casual restaurants shun south DeKalb

On a recent evening, my wife and I contemplated on what we were having for dinner. Anything was okay if it didn’t involve firing up the stove, so we settled on Willy’s Mexicana Grill. My thoughts on biting into a tasty veggie quesadilla went from happy to stressful in a half of a second: it was 9:40 pm, and I knew that Willy’s would close in 20 minutes!

Thoughts of “can I make it in time” ran through my head. If we were living in Midtown, Buckhead, or near Emory, I wouldn’t be stressed about time, but we live off of Wesley Chapel Road in south DeKalb and the closest Willy’s is about 20 minutes away near Little Five Points.  While I won’t say how fast I drove in order to make it to Willy’s before closing time, I made it. It was a reminder that the area I chose to live in, doesn’t have much of a choice in restaurants beyond fast food outlets.

Some will say, “what about the Stonecrest Mall area? There are several fast casual and good sit-down restaurants in that area”. Although Stonecrest is not far, it’s also not close enough to make a 5 or 6-minute trip to get food. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Chipotle, Taco Mac, Zoe’s Kitchen, are a few of the national retailers found in other parts of metro Atlanta-sometimes with several outlets in close proximity. But they are nowhere to be seen in south DeKalb.

If you were to ask the restaurant company business or franchise development departments about the chances of locating an outlet in south DeKalb, they may say that the demographics in much of south DeKalb doesn’t ‘fit their business model’. According to Entrepreneur article, “How to Find the Best Location”, determining where to locate a restaurant can be as simple or complex. “There are, for instance, sophisticated location analysis tools available that include traffic pattern information, demographic and lifestyle data, and competitive analyses.”

Within demographic data is median income. Comparing population and median household income data between 5 south DeKalb ZIP codes and selected metro Atlanta suburbs, you’ll find a few interesting things. Hiram, population 3,705, has a Starbucks, Japanese restaurant, Moe’s Southwest Grill and a Cold Stone Creamery, all in an area with median household income of $46,793. In addition to Hiram, the cities listed below, have a plethora of fast casual and other trendy restaurants.

Their populations are all less than the population of the south DeKalb ZIP codes and all of their median household incomes, except Roswell and Sandy Springs, are LESS than the median household income in south DeKalb. I chose Roswell and Sandy Springs for a reason. They are considered relatively wealthy, have high quality of life metrics and overall are considered highly desirable places to live.

The median household income in Sandy Springs was a little more, about $5.32 an hour more than the median household income in south DeKalb.

South DeKalb (Zip codes 30034, 30035, 30088, 30058, 30038) Marietta
Pop. 173,484 Pop. 60,014
Median household income(MHI): $48,203 MHI: $41,693
Roswell Sandy Springs
Pop. 94,089 Pop. 101,908
MHI: $72,317 MHI: $59,196
McDonough Lawrenceville
Pop. 23,004 Pop. 30,212
MHI: $45,077 MHI: $42,395
Pop. 3,705
MHI: $46,793

South DeKalb compares favorably on median household income with the others. So it must be another metric that these restaurants are using to determine where they’ll open up. Traffic counts!

Traffic counts are conducted by the state of Georgia for traffic signal, intersection improvements and other updates to help with improving traffic flow. South DeKalb must be facing a dearth of restaurant diversity because our traffic counts don’t warrant opening up right? Wrong!

Wesley Chapel’s most recent traffic count is 51,900 (the count was taken in front of JJ’s Fish and Chicken and probably 48,000 of them are in JJ’s drive thru!). Anyone who drives on Wesley Chapel is hardly surprised by this number, but to put it in proper perspective, let’s look around the metro area and see how busy the other roads are. The number listed next to the roadway name is the largest traffic count anywhere on that road.

Ashford-Dunwoody Rd 49,400
Roswell Rd 40,100
Peachtree St/Rd 46,000
Cobb Pkwy 44,000
Highway 138 (Stockbridge) 35,200
Camp Creek Pkwy 50,100
Thornton Rd (Douglasville) 45,900
Pleasant Hill Rd (Duluth) 56,300
Jimmy Carter 69,600
Holcomb Bridge Rd 68,800
Buford Dr (near the Mall of Ga) 84,500

Driving on Ashford-Dunwoody Road is frustrating, the traffic is a little less than that of Wesley Chapel Road, but there are high-rise office buildings, hotels, tons of restaurants and a big mall in that area. Driving on Wesley Chapel, you’ll pass a McDonalds, a Waffle House, KFC, Captain D’s, another McDonalds. No big malls, no restaurant variety, no high-rise office buildings and hotels.

Comparing populations, median household incomes and traffic counts around metro Atlanta, we see that south DeKalb compares favorably with other areas, but we don’t have what the other areas have.

There is no reason why the households in this area makes more than Marietta, Lawrenceville, Hiram and McDonough, but doesn’t have the restaurant choices those areas have. There are no clear reasons why I should have to drive to Little Five Points to get a Willy’s quesadilla when the median income, population and traffic counts show that south DeKalb could support this and other similar restaurants and stores.



Georgia DOT Traffic Counts

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