Monday, November 15, 2010

Pollo Tropical Re-enters Georgia, But Will Atlantans Bite?

South Florida-based Pollo Tropical is giving the Atlanta market a second try. The fast food chain franchised three locations in Atlanta that opened in 1995 and closed in 1996. The chain, owned by New York-based Carrol's Corporation, plans to re-enter the Atlanta market early next year with a handful of restaurants, the first of which is planned for North Buckhead. The restaurant will open near the intersection of W. Wieuca and Roswell Roads at 4402 A and B Roswell Road. The land is currently home to small businesses, Lucy's Market, in a shuttered Just Brakes in A, and JW Glass, Paint & Body Shop, in B. Both buildings will be torn town within the next few weeks and I'm told that construction on Pollo Tropical will begin sometime in the first quarter of next year.

The battle to build on this land has gone on for years with earlier plans for a CVS Pharmacy and a high-rise residential building both dying in the proposal stages. It took multiple NPU-B (Neighborhood Planning Unit-B) meetings to finally approve the planned restaurant. Many residents of nearby Lake Forrest Lane and dead-end extension Wieuca Road voiced opposition to the increased traffic and noise they feel the restaurant will bring. The fact that the restaurant will have entrances from both Roswell and Wieuca Roads confuses me as this means there will be added traffic on the dead-end extension of Wieuca Road, but in the end, the permitting was approved.

While I'm not terribly concerned about the closure of a body shop, Lucy's proprietors' Kim Wilson and Hope Goins have been happily serving the North Buckhead / Chastain Park community for about 18 months and will now have to relocate. Among other things, Lucy's sells local produce, pinestraw, assorted baked goods and various ready-made sauces and pies. Lucy's will close in its current location November 24th and re-open in its new location November 29th. That new location is not far, just about 3 miles away, at 102 West Paces Ferry, but it's still a disruption. Lucy's will open in the front portion of the former Mercedes- Benz of Buckhead / Sears Automotive showroom adjacent to the St. Regis Hotel. (Original plans called for this and this to open on the same property but those plans appear on hold indefinitely) Though not far away, I just hope their customers will continue to patronize their market in its new location. My favorite new Fro-Yo, Three on the Tree, sources some of their fresh fruits from Lucy's and I hope this continues.

As many of you are aware, I revealed plans for a Zaxby's to open on land not far away where currently sits an abandoned car wash, and I see the Zaxby's as positive redevelopment. But with Pollo Tropical on the other hand, its opening and the forced relocation of Lucy's, I see as just the opposite. As I stated, this is not a new chain to Atlanta. They were already here, and they failed. While yes, tastes and preferences and demographics have changed since those franchised Pollo Tropicals years ago, Buckhead was not then, and is not now the right area for such a concept. Zaxby's is a Georgia-based company that is found around countless southern college campuses so to locate in Buckhead near Galloway, Pace and Lovett seems like a wise decision. While I have heard some less than favorable things about Zaxby's upper management, there is not a doubt in my mind that when they open on Roswell Road, the restaurant will be a success.

Latin chains such as Pizza Patron and Pollo Campero have found success along Buford Highway and in Norcross, intelligent places for such ethnic and affordable establishments. Buckhead does not happen to offer the same demographics, nor does it need another failed restaurant on its hands. (Chima and Bertucci's / Bridgetown Grill still sit empty on Peachtree and Piedmont respectively.) Pollo Campero decamped in Gainesville mere months after opening, as it was not the right place for such a concept. Similarly, Buckhead is not the right place for a Pollo Tropical. Buckhead residents do support La Fonda Latina, a moderately priced Latin restaurant just a stone's throw away, but I highly doubt Pollo Tropical will experience anywhere near the acceptance that La Fonda does.

During its previous stint in Atlanta, Pollo Tropical had a location in my neighborhood, a former Gulf gas station at the intersection of LaVista and North Druid Hills Roads in Northeast Atlanta. I ate there as a youngster a couple times and at that early age knew it would not be open when I grew up; sure enough, it closed. Not long after its closure, Einstein Bros. Bagels and Caribou Coffee opened, both of which remain open today. Worse still, Pollo Tropical already failed in Buckhead! Another of their shuttered locations was at 2271 Peachtree Road in South Buckhead. The restaurant closed and became MacArthur's Chop & Crab House which in turn failed and after sitting vacant for years, was razed for the construction of Mezzo, home to Varasano's Pizzeria.

On a trip to South Florida this past January, I gave Pollo Tropical a second try, having not tried it since the 90s at Toco Hills. As many of you are well aware, I'm no food snob or critic but the food was just plain bad. It did not leave me full or satisfied. I have since tried Pollo Campero at their new Buford Highway location and thought it was way better than what I had at Pollo Tropical.

This story was precipitated by the enormous interest in the Zaxby's story and emails and questions that followed. As I don't live in the area discussed, my opinion may be of little interest to some.. Whether you agree with me or not, please use the comment section below to discuss this upcoming development. ToNeTo Atlanta

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23 comments:

mindspringyahoo said...

it was pollo tropical at Toco? For some reason I thought it was an earlier incarnation of pollo loco--but my memory might be bad.

I went to the grand opening of the toco location, when they were giving out free food for a day or so. It was ok I thought, but nothing all that earth shattering.

There was another location of the same chain (I think. Or maybe an extremely similar Latin chicken type chain) in the old Del Taco on Lavista about a mile ITP near Harobi. It didn't last long either.

Atlanta's not a huge Latin chicken town, IMO.

Atlantan99 said...

Yes, the majority of the building exterior at Toco is the same from the Pollo Tropical days.

Pollo Loco entered Atlanta for the first time in 2008 and while franchised then, is now under cirporate control now.

Del Taco left and there was talk of them coming back but nothing yet.

What building are you speaking of on LaVista... near Northlake Mall?

Anonymous said...

I've been reading some reviews of Pollo Tropical since seeing this story and surprised that it actually seems to be popular for what it is...cheap food, fast. While my initial thought was stupidity for trying to re-enter this market at this time, it may actually do okay.

Anonymous said...

I think it's too bad to see Lucy's get uprooted, but I can see it doing very well in its new location.
It's a niche thats really missing around all those local shops in that affluent area

mindspringyahoo said...

The Del Taco was near Harobi, maybe a mile ITP. The building was torn down a couple years or so ago and a BB&T bank sits at that location.

Atlantan99 said...

Hmmm... I recall that space being a Dairy Queen prior to being razed for the BB&T branch...before that?

mindspringyahoo said...

I think that the Dairy Queen (formerly a Showbiz Pizza, formerly Steak and Shake) is a Regions Bank. The dq is about 100-200 feet further east than the old Del Taco location.

The carwash is definitely in between the dq (now a bank) and the old Del Taco location...

Atlantan99 said...

Ahhhh.. yes! The Regions is the former DQ.... then there is a Simoniz Car Wash , The Delta Community CU and the BB&T. I recall that BB&T being some cheesy Diner then an Asian something... then an eyesore before being torn down for the BB&T. Maybe it was the CU?

mindspringyahoo said...

I vaguely recall the ugly diner that was demolished to make way for the bb&t. I think it had a lot of black/mirror on the outside.

The properties may have been reconfigured a bit, but the old del taco was around the bbt/CU location, but I think mostly the bb&t location.

Nothing duller than all the banks moving in, but so it goes.

thejohnp said...

I don't remember being all that enticed by Pollo Tropical's food when I lived for awhile in South Florida, not say as much as I enjoyed Miami Subs (another restaurant chain that tried and failed to enter Atlanta).

But I will say I'm more interested in the fast, cheap Latin food than the overpriced, underwhelming Zaxby's offerings.

Atlantan99 said...

Yes! Ugly black mirrors! What a mess! Yea, not so much a fan of bank city... Toco Hills aint much better
:(

Atlantan99 said...

Hey TheJohnP,

Yea, not so thrilled with what I had there earlier this year either but I'll give em a shot, just not expecting much.

With regard to Miami Subs, I live near their old location on Briarcliff, now Tin Roof and never tried it when they were open. On a separate trip to Ft. Lauderdale, tried em @ Sawgrass Mills, not half bad.

As I said, not so much a fan of the management behind Zaxby's but without a Guthrie's any closer, they do serve up some great fried chicken.

My question, how the heck is Doc Greens still open across the street? Awful!

Anonymous said...

I was a little kid back then, but I was a fan of the Toco Hills Pollo Tropical. I was sad to see it go. I suppose it's nothing special (grilled chicken, black beans, rice, maduros, etc.) but hopefully it fills a niche. It's a little more Caribbean-oriented than Loco (Tex-Mex?) or Campero (Guatemalan?).

Also, I don't see La Fonda being a direct competitor to Pollo Tropical. PT is an order-at-the-counter fast food joint wile La Fonda is a sit-down, order-through-a-waiter, have-another-margarita type of place.

Anonymous said...

Pollo Tropical is delicious. You don't know what you're talking about if you think it's nothing special. Where else can you get awesome grilled chicken fast. It may not be greasy fried unhealthy chicken that seems to be popular but that doesn't mean it's bad.

Atlantan99 said...

Hello Anon,

While yes, I do like fried chicken from Zaxby's and Guthrie's, I'm a HUGE fan of Chick-Fil-A and have become a frequent guest at El Pollo Loco. I have dined at Pollo Tropical and found their chicken to be nothing special and not even close to comparing to CFA or EPL. That is of course my opinion, based on my personal tastes and preferences, Pollo Tropical may very well succeed, I just doubt it will.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

may be being Latin ( no Mexican) makes me bias. I am also picky with food tho. I am not big into eating out at restaurant chains, but I gotta say that I love pollo tropical. flavor, concept, freshness. if you like mexican food you might not like caribbean Latin type. it is just matter of preference.

Anonymous said...

I love Pollo Tropical!!!! I lived in South FLorida for 35+ yrs; I have not been able to find a latin restaurant that comes close to PT-especially in Atlanta and for the prices. I can not wait until they open their doors!!

Anonymous said...

I too lived in South Florida and LOVE Pollo Tropical. I can't wait. Thank you Pollo for coming to Georgia!!!!

Anonymous said...

Having lived in Miami for over 35 years and relocating to Atlanta two years ago, I am eagerly awaiting the opening of Pollo Tropical. I only wish it was opening in the Perimeter area since Dunwoody desperately needs low cost, family fare for the weekday dinner rush. PT's food is always fresh and if you abstain from ordering rice, it is also a healthier choice then rotisserie chicken, creamed spinach and sweet potatoe.

Anonymous said...

I lived in S. Fl for 14 years before I moved to GA. I miss Pollo Tropical immensely. I am so excited there is one opening in Lawrenceville. I'm a "gringo" and I LOVE the food. There aren't many places you can find yuca and plantains theses days. I don't want to fail to mention that the chicken is awesome too!!

Anonymous said...

I had never heard of Pollo Tropical until this week. I received a cupon in the mail and it looked very healthy with good prices. My experience was very positive. I can not wait to go back and I think they have a great thing going.

Anonymous said...

I just loved it

Anonymous said...

I stop in miami last year for a cruise to bahamas. I loved their food with the steak, Rotisserie chicken and buffalo chicken combo was great. I'm not hispanic but to me the food was very good. Actually my favorite fast food place. I'll have to find it. There is also one in bahamas which i thought was cool.