The Miami-based Mexican fast casual owned by Maryville, Tennessee based Ruby Tuesday closed the south Buckhead eatery January 2nd after opening it in early May of last year. Ironically, Lime replaced Genghis Grill, which itself lasted about a year, closing in late February. Lime Peachtree Hills was the third Lime to open in Atlanta, preceded by locations in Buckhead and Midtown. Plans originally called for as many as ten locations in the metro area (the fourth slated for Dunwoody) but those plans seem to have wisely been shelved.
Ruby Tuesday became a franchisee of the fast casual Mexican eatery in late 2010 before buying the business completely in April of last year. In 2010, Sandy Beall, CEO of Ruby Tuesday, indicated plans called for up to 200 additional Lime Fresh Mexican Grills to be opened. in April of last year, at the time of the Lime buyout, Beall announced plans to add 20 locations in 2013 and 30 locations in 2014.
At the time of the original deal in 2010, six locations of Lime Fresh were open, all in Florida. Today there are 22 open and operating Lime Fresh restaurants, with two others listed as coming soon. The majority of locations remain in Florida though the chain has expanded to new markets including Alabama, North Carolina, Maryland and Georgia, among others.
The Lime purchase followed Ruby Tuesday's third quarter report in which officials said profit was down a staggering 71%. This lackluster performance was attributed to impairment charges related to the planned closure of 25 to 27 restaurants in the fourth quarter. One of these closures happened was in metro Atlanta as Ruby Tuesday closed their longstanding location on West Ponce de Leon in downtown Decatur.
This past week, Ruby Tuesday announced that it closed their 13-unit Marlin & Rays seafood & Sunsets eatery, their one Wok Hay Asian eatery and was seeking a buyer for their five unit Truffles Grill concept. Three Marlin & Ray's in Acworth, Lithonia and Augusta were included in the closures with Truffles Grill in Buckhead included in the chain being marketed for sale. No mention of Lime closures or struggles was made.
I've only visited Lime once, but that was plenty to make my determination that the restaurant would not do well in Atlanta. To open three locations nearly simultaneously, and in each case replace an existing restaurant, seemed ill advised to say the least. Don't get me wrong, the product is not terrible, nor is the decor appalling. Lime has a wonderful fresh salsa bar, and plenty, maybe too many, eager employees that appear almost out of thin air to attend to you tableside, though the restaurant features counter service.
Lime's largest issue lies not in product, nor people, but in price.
Lime prices themselves out of fast casual with an average burrito running nearly $10, almost double that of competitors like Moe's Southwest Grill, Willy's or than any of its competitors, it had to be extraordinary, and while good, it's not extraordinary.
Parking, which so many new to market, and at times, local operators, often forget, is a big deal here in Atlanta. Lime's Peachtree Hills location easily had the best parking situation of any of the local restaurants, but even still, was the first to close. Both the Buckhead location at West Paces and Early Streets, and the midtown location at 8th and Peachtree Streets, have less than favorable parking situations, but have managed to hang on, for now.
I've said it before, and given the recent closure, I need not say it again, but will do so anyway. Lime will not succeed in Atlanta and will likely close their two remaining locations within the year. There are simply too many other options for comparable fast casual Mexican in the metro area for this chain to continue operations successfully.
Did you ever go to Lime Fresh in Peachtree Hills or elsewhere in Atlanta? Do you think Lime's prices are too high, or does their variety of sauces and salsas make up for the higher cost? What is your favorite burrito joint in Atlanta?
P.S.- for all who keep tweeting, emailing and publicly asking me, according to Willy Bitter himself, expect to see the new Willy's Mexican Grill open in Brookhaven sometime in late March or early April. (Originally slated to open in January, the opening has been postponed due to delays in opening a Willy's at Hartsfield-Jackson)