August 03, 2015

‘Mushroom’ Among Restaurants Finding Time Ripe in Germantown

Leslie Garlington
Commercial Appeal

During the downturn in 2008, Katie Graffham, economic coordinator for the city of Germantown, fielded only a few calls a week from those interested in opening a business in the suburb.

Now, she is answering such calls at least twice a day.

"We should be able to fill our (retail) vacancies as long as we don’t build another shopping center in the immediate future," Graffham said.

Mellow Mushroom, which opened Monday, is one of a growing number of restaurants and retail stores that are opening or about to open in Germantown.

The city’s retail vacancy rate jumped from 4.25 percent in 2007 to 10 percent in 2008 as a number of stores and restaurants went out of business. The vacancy rate dipped to 7.8 percent in 2009.

Mellow Mushroom owner Cary Fairless and his wife, Lori, are opening the pizza restaurant franchise in the former Old Navy location inside the Shops of Forest Hill center at Poplar and Forest Hill-Irene Road.

The 5,000-square-foot eatery includes a patio area anchored by a funky mushroom-like tree. It will feature 32 varieties of beer on tap and another 43 varieties in bottles.

"I don’t know if we wanted to open a restaurant as much as we wanted to do Mellow Mushroom. We felt there was a void — a need for this type of business," Cary Fairless said. "It has great brand awareness without having one here."

Plus, he added, "This was a good time to negotiate a lease and start construction. It made a lot of sense from a cost perspective."

The restaurant with headquarters in Atlanta has more than 100 stores that are similar in its rock and roll design.

This is the couple’s first venture into the restaurant arena. Fairless is a former chief operating officer for the home inspection franchise AmeriSpec under ServiceMaster.

Cary Whitehead III, commercial properties senior vice president for Boyle Investment Co., which operates the Shops of Forest Hill center, said the company is now putting in more tenants than they lost in 2008.

"We had a number of tenants who just went out of business in 2008," he said. Those with either weak business plans or under-capitalized, he explained, "were the first to get squeezed."

"The impulse buyer disappeared. In 2009, people were still buying basics but they were looking for good value and high quality. Value-priced dining has held up."

He thinks both Mellow Mushroom and the soon-to-open Soul Fish Cafe will help funnel customers to the area because of their pricing.

"Today, I would not open up a $50-a-plate steakhouse," Whitehead said. "That segment of the market isn’t growing."