Sept. 21, 2010 -- City leaders announce purchase of Roy's and surrounding acres for $110,000
Oct. 26, 2010 -- Potters buy Roy's building for $50,000
Jan. 24, 2011 -- Roy's opens to the public
July 23, 2011 -- Roy's closes
Source: Newspaper archives
After $275,000 in renovations and six months of serving burgers, the current incarnation of Roy's Grill in Rossville has shut off its neon lights.
The iconic U.S. Highway 27 diner, which was given government incentives and seen as a key piece to Rossville's rebirth, closed its door Saturday.
But the owner already was meeting with Chattanooga restaurateurs Monday in hopes someone else will reopen the diner in a matter of days.
"We weren't able to make the numbers work," said Troy Potter, a developer whose family made Roy's their batter-fried first foray into the food business. "I'm about numbers. That's all it is. We felt like we gave it our best shot."
A reborn Roy's had factored significantly into a grand plan for Rossville's downtown that includes an area for a farmers market, a park and a "gateway" pedestrian bridge at the state line.
Rossville Mayor Johnny Baker said he was sad to know no more hamburgers would be coming off the grill.
"I'm saddened, naturally, by its closing," the mayor said. "The food was great, and it was a beautiful place. In my opinion there was a need for that type place."
He remained hopeful that the city and the Downtown Development Authority would continue with revitalization plans.
City leaders bought the building and 1.2 acres around it for $110,000, pulling money from the town's reserves. The city then deeded the property to the Downtown Development Authority, which sold the building to the Potters for $50,000. The city will keep a triangle-shaped plot next to Roy's for a park and use the rest of the land as a parking lot.
At that time, everyone was thinking big. The Potters said they expected to put $275,000 into the project, and they asked the city for a 10-year tax abatement and 20-year agreement on the use of a parking lot.
City and county leaders also had high hopes for the restaurant. Rossville work crews demolished a collapsed building and paved the parking lot behind it. Under an agreement with the Potters, the city is responsible for maintaining a lighted lot behind the restaurant and three spaces on West Gordon Avenue for Roy's customers.
Walker County officials have declared the building an "enterprise zone," part of a state program with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs that gives incentives to owners of property in areas of poverty, high unemployment and "general distress and adverse conditions."
On Monday staff members at Roy's who declined to be identified said the diner had closed because it was in a bad location and was not getting enough business.
Potter said, however, that there were bigger forces at work.
"I just think the economy is in the tank," Potter explained. "Nobody has any excess money to do anything. You can't force people to come out."
Annika Stensson, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Association, said the economy "certainly has made for some tough times for the restaurant industry for the past several years."
"As consumers' cash-on-hand gets tighter, they are more cautious with their spending, including at restaurants," she said. "Challenges remain for many operators, as the economy is struggling to get back on track."
Generally, she said, diners and fast-casual restaurants such as Roy's have performed better during the recession than more expensive eateries.
Nationwide, restaurateurs are less optimistic about growth now than they were at the beginning of the year. A study from Stensson's organization released in January showed 55 percent of restaurant operators expected sales to increase in the next six months and only 8 percent expected a decrease. Asked the same question for a more recent study released at the end of June, only 41 percent expected sales to increase, and 20 percent expected a decline.
"Everybody's had to tighten their belts," Potter said. "It would have been nice for Roy's to have been profitable. You never know until you open it up."
Contact staff writer Andy Johns at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6324.