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Debt, business costs too much to overcome at Norman’s Landing

Forsyth restaurateur icon refused to cut quality, staff in 22 years

POSTED: March 13, 2017 3:36 p.m.
Micah Green/

Bill Norman sits in the restaurant he has run for almost 22 years as he holds a press meeting to discuss his decision to close Norman's Landing this summer.

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SOUTH FORSYTH – Bill Norman sat at a table, sweet tea with lemon in hand, he has seen host thousands of diners, families and friends eat thousands of meals. Fried, blackened, grilled. The restaurant on the bustling Peachtree Parkway, across the street from The Collection at Forsyth, was, as usual, teeming at 1 p.m. on a Monday.

Norman was not his usual peppy, how can I help you, do you need anything self. He did ask. The idea of having to shut Norman’s Landing down after almost 22 years – as of April, to be exact – loomed behind his eye, signs of letting a tear escape most evident as he talked about his staff.

“I just couldn’t kick them to the curb and to the street,” the almost-50-year restaurant industry veteran said Monday as he sat across from the Smoky the Bear sign, now renamed Norman the Bear, that sat outside for more than a decade.

His 64 employees – some of whom have worked every job in the American seafood restaurant that has become an icon of locally owned business in Forsyth – and his customers – some of whom have been eating fried fish in the original log cabin for 20 years – are his reason why he continued to incur debt to stay open.

“I opened it to raise money for the community,” he said. “Everyone said I was crazy.”

Since July 21, 1995, Norman and his staff has served 3,071,675 people, as of Sunday, March 12.

He has hosted 42 ping pong tournaments that have helped collect $3.2 million for local nonprofits and hundreds of thousands for the Hope Scholarship.

In that time, he watched Exit 13 boom into commercial existence with the opening of The Avenue – now The Collection – and strip mall after strip mall of chains and incoming sales dollars.

“There was nothing,” he said. “It’s gone from nothing to what you see now.”

He said while The Avenue was under construction, access was impeded to his parking lot – which used to be gravel and would have cars speeding by at 70 miles an hour before any traffic lights were installed. After that, the growth brought more people to the area, and his restaurant stayed full.

“This place has always been on fire, and it will continue to be,” he said.

When the economy fell off in 2007, he stayed open. He did not switch to cheaper, lower quality food. He continued to buy his salmon from Canada “because that’s where the damn salmon is from.”

After losing tens of thousands of dollars a month through 2010, he stayed open.

“I couldn’t get rid of my employees … the cost of business … is through the roof,” he said.

When the economy started chugging forward again, seafood prices went up. Oysters, grouper, shellfish.

“Eighty-five percent of the menu is seafood,” he said. “This stuff is just not cheap.”

He tried getting rid of the cornbread once. That neither went over well nor lasted long.

But he stayed open. He would not sacrifice the quality of his food. He did not trim his staff.

“I had these Buckhead guys come down here and tell me this is the Bones of Forsyth County,” he said.

Which he loved hearing, he said. He loves Bones.

When there came a time to either cut some employees, or the quality of the food, or both – and to decide whether that would even be enough – his debt was too high.

He held a staff meeting Saturday to let them know.

“It was absolutely the third worst day of my life,” he said.

He said he has “signed some papers” but that he cannot say who will take over the 3.5-acre property, which has a total value of $1.1 million according to Forsyth County property records, until the ink is on the page.

The next owners do not want the building, he said, and he plans to sell most of the items and wall-hangings.

Norman’s Landing may see its last day in June, but it may not be the last of Bill Norman the restauranteur.

“I’ll probably open up a barbecue dump down the road,” he said. “I love spoiling people … [The restaurant industry] is a part of me. It’s flat out what I love.”

COMMENTS

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8 comments
fjameslittle: March 13, 2017 4:12 p.m.

64 Employees seems a bit on the high side of what I would have thought would be necessary to operate Norman's Landing, unless a great many of them are just part time. It's hard to let good people go, but if that's the only alternative to keeping a great place like Norman's Landing around, then mabe that's the way to go.


dobbin16: March 13, 2017 5:20 p.m.

Thank you Bill Norman. You and Norman's Landing have been a staple in this area for a long time. Your giving back to the community, care for your employees and quality of food served at Norman's will be an honorable legacy that people from Forsyth and beyond will always remember. We look forward to patronizing your next venture.


Milo2: March 13, 2017 5:58 p.m.

I think the community should come together to help Bill Norman save his restaurant. This guy has worked for the community for over 20 years, I would love to see the community come together and help him!
Anyone have thoughts on how we can do this? I wonder how much he owes?


forsyth_taxpayer: March 13, 2017 7:06 p.m.

Excessive debt is a killer no matter who you are. It encumbers your cash flow and robs you of operating capital and flexibility during leaner times. I will miss Norman's Landing. It will always have a special place in my heart because it was the first place I had a meal with my wife after we got married at the courthouse. Maybe I can buy something with the logo on it as a keepsake.


portech1: March 14, 2017 8:43 a.m.

Norman's is awesome. The food and service are always excellent. I have been eating there since it opened. Back at the start, it was the only sit down restaurant that we could take our clients and prospective employees to from our McFarland Road and John's Creek locations. The all you can eat bones on Friday became the highlight of the week. I am sure that it will be replaced by another strip mall with a few chain restaurants that are not unique at all. I just hope that Bill's new restaurant is open sooner rather than later. I will really miss Norman's and all of the great people.


Mraudio: March 14, 2017 4:56 p.m.

Thank you for the GREAT BURGERS (don't do seafood)....And the great Ping Pong Games...On that B.B.Q.--dump.....Please make sure it has a Ping Pong table so I can win ANOTHER Tournament...(beating you was hard)..GOOD LUCK--A FAN.....


HonestLady: March 15, 2017 12:37 p.m.

Thank you Bill Norman for all you've done for our community. You and your restaurant will be sorely missed. I pray whatever comes into this spot will be classy, upscale and beautiful to look at. No variances should be allowed. No exceptions. Keep Forsyth County Beautiful is something we all will be watching for.


NewToForsyth: March 15, 2017 5:00 p.m.

I'm not surprised. In the beginning we liked it, but around 2010 we visited and ordered broiled scallops. Instead of a plate full of good sized scallops, our plates had 5 or 6 small scallops. When we asked the waitress about the serving sizes, she simply said they couldn't afford to serve them anymore. Normans served ok seafood, but we never found it exceptional or anything to go back to. Frankly you can get excellent seafood at other local restaurants, and even at Captain D's! So while we appreciate Norman's and sad to see it close, we'll survive!



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