After 22 years and millions of dollars raised for the community, one of Forsyth County’s most popular restaurants has closed its doors.
Norman’s Landing, one of Forsyth’s iconic restaurants and a mainstay on Peachtree Parkway, closed on Monday after more than 20 years in businesses and raising more than $3 million for community charities, schools, organizations and churches.
“The last hundred days has been a giant emotional roller coaster for me because of all the customers saying, ‘Where are we going to find great food?’” said owner Bill Norman. “I tell them different restaurants, but they all say ‘None of them are going to be as good as this one.’”
Norman, who has been in the restaurant industry for nearly 50 years, said debt was the biggest factor in choosing to close the restaurant and said the business was hit hard by the economic downturn, particularly from 2007-2010.
After years of golf tournaments, spaghetti dinners and 42 ping pong tournaments to raise money for the community, Norman’s Landing donated 50 percent of sales on Monday to churches in the community.
“The reason I did the churches today, back in ’07-’10, when this restaurant was losing a lot of money, I would go past these churches and go, ‘Please God, make this $30,000 payroll check that I’m writing on Friday and isn’t worth the paper it’s written on be good on Monday,’” Norman said. “That’s why all these churches are getting the money.
“I was selling stock, land, life insurance policies and all that to keep my employees that had been with me so long, to keep them a job.”
Norman said parting ways with his longtime employees was the toughest part. He let employees know in March the restaurant would be closing, which he said is unprecedented in the restaurant industry.
“My employees are going to be 25, the majority of them 35 years. One girl has been with me over 40 years,” he said. “That was the toughest thing, and probably 90 percent of them have jobs and I’ve had probably eight-10 entrepreneurs call me up and say, ‘Bill, I’ll take any of your employees.’ I said, ‘I know you will. Don’t touch them until July.’”
As the Norman’s Landing sign was being taken down on Tuesday, one employee called it “the saddest thing I’ve seen in my life.”
On Thursday and Friday, “all the stuff on the walls and different things like restaurant equipment” will be sold in auction. Viewings for items will start at 1 p.m., and the auctions will begin at 2 p.m. Norman said he won’t be there “because it will be like everybody coming through your closet.”
When Norman’s Landing opened on July 21, 1995, in the days before The Collection at Forsyth and the commercial explosion of Exit 13, the restaurant was an early attraction on Peachtree Parkway.
“It represented Cumming to me because it used to be the only thing on this exit just about. Back when I came in the late-‘90s, early-2000s, there wasn’t anything,” said longtime customer Mark Reid.
Reid, who was eating lunch on Monday with daughter, Cara, said his favorite meal was the marinated New York strip but that he was also a big fan of the banana pudding, beef bones and the grilled chicken, which he said was the lunch go-to.
“She’s been coming since she was a baby, but me and my brother and another guy we worked with, it’s kind of crazy, but we came here every day for lunch for probably four years,” Reid said. “Then the next three years, he left to go to another company, and me and my brother came in every day for lunch.
“Yesterday, I came after church and that’s when it hit me … I was standing there and talking to a couple of people and started tearing up. I said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ Then I started thinking about the time spent ... you start thinking about all the people you’ve been here with.”
Reid has been one of many to let Norman know the importance of the restaurant. In fact, the restaurant saw a 100 percent increase in sales and was feeding up to 4,000 people per week as the last day approached.
“The outpouring has been off the charts,” Norman said. “I’ve got letters back there I can barely read without tearing up, and everybody has thanked us for how much we’ve done for the community, for all the money we’ve raised for the community, the different things that we have done with the food and service and all that.”
Norman hinted that he could be back with something in the future, but for now he is hoping for a little relaxation and, for the first time in almost half a century, leaving lunch to someone else.
“I’ve been doing this for 50 years, so I’m just taking a little time off, and I’m going to go have lunch,” he said. “Instead of being lunch for 50 years, I’m going to have lunch and just enjoy a little lake time out on the boat, a little golf and maybe a little travel and all that stuff. I’m just going to enjoy life for a little bit and relax, and after I fail vacuuming at home after a few months, I’ll probably get something going.”