By the numbers
1995: Year Norman’s Landing opened on Peachtree Parkway in south Forsyth
49: Years Bill Norman has been in the industry
$3.2 million: Amount raised for nonprofits
3.1 million: Customers served
42: Ping pong tournaments held
* Norman’s Landing restaurant in south Forsyth closing after 22 years
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.”