One stop shopping is becoming The World Famous’s mantra.
The establishment has been open for a month and has already become a destination for food, drink and entertainment. As the sign says outside the door “This is It.”
“I’m really floored by how well received we’ve been,” said co-owner David Parajon. “The community has been nothing but supportive, and it’s made it all worthwhile. The reception has been wonderful.”
There is no question on how successful the model is. It all does start with the food.
Head chef Jarad Blanton takes no shortcuts. The challenge for the chef who formerly worked at establishments such as The National and Farm 255 was to make fresh, high quality food at an affordable price.
“I wasn’t going to serve something that came out of a Cisco bag, that’s not what I do,” Blanton said. “I wanted to get the freshest ingredients and still have affordable food.”
Menu items such as the chicken and waffle club sandwich and wonton nachos only scratch the surface on the creativity Blanton has placed on his food. He embraces the challenges of being the head chef with open arms.
“I like to make pub fare. I hate to put a label on much of anything,” he said. “I want people to come in, not be stressed about the food, have it at an affordable price and enjoy it. “
Alongside that, living up to the world aspect of the name, Blanton also incorporates a wide array of global food.
“The approach has to be the same no matter what kind of food you make, that’s what I try to do here,” he said. “We’re trying to make cost-effective bar food, but we want to make it as fun and tasty as we can.”
Mixing high quality food in a bar environment at first might sound out of place. Yet with the venue serving food until 2 a.m. and having its peak hours of food come after midnight, it all comes together.
“When you’re drunk I want you to think about my food,” Blanton said. “I kind of like that.”
While having a restaurant wasn’t an idea at first, conditions of taking over the rental space played a role in that occurring.
“One of the stipulations the landlords here had in regards to renting the space out to perspective tenants was that there needed to be a restaurant,” Parajon said. “So, I guess the bar and the venue came first when we found the space and when we realized a restaurant was going to be required we embraced it. We were thrilled to be able to have that, it was just another challenge.”
The next tier is the drink menu. All of the menus are ever-changing, and the cocktails are no different. Recently introduced were the Tango Whisky Foxtrot, which features tang on the rim of a mason jar, and the Flash Gordon which mixes gin, lime and Cheerwine.
“If you’re in a space, you want to be confident and comfortable with what you serve,” Parajon said. “Whether that’s the band on the stage or the drink in the glass, you want it to be something you’re proud of and something you’d pay to enjoy.”
The affordable prices are what draw people in. Nothing on the menu is over $10 and the portions are filling.
“As long as we can offer folks something that’s worthwhile, if you can offer them a worthwhile experience at a fair price, there’s no secret how to do business in Athens,” Parajon said. “That’s all there is to it.”
Finally, there is the entertainment portion of the venue. As a space that can only host up to 60 people, high quality acts have been booked for the venue.
For instance, later this month the venue will bring in Kishi Bashi, and it has been chosen to host shows for AthFest and Twilight Americana.
“It’s cozy,” Parajon said. “If you ever wanted to be in an environment where 60 people feels like 60 million, we offer that here.”
Branding itself as a home away from home, The World Famous is all about comfort and relaxation. Through that, the owners are bringing in new ideas.
For instance, there are plans to have bring your own vinyl nights as well as airing television shows in the listening room.
“Over the last five to ten years, TV has become an almost private vice,” Parajon said. “We would love for you to watch ‘Game of Thrones’ here, or ‘Walking Dead,’ Braves games, Georgia games. If it’s a TV event of any importance, we can watch it here together. We’ll watch the election returns or whatever.”
One of the difficulties came with the fact there are so many different establishments downtown either offering food or music. That has required the staff to be versatile and creative in having a presence on Hull Street.
“There are so many entertainment options downtown. We knew we couldn’t offer anything that was already happening, but at the same time, it’s not like we’re reinventing any wheel either,” Parajon said. “We’re just trying to offer folks a variety of things to do, while keeping it fresh.”
With the wide array of ideas, it is hard to believe the place is so small. At only 1500 square feet, some limitations occur, but it doesn’t halt the quality of the food or entertainment.
“The reality was that with 198 square feet [in the kitchen]. It’s tiny, and concessions were made,” Blanton said. “I want to take the same approach the guys at Five & Ten take, I wanted the food to taste like anything I made over there. I wanted to take my time and develop tastes that hit your palate all over the place.”
Outside of space, there have been few limitations and difficulties. Creativity has been what’s making The World Famous successful, and special.
“That’s the great thing about this place,” Parajon said. “When you have an idea, it can come to fruition because there isn’t anybody stopping you.”
Looking to the future, the owners are grateful for the success the venue has had thus far. With that success, the only hope is it will continue.
“We’ve had a lot of great shows and been fortunate enough to feed a lot of people,” Parajon said. “Hopefully we will have many more months like this.”
Wilson’s Soul Food was David Parajon’s first meal when he moved to Athens.
The soul food place that had graced Hot Corner for over 30 years closed its doors in 2011. Months later the idea of The World Famous developed.
“We fell in love with 351 N. Hull Street,” Parajon said. “We decided there wasn’t another place in town, nearly as comfortable at this size.”
That location has been long important to the city and Hot Corner is an area with a strong history. With the intersection of Hull and Washington being so historic, Parajon and fellow owner Bain Mattox did not want to feel like the new place on the block.
“Basically we wanted this space to maybe feel like it’s been here forever,” Parajon said. “We don’t want to feel brand new.”
The building’s history remains. While most of the place was gutted to make changes, there are parts of the building that remain intact, a sign that some things are permanent.
A remaining legacy from former tenants of the Hull Street venue is some evidence of a fire that occurred in the 1920s. The legends of the place are still there, but now more stories will be told.
“We gutted the place completely, but at the same time our mantra was to use the whole buffalo,” Parajon said. So we really made sure that we would reuse anything that made sense. And [if] we could find something second hand we would. We hope the stuff here tells a little bit of a story.”
Instead of hearing the voices discuss today’s issues, the sound of local bands and vintage pinball machines take its place. The simple tables and chairs of the dining room are replaced with an open space with a stage and chandeliers made from recyclable materials.
“Basically, it has a Southern outsider, folk art feel to the space,” Parajon said. “We wanted it to be immediately comfortable and cozy.”
And while some of the soul food is gone, chicken and waffles remain, along with a plethora of hand-dining options.
“We have an opportunity to book world class entertainment in an extremely intimate environment, and enjoy incredible street food from around the world,” Parajon said. “Our chef Jarad Blanton comes from Farm 255 most recently, he has developed a ridiculous menu and we’ll be open until 2 a.m., so we’ll be serving food late.”
That menu offers customers various hand-held options such as corndogs, egg rolls, lettuce wraps and chicken wings.
“The whole idea was kind of like food-cart, street food style,” Mattox said. “No utensils needed type stuff. That was basically the one challenge we gave our chef.”
Alongside the dining, Mattox is bringing his bartending expertise from the other business he owns, Normal Bar. Drinks such as he Artimus Palmer, which mixes Kentucky bourbon and sweet tea, or the Clover Coffee, which mixes Jameson, Bailey and coffee, deliver the punches needed for a fun night downtown.
But it isn’t solely about the food, drink and art deco at The World Famous. Music and other forms of entertainment play a major role as well.
“When I met with David, we were talking about an almost underground concert type thing first and then it built into this idea,” Mattox said.
The idea became a physical venue booking national and local acts. As time progressed the tandem decided to do more than music.
“We’re letting it go as it is, and we’re not focusing on just music,” Mattox said. “We have comedy and a hypnotist coming. There’s nothing that we’re really banking on.”
Connecting the history of a place and catering that to the business is a hard goal to accomplish. Parajon, a white owner, for instance talked to the people who grace the block’s barber shops for a better understanding of the Hot Corner’s past.
“A lot of what I know about the place is passed on through oral history,” he said. “You’re not going to find a whole lot in textbooks about the Hot Corner. This block was the epicenter of African-American commerce at the turn of the century, probably one of the most vital spots in the country.”
The block was home to butcher shops, mortuaries and one of the first African-American owned car dealerships. Today, Hot Corner has shifted as an area for high end restaurants, bars and the new venue.
But through understanding the area’s history, it helps pave the way for keeping downtown thriving and local.
“We want to be good stewards of the community obviously and we want to be good to our neighbors,” Parajon said.
Being good neighbors paid off fast. After a delay in opening, neighboring businesses allowed acts that were already booked for The World Famous to perform.
For example, Howie Day played at neighboring Little Kings and Mattox’s band performed at Highwire Lounge.
The venue opened on Feb. 21, and with that the vision the duo created is complete. Now the memories can be produced.
“That’s what it’s all for, I’m excited for people to see the finished product after talking about it for so many months,” Mattox said. “People are always asking me about it, so it’s going to be great to see it come to fruition and for people to enjoy it.”
It is a murky Monday morning in January outside of Crazy Ray’s Self Storage. The location sits on the outskirts of Athens near the Madison County border, and looks to be in the middle of nowhere.
Regardless, a crowd of approximately 50 file their way into the offices and another door outside to the gated lots inside the business’s black, iron gates. Although the number of units that were planned to go to auction is cut in half, the crowd remains.
“When the process started, we had 24 units,” said owner Ray Teaster. “By the time we got to the auction time, and we give them right up to 10:00 to come in and pay. We had 11 units after all of that.”
After Teaster, also taking the role of auctioneer gives a rundown of the rules, the crowd makes its way to the first unit up for bidding.
Welcome to the Athens version of “Storage Wars,” where the bidding is done on Southern time, the units go cheaper and bystanders watch to see who gets the unit of the day.
But what is quickly learned is that there is more to an auction than the free and fun entertainment. The work behind the scenes is immense.
Running the Business
Crazy Ray’s Self Storage came to existence in 2004. Under the ownership of Teaster, the business has clawed its way to success.
“It’s kind of a hard business to get started, because you have a lot of cash outlay in the beginning, and you start out with no tenants,” Teaster said. “It is scary in the early going, but you do customers right, you get a clean facility and you do things right.”
And Teaster’s work shows he does things right. Not only do residential tenants in the process of moving use his company’s storage space, but other businesses including Pepperidge Farm rent as well.
“It’s a pretty wide variety,” he said. “We get a lot of people who may be moving and need storage for a few months. And we got the commercial people.”
Of course as a business that measures its success by the number of units in use, the business is always looking for more tenants.
From foreclosure to auction
Georgia has clear laws when it comes to storage units that are foreclosed.
Enacted in 1982, the “Georgia Self-Service Facility Act” gives the guidelines required in the state.
According to the law, after the tenant has been in default for 30 days, the owner can start the process to enforce his lein – or the right to keep a property until debt is paid.
Teaster usually gives more time, and gives the customer all chances possible to avoid the auction.
“We go as long as we can, and usually it is like 90 days before we even bring one up for auction,” he said. “At that point we send the customer a cut-lock notice informing the customer that we’re going to cut their locks and see what’s in the unit.”
After the owner contacts the renter numerous times heeding warning of losing the unit, the owner then has to run an announcement in the newspaper stating that the units will be auctioned off. In Athens, the notice has to run in the Banner-Herald once a week for two consecutive weeks.
According to the Georgia Self-Service Facility Act, “The advertisement shall include: a brief and general description of the personal property, reasonably adequate to permit its identification; the address of the self-service storage facility, and the number, if any, of the space where the personal property is located, and the name of the Occupant; and the time, place, and manner of the public sale.”
These laws add to the costs acquired by Crazy Ray’s.
“We probably spent $150 or so in certified mail and newspaper advertising,” Teaster said.
While there is public unfamiliarity with the law, the Better Business Bureau has mentioned ways to avoid potential problems.
“While most facilities are operated by reputable businesses, Better Business Bureaus field complaints from time to time regarding theft or property damage and rental disputes,” the release said. “Consumers are advised to shop carefully before signing on the dotted line.”
It’s good to know the cost, payment and climate of a unit before buying a locker. The BBB also recommends that people check with them for a report on the facility before signing a contract.
The numbers of people that participate in unit auctions have increased in recent years.
People credit that to TV shows such as A&E’s “Storage Wars” and the spinoff shows based in Texas and New York.
Bidders on the units, have a strong disdain for the show, believing that with the influx of people the prices of units go up.
“The TV programs have put so much out there about how many deals and things you can find. More people are coming that affects me that they have raised the prices more,” said Vic Peel, owner of Vic’s Vintage in Athens. “They come out looking for bargains, get caught up in the bidding process and end up paying way more than the unit is worth.”
While Peel is based in Athens, his bidding takes him nationally and globally. At about six auctions a year, he goes from Florence, S.C. to New Orleans, as well as Spain and Japan to find vintage items.
“I mainly [look for] chairs, if I go to a storage unit and see chairs, vintage chairs,” he said. “[From the] late ‘40s to early ‘80s, that is my main thing.”
Teaster says he doesn’t see an increase in the prices of his units due to the show. The storage units still bid in the low hundreds.
“Quite frankly, I don’t know if it’s had that much of an impact on us, other than the number of people that show up,” he said. “We probably double in the number of people who show up, but the same people who bought are the same ones buying.”
While Crazy Ray’s has not changed its procedures following the show, other storage auctions have. Some auctions have resorted to charging admission fees or limiting the number of people who can attend.
Not In it to Bid it
The self-service facility business is not the auction business.
For storage units, the point of an auction is to make back the money that the tenant did not pay in rent. In other words, the parts that we don’t see on television are the real reasons the units are up for bid in the first place.
“We prefer our rent, we do not want to auction people’s stuff,” Teaster said. “But we have to have vacant units. We can’t let them be filled and not be collecting any revenue. That would sink the business pretty quick.”
Rarely do the auctions make up the money lost by the default payments. In the rare occasions it does, Teaster gives the difference back to the unit’s original tenant.
While the auctions are fun to watch despite being nothing like “Storage Wars,” the potential of profit is solely on the bidder. Owners, such as Teaster, still ultimately lose out.
“It’s not our goal to have auctions, we don’t want them,” he said. “We want to collect our rent money. We rarely collect what’s owed on the units. We’re a lot better off if our units are paid for, not auctions. It’s not profitable for us.”
Audio interview with Ray Teaster: