Transmetropolitan’s new look uses top restaurant design features

Double takes come with each new dining experience as customers gawk at Transmetropolitan’s new look.  Wow, what, and whoa have been used to describe the new makeover as customers stall at the front of the restaurant.

The Clayton Street pizzeria reopened on March 22, 2012 with a sleek new design, and the community continues to learn about the new renovations.

Transmetropolitan’s renovations exemplify a nationwide trend of quick, transformative restaurant makeovers.

Nationwide Trends

The New York Times reports that “fast-track reboots” are due to the poor economy.  “This is the era of high-velocity restaurant makeovers where noteworthy establishments are born, or reborn, in the time is takes to make a batch of crostini.”

Restaurants experience quick and drastic makeovers for two reasons:

  • The restaurant needs to earn more money.
  • No one wants to see vacant and empty spaces from failed restaurants.

Restaurant makeovers give people hope because they speak to the “American love of second chances and magic-wand makeovers.”

Transmetropolitan’s New Look

Transmetropolitan’s makeover began March 10 and was scheduled to end March 18.  The restaurant capitalized on spring break to make significant changes to the downstairs dining area, kitchen, and cashier stand.

The Athens Banner-Herald noted, “When the students are away, the contractors shall play.”  And that they did.  Co-owner Brian Colantuno said, “You won’t be able to help but notice [the renovations].”

The extreme renovations exceeded the original timetable, and the restaurant reopened on March 22.  Colantuno attributed the renovations to Transmet’s upcoming 12 year anniversary.

The design accentuates width rather than length.  Many downtown businesses struggle with this challenge because businesses spaces are long in length and short in width.

“We wanted to make it feel as though it’s wider,” co-owner Wesley Russo said.  “We had everything running longways, which was kind of exacerbating the front-to-back feeling of the building.”

The managerial staff declined to comment about whether the 2012 failing health inspection score influenced the renovations.

The restaurant scored 69 percent on its Sept. 21, 2012 health department inspection.  The health score increased to 89 percent on Oct. 1, whereas post-renovation Transmet received 95 percent on its March 22 inspection.

[SLIDESHOW: Transmet’s New Look: Behind The Scenes]

Interior Design Elements for Successful Restaurants

The top 12 best new restaurant designs, according to Architectural Digest, include design elements such as exposed brick walls, contemporary lighting, and clean lines.  Transmetropolitan’s renovations utilize seven and a half of the 14 highlighted features.

The restaurant earns partial credit for mismatching art because the pieces are different, but they are all black and white and in matching mattes.  Interior designer Caroline Jones said this creates a more cohesive feel than mismatching art intends to create.

Exposed beams, wood elements, and suspended light installations make Transmet more modern.  Colantuno thinks the contemporary touches will create a more open feel.

Exposed beams maintain the casual ambience and contribute to the clean lines of the design.

Local artisan Mark Poucher crafted the new wood elements and helped with the overall design.  He is known for his woodwork featured in Hotel Indigo.

Interior design professor Tad Gloeckler values natural design elements and commends Transmet on its use of woodwork.  “Individual components are precisely engineered for simple functions, structural clarity, and/or striking appearance.”

Orbs are the most popular suspended light installations, and the new design features orbs above each table and around the kitchen.

[INFOGRAPHIC: Top 14 Features of Best Restaurant Designs]

Mixed Community Reactions

Reactions to the renovations have been mixed.

“People kind of walk in, and they look around, and they go, ‘Wow—it’s totally different,’” Russo said.  “But I think people enjoy [it].”

Lauren Scott, a second-year student at the University of Georgia, is one critic of the design.

“Noooo!” she exclaimed after entering the restaurant for the first time since the renovations.

“I’m not a fan.  I think the old design was more rustic and homey, and to me, it fit the personality of Transmet better.”

Russo noted that the new design elements change the atmosphere but for the better.

Channing Jones, a third-year student at the university, agreed that “the vibe of the place has totally transformed,” but she isn’t sure if it is for better or worse.

“The renovations are shifting Transmet from a seemingly classic, back alley pizza diner to a more upscale, chic establishment,” third-year student Davis Mastin said.  “There are both pros and cons to this, depending on which direction the restaurant is looking to move towards.”

[VIDEO: Athens Community Discusses New]

New Design, New Success

Social media and aggregation websites, such as Yelp, are not as useful in restaurant marketing as suspected.  Online marketing, according to a new study by the NPD Group, influences only 6-8 percent of restaurant choices.

New restaurants are the winners in online marketing because they are fresh and exciting.  If a restaurant can market itself as new, it reaps immense online yields.

The study revealed that “diners visited a new restaurant after viewing an online marketing campaign at twice the rate of diners overall.”

If Transmet can market the restaurant as new, there may be substantial financial rewards.

MORE: Top 14 Features for Best Restaurant Designs


Restaurant Health Inspections Anything but Consistent

By: Colson Barnes and Whitney M. Wyszynski

“It could be as simple as an open soda can in the kitchen,” said Kyu Lee, manager of Wingster.

He shook his head and shrugged, thinking about the health inspection score of 70 percent Wingster received on Nov. 13, 2012.

A window behind the cash register showed the cook busy preparing a variety of sauces.  The phone buzzed with delivery orders.  Anxious customers ordering delivery are unable to see the health score mounted next to the door.

“Simple things will deduct points from the score,” Lee said, looking at the kitchen. “We all have different responsibilities to clean this place.”

Restaurants like Wingsters are inspected one to two times per year by the Clarke County Health Department.  An analysis of restaurant scores in Athens revealed:

■      The Northeast Georgia Health District does not update the restaurant inspection website regularly.

■      There is no consistent system for documenting the scores online, and past scores are not archived online for public access.

■      The time of day, inspector, and time of year can affect a restaurant’s health score.

Nationwide Trends

According to the New York Times, many restaurant operators complain that numerical scores “can be confusing or deceptive.”  Customers often do not know the specific policies that detracted from the optimal score.

The Times-Picayune determined that Louisiana’s restaurant inspectors were more lenient than national counterparts.  The paper determined that “the difference seems to be in how each municipality enforces its safety regulations.”

“But restaurateurs complain, reasonably, that it’s a racket for the city to squeeze more money out of them,” Forbes writer, Josh Barro said. “A restaurant that gets a bad grade is inclined to pay for a re-inspection so it can display an A, but it still has to pay penalties based on the negative results of the first inspection.”

The Georgia Department of Community Health, through the county health departments, sends an inspector to inspect facilities where food is consumed on or off the premises.

Six inspectors monitor restaurants in Athens, and they do not notify the restaurants before the inspection occurs.  The names of the inspectors are not provided to the public.

Restaurants are given a numerical score from 0-100 based on the cleanliness of the facility. A score less than 70 is considered a failing grade; however, the restaurant will receive a follow-up inspection within 10 days.

Restaurant inspection scores are listed on the Clarke County Health Department website, with the date and brief explanations of violations.

After interviewing representatives at restaurants with the five lowest health ratings, many agreed that the regulations have become more difficult.  Wingster, Johnny’s New York Style Pizza, Plantation Buffet, Jimmy John’s, and Waffle House scored the lowest, as of Mar. 7, 2013.

[Would your kitchen pass a health department inspection?]

Some of the most popular restaurants fall short of a passing grade due to wrong food temperature control, improperly marked foods and poor employee health.

Food inspections are divided into two categories—critical and non-critical.  Deductions that have risk factors outlined by The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are considered critical. The non-critical categories include factors that are designated by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

[What are the most common violations?]

Success Stories

Howard Anderson, manager of the Jimmy John’s on Baxter Street, has worked with Jimmy John’s since 2006.

“We are very systematic here. We have a punch list that comes from Jimmy John’s corporate, but it doesn’t take into account the Georgia health regulations,” Anderson said.

Jimmy John’s scored 75 percent on its Mar. 7, 2013 inspection.  Anderson headed for the Health Department a mere day after the original inspection.

“I went to talk to the health inspector about what we can do to improve our score,” he said. “I retrained everyone on hand washing and the basic lessons about diseases.”

Anderson believes it was a lack of training that was the problem, but he also noted that this inspection was different than past inspections.

“It was more difficult this past time,” Anderson said.  He noted that some other restaurants may not be following some of the lesser known policies.

“She [the inspector] was specific about things like needing to spray the floor before we sweep it,” Anderson said.

Jimmy John’s on Baxter St. worked to improve. The restaurant’s score skyrocketed to a 100 percent on the follow-up inspection.

Herschel’s Famous 34, a new restaurant on Broad Street, received a 100 percent on its first inspection.

“I think it definitely makes a difference [to have a good health score],” said Lee Purser, Herschel’s Famous 34 manager.

Health inspection scores are a glimpse of the restaurant’s performance, but most establishments want a perfect score, according to Andrea Kerr, the environmental health manager at the Clarke Country Health Department.

“It is unrealistic to expect that a complex, full-service food operation can routinely avoid any violations,” the health department website highlighted. “An inspection conducted on any given day may not be representative of the overall, long-term cleanliness of an establishment.”

Ms. Kerr said the food service inspection scores are uploaded to the Northeast Health District website nightly.  However, Jimmy John’s follow-up inspection score from Mar. 13, 2013 was not updated until Mar. 26, 2013, per this blog’s request.

There is no consistent system for denoting follow-up scores.  Some restaurants, like Wingster, display the most recent score, whereas other restaurants, such as Wok Star, display both the original and follow-up score.

Psychology in Decision-Making

Many psychological studies have determined the effects of extraneous factors on decision-making.  Factors, such as the time of day, day of the week, and weather conditions, can affect a person’s decisions.

“Even patently false or irrelevant information often affects choices in significant ways,” according to the New York Times.

A recent study at the California Institute of Technology determined that people’s value judgments affect decision-making.  Value-based decisions occur in the prefrontal cortex, which affects personality expression and social behavior.

The prefrontal cortex is known for the executive function.  This function differentiates between conflicting thoughts—better and best, good and bad, and correct and incorrect.

Inspector discretion plays a key role in restaurant health scores.  Local restaurants complain that certain inspectors are tougher than others.

Possible Solution

The names of inspectors are not released publically, and past scores are not archived on the Northeast Georgia Health District website.  Assigning ID numbers to inspectors could be a possible solution.

ID numbers could be disclosed on the website, and if citizens spotted suspicious score fluctuations, they could report findings to the health department.  This would protect the inspector’s identity while monitoring the consistency of the scores.

Inspector discretion affects the public’s view of a restaurant, and this system could make the process more transparent.

Rep. Paul Broun: fiscally conservative in both personal and professional life?


On the Ballot ranks Rep. Paul Broun as a 92 percent fiscal conservative.

However, in Broun’s personal life, he declared personal bankruptcy and co-owned a failed bank that was closed by the FDIC.

These facts pose a interesting question as Broun prepares to run for the U.S. Senate: How can a politically fiscal conservative politician be fiscally irresponsible personally?

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that fiscal responsibility is at the forefront of Broun’s Senate campaign.

“We must have someone to lead the fight to stop this madness, and restore fiscal restraint to our nation’s capital,” Broun said. “Georgia needs a senator who will take a stand to stop the irresponsible spending.  I’ll be that leader.”

Despite this campaign message, Broun’s personal financial history raises many questions.

Broun co-owned McIntosh Commercial, a bank started by his brother in Carrollton, Ga.  The bank failed in March 2010, and it was taken over by the government.

The bank closure cost taxpayers more than $100 million in federal bailout funds.

Though depositors were grateful for FDIC protection, Broun blamed the federal government.

“The federal government is closing these banks down when there is absolutely no reason to do so.  It’s just wrong,” Broun said.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation closes banks when they are deemed insolvent, meaning the bank is unable to meet debts.

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said, “Our job is to protect depositors.  We don’t want depositors to lose any money.”

Other residents, like business student Colton Heubner, question Broun’s personal financial history.

“I’ve heard that he was bankrupt at one point.  This doesn’t say much about fiscal responsibility,” Huebner said.


Broun declared bankruptcy in the early 1980s.  According to the Athens Banner-Herald, “Broun falsified financial documents in an effort to obtain a loan and misrepresented his assets and debts during bankruptcy hearings.”

A federal judge ordered Broun to pay an Americus, Ga. bank $69,653.07.

Other citizens say his personal financial history is not as important as his conservative congressional voting record.

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution cites Broun as “one of the most conservative members of Congress,” and his 2011 voting record received an 87% rating from the National Taxpayers Union.

Broun caused a stir as a freshman Congressman when he voted against a $20 million program to help kids in neighborhoods with high drug rates.

When asked about his vote, Broun pulled out his pocket Constitution and said, “Most of the things this Congress does, we don’t actually have the authority to do.”

Kaitlyn Branson, a third year political science student at the University of Georgia, interned with Paul Broun’s campaign in Summer 2012.

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to send someone as great as Congressman Broun back to Washington.  He is a great conservative man.”

Branson said Broun’s past is not relevant.  “People should focus on what he’s doing now and how he is trying to cut national spending.”

Broun supports a Balanced Budget Amendment.  The amendment would require a two-thirds majority to raise revenue in Congress.  The bill would also return excess revenue to taxpayers.

Undoubtedly, the remarks of Athenians will continue beyond 2014.  Paul Broun remains the only declared candidate for the 2014 Senate race.

Some of Georgia’s current executive branch officials may make a run for the seat, including Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Attorney General Sam Olens.  However, in an unofficial straw poll of 30 people, Athenians chose a congressman every time to fill Chambliss’ seat.

Popular representatives for the seat include: Rep. Tom Price (R-6), Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-11), Rep. Jack Kingston (R-1), and Rep. Tom Graves (R-14).

“Tom Price is smart, knowledgeable about healthcare policy and shows expertise in policy-making.  He’s not flashy or a showboat, and he’s proven himself in the House,” Blake Seitz said.

Other Athenians want someone like Rep. Jack Kingston because they think he will diminish partisan polarization, a precedent Sen. Chambliss established.  Chambliss’ bipartisan work landed him in The Washington Post’s “Best Leaders of 2011.”

“Kingston’s got a stable head and is willing to put aside party lines to do what’s best for the country.  He’s really knowledgeable and experienced,” Hadley Dreibelbis said.

As Athenians voice their opinions, the nation will be watching.

The Washington Post reported that the Ga. 2014 Senate race is one of the “top 10 Senate races of 2014.”

Increased levels of Internet usage cause mental and physical symptoms

Craving a sloppy milkshake and a greasy burger, Lindsey Gaff anticipated a trip to The Grill all week.  The local burger joint is a staple of the Athens community, and as a junior at the University of Georgia, she felt it was her obligation to frequent the unique restaurant.

Hours before meeting her friends, she received a text message that they were meeting at Panera instead.  Forced to submit to healthy soups and organic sandwiches instead, she inquired why they had changed locations.

“Simple. They have WiFi.”

Gaff’s encounter epitomizes how people make consumer decisions based on technological dependence.  Though jokes about Internet addiction have existed for over a decade, researchers now see mental and physical symptoms associated with excessive Internet usage.

According to the New York Times, “The insight may not sound revelatory to anyone who has joked about the “crackberry” lifestyle…but hearing it from leaders at many of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies, who profit from people spending more time online, can sound like auto executives selling muscle cars while warning about the dangers of fast acceleration.”

Top executives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter gather annually at conferences to discuss how to find balance in the digital age.

Soren Gordhamer organizes Wisdom 2.0, one such conference.  Gordhamer said, “We’re done with this honeymoon phase and now we’re in this phase that says, ‘Wow, what have we done?’”

For many people, Gordhamer raises a key question: What effects could increased Internet dependence cause?

A study by the Educational Psychology Review found that the “Internet itself is not addictive, but that some specific Internet applications contribute to the development of pathological Internet use.”

Internet applications with interactive purposes are the most dangerous.  As users scroll mindlessly through Facebook or Twitter, they disengage from the world.

Interactive applications are most popular with college students.  The study found that the average person spends 6.75 hours per month on-line, whereas the average college student devotes 51.6 hours per month to Internet usage.

Many students admitted to spending more than 3 consecutive hours on-line twice in the previous week.

Students who registered as excessive Internet users also reported that they get less than 4 hours of sleep due to online activity, look for alternative ways to get access to the Internet and use online activity to feel better when experiencing depression.

Megan Ernst experienced such feelings of loss when her technological devices depleted of power.  “All of my technology just died.  I feel so alone,” the second-year student lamented in class.

These effects on health and wellbeing seep into other aspects of life, including work and leisure.

According to Harry E. Owens, Athens Director of Human Resources, “Young adults’ dependence on technology is apparent.  Increasingly, they are unable to hold a conversation, and they want everything on the Internet.”

As students’ time on the Internet increases, they begin ordering books online rather than visiting local bookstores.  Instead of wasting gas on a trip to a nearby restaurant, students use food delivery services and place orders online.

This new consumer behavior is troubling for towns like Athens, Ga., where college students are one of the primary consumers.

Athens native Lee Mason remembers how downtown Athens really grew up around the university.   He recalled how when the mall migrated to the west end of Athens, downtown became “a haunt of the town.”

“Small businesses and students really got downtown thriving again.  Athens wouldn’t be what it is without all of the students,” Mason said.

Currently, there are no conventional restaurants in downtown Athens that offer free WiFi (Internet access).  Crowded coffee shops capitalize on students’ dependence on WiFi, while local restaurants focus on traditional dining times.

By incorporating Internet usage into the dining experience, restaurants could expand their clientele.

Some restaurants, like Pauley’s, use technology to increase efficiency by taking orders via iPad.

As thousands of students cycle through Athens every few years, businesses need to adopt new technological models in order to stay relevant.

Anton Troianovski of The Wall Street Journal noted how McDonald’s and Starbucks combined offer 19,000 WiFi-equipped restaurants in comparison to a mere 15,000 WiFi-enabled public libraries nationwide.

As Internet dependence increases, WiFi hotspot developers like Henry Kurkowski see restaurants offering free WiFi as “quid pro quo.”  In other words, consumers expect WiFi from businesses as an exchange of goods and services.

Kurkowski says, “The bottom line is that WiFi puts butts in seats…Wi-Fi as an amenity is proven to boost business from college students, mobile business people and meeting planners.”