A staple of the Athens restaurant community is on the verge of shutting its doors, owner Dexter Weaver said Monday.
Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods has been serving up traditional homestyle favorites for 26 years — but Weaver said this streak might soon be ending.
“We have been experiencing very slow business, and if things do not improve, we would have to close down,” Weaver said. “We are an icon of this area, and we need people to patronize.”
Weaver D’s, which has the slogan “automatic for the people,” was recognized by the James Beard Foundation, a culinary organization, as one of America’s Classics in 2007. This, along with other distinctions, has made it a landmark in Athenian culture. R.E.M. used Weaver D’s slogan for its 1992 album “Automatic for the People.”
With the faltering of the economy, students are tightening spending, and as a result, the local restaurant is fighting to stay alive, Weaver said.
The threat of having the utilities shut off is becoming a regular problem for the owner. He used the notoriety of his restaurant to prevent the immediate closing of his business.
“[The gas company] came last week to shut the gas off, and I had to plead with them to give me an extension,” Weaver said.
Weaver said he believes that if business stays stagnant, he would have to close down within two to three weeks. He said total income is down at least 50 percent compared to this time in 2011.
If it were to shut down, Weaver’s five employees would find themselves without work.
“I’m proud of the work we do here,” Dorothy Parks, an employee of four years, said. “This is my only source of income, and if it closes, I’m gonna miss greeting people and seeing people. It would break my heart to see this place close.”
Weaver said the students and the residents of the nearby apartment complexes are still loyal customers, but he has noticed a lack of businesspeople coming to eat at the establishment.
“We are asking businesses and offices to just come and help us out,” Weaver said. “We always just kept looking forward with the hope that business would get better, but it never did. And now we are in the position we have.”
For the students that live nearby, Weaver D’s is a local place with comfort food.
“I enjoy treating myself to this place. This is the only place with good mac and cheese and fried chicken,” regular patron Marcus Fernandez said.
The closing of the restaurant would mean the removal of a prominent tourist attraction and local favorite.
“It would be sad [if Weaver D’s closed down] because there really aren’t places like this around here,” Rebecca Beman, a student at Gainesville State College, said. “These guys are locally owned and have soul food.”
Some believe that the increasingly political tone of the restaurant has kept people away in recent months. The restaurant is adorned in political images supporting President Barack Obama.
“I find it strange that they have all of the political signage and memorabilia. I would bet that some people don’t appreciate having it all over the place,” Greg Stevens, a sophomore from Duluth, said.
The influx of other soul food restaurants may also be playing a role in the decreasing business.
“I know that there are other restaurants springing up, but we were here first. I hope people look at the history that’s here when they make that decision,” Weaver said.
Weaver said there is room for improvement with the service times for customers. He is continuing efforts to reach out to local churches and businesses to attract patrons.
“I would go more often, but service was pretty lax during my last visit. But I think they deserve another shot,” Martin Sumners, a former University student who lives near Weaver D’s, said.
After news of the impending closing of the restaurant emerged, social media exploded with people looking to help the struggling restaurant. University students and graduates have flocked to Weaver D’s this week with hopes of saving the eatery. Approximately 30 people were eating at Weaver D’s Wednesday around 1 p.m.
“It is good to see people responding to a need in the community. This place is a landmark around here, and it would be a real shame to see it go,” Elizabeth Terry, a businessperson who works downtown, said.