The newest restaurant in Normaltown technically is not all that new. Long-time Athens residents might remember Square One Fish Co., which opened in 2009 as a Florida-style seafood restaurant downtown. In 2015, owners Joe and Erica Cascio, sold the property to Hyatt Place Athens to make way for the Hyatt Place hotel.
On June 28, Square One reopened in a new location that might have seemed unlikely a few years ago — the heart of Normaltown.
Joe Cascio scouted properties for a new venue and realized the potential in Normaltown.
“There is a lot of walking traffic from the neighborhoods surrounding it,” he said.
Cascio partnered with the manager of the original Square One restaurant, Sean Fallows, and contractor Brent English to develop the property at 1298 Prince Ave., a location previously occupied by P&M Army Store.
Many of the restaurant’s former customers have embraced the new location, Cascio said.
“This has been a remarkable opening …We are doing 150 dinners on a Friday night in this little restaurant,” he said.
It’s not just customer loyalty bringing diners to Normaltown. Over the past few years the community has seen a growth in places to eat and drink, along with a University of Georgia campus expansion in the area.
Normaltown is the stretch of Prince Avenue near the intersection with Oglethorpe Avenue, close to the Boulevard and Cobbham neighborhoods. It is named after the State Normal School for teachers, which operated from the 1890s until 1928 when it became the Georgia State Teachers College and, in 1932, merged with the UGA Department of Education. During World War II, the Army leased the property, and in 1953, the Navy purchased the campus and established the Navy Supply Corps School, which operated until 2010. In 2011, UGA regained the historic campus and turned it into the UGA Health Sciences campus.
In 2017, UGA began housing some students on the Health Sciences Campus to accommodate a large freshman class and overflow from renovations at the traditional freshman dorms at the main campus.
The Normaltown/Boulevard area has been popular with some upperclassmen. However, younger UGA students may not be familiar with it.
“I find we are just a tad too far away for most students to venture this far out until their junior or senior year,” said Corie Jacobs, owner of Ike & Jane Cafe and Bakery on Prince Avenue.
Jacobs worked at a restaurant in downtown Athens while attending UGA and continued working there after she graduated in 2006. Jacobs and a former business partner opened Ike & Jane in 2009. The restaurant is named for her grandparents, who owned a bakery in New York state.
During the fall and spring semesters, Jacobs said students make up about 25% of the restaurant’s customers, mostly on the weekend. Many employees of nearby Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center also visit Ike & Jane for meals, she said.
“I think people find restaurants to be a very romantic idea,” Jacobs said. “It’s really hard work. I work 80-100 hours a week.”
Business is booming
For a long time, Ike & Jane and Agua Linda Mexican were the only restaurants in Normaltown, but in the last six years, the number has increased, Jacobs said.
One of those additions, Automatic Pizza, opened in 2015. Owner Bain Mattox moved to Normaltown in 2000 to take part in the Athens music scene. Eventually he worked at 5&10, where he learned the bar business. After deciding to go out on his own, he opened Normal Bar on Prince Avenue, and a few years later, opened Automatic Pizza nearby.
“I’m so pleased with all the growth [in Normaltown],” Mattox said. “It’s been exciting to see it all come to life.”
Other Normaltown businesses include Sips Espresso Cafe, The Old Pal bar and Hi-Lo Lounge.
However, until Square One opened last month, Normaltown did not have an upscale dining restaurant.
“The more I looked at Normaltown, I just saw what a great spot it was,” Joe Cascio said. “The whole surrounding area — these houses are booming.”