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Smokejack owner plans to expand, signaling downtown Alpharetta's southward growth

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Alpharetta’s downtown continues to expand southward with the approval of a variance allowing a new restaurant to apply to serve alcohol within 300 feet of a school.

At its Nov. 29 meeting, the City Council voted unanimously to allow Dave Filipowicz a variance he was seeking for a new restaurant, SJ Market, at 241 S. Main St.

Filipowicz is the owner of the popular Smokejack BBQ restaurant at 29 S. Main that has been in operation for nearly 20 years.

City ordinance prohibits any establishment from obtaining an alcohol beverage license if it is within 300 feet of a school or church. The proposed restaurant, will sit directly across the street — about 82 feet — from Amana Academy, a K-8 charter school authorized by the Fulton County Schools system. The school has an enrollment of 800.

But the city does allow for variances to the ordinance in cases where the proposed establishment sit on property that had been operated as a restaurant licensed by the city and the state for the sale of alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption within the five years preceding the application. City Clerk Lauren Shapiro reported that up to a year ago, the proposed site was home to a Pizza Hut restaurant that had been licensed to serve alcohol.

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Filipowicz said that with the change in food service created by the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants have been forced to meet new demands for pick-up and delivery orders.

“This idea was to go down the street, do a catering kitchen that was open, not late – it’s not going to be a bar” he said.

The restaurant, Flipowicz said, would be targeted to patrons who wanted to stop off and pick up an order or have a sandwich and a beer or glass of wine. He said the plan is to operate the kitchen until 8 p.m.

Flipowicz said he has operated Smokejack for 17 years, and he has always aspired to offer good food in a quality atmosphere.

Plans call for SJ Market to offer walk-up counter service, dine-in service with a patio option, to-go pick-up and catering deliveries.

“The business model in today’s package, the restaurants have been beat up pretty hard,” he said. “I think if we don’t have that revenue stream, it changes the dynamic of what I can do.”

The proposal drew one voice of opposition.

Amana Academy Executive Director Ehab Jaleel said he was speaking on behalf of school staff and student parents to oppose the variance. Jaleel said he welcomes the success of Smokejack and SJ Market, but allowing alcohol consumption so near the school will be detrimental.

“We’re all in agreement that Amana Academy opposes this variance request to sell or serve alcoholic beverages so close to our school,” he said. “We believe allowing the variance sets a precedence for future development we all know is coming down South Main Street.”

241 S. Main Street

Alpharetta restaurateur David Filipowicz is planning a new casual dining and food catering business at 241 S. Main Street, the site of a former Pizza Hut.

Council members applauded Jaleel and the school for their contribution to the city, but they pointed out the academy opened in a retail and business district, and the city has an obligation to its commercial community.

They asked Jaleel if the school had ever encountered problems in the past with other nearby establishments that served alcohol. He said there were none.

Councilman Dan Merkel said he has toured the academy and considers it an asset to the community.

“Even so it’s a government center, the people around there have the right to do the business they were doing,” Merkel said. “It’s a different situation than someone going into a school zone and requesting to pop something up.”

The approval continues the city’s growth of its downtown core.

Earlier in November, Mayfair on Main won approval for a rezoning to allow construction of 13 single-family, detached homes and 11 townhome units on just over 2 acres in the Downtown District at 217 South Main.