No spills: Waite opens children’s dining room

No spills: Waite opens children’s dining room – Old Hickory House restaurant

Ken Frydman

No spills: Waite opens children’s dining room

MARTINEZ, Ga. — Bill Waite was fed up with unruly kids who screamed, spilled ketchup, poured hot coffee on waitresses, stained the carpet, and used silverware to gouge the tables of his year-old barbecue restaurant, the Old Hickory House.

So the 44-year-old former nightclub owner decided to take a drastic, controversial step: Last September he opened a 65-seat back dining room for diners with children less than six years of age.

“We just couldn’t run a serious adult restaurant with yelling, destructive kids around,” explained Waite, the father of three “well-behaved children.”

“We got sick of kids in high chairs and booster seats running off business and customers who wanted to avoid paying baby sitters,” he added.

At first the public and media were quite uncomfortable with the Old Hickory House’s new policy. Families with toddlers stayed away from the restaurant, people called to complain, and the local press and letters-to-the-editor writers criticized Waite for his “discriminatory policy.”

But winds of opinion changed quickly after three undercover members of the Augusta-Richmond County Human Relations Commission visited the restaurant and later publicly commended Waite for segregating very young customers from the general restaurant population.

“We found the environment and service rendered in the children-designated area to be equal to or better than the service rendered in the [35-seat] general dining room,” the commission’s report concluded. “At the time of the investigation, the subcommittee found no evidence of any form of discrimination.”

Claude Tillman, one of three commission investigators, went to the Old Hickory House with his wife and two children and encountered this sign in the restaurant’s foyer: “Dear parents, we now have a private dining room for children six and under. We supply balloons and favors. Come in and make yourselves comfortable.”

“He [Waite] should be commended for coming up with the idea,” Tillman said. “It allows people to eat in peace without being bothered by other people’s children.”

Today Waite feels vindicated after spending $500,000 of his own money to open the Old Hickory House from the ground up in July 1987. He had even thrown in his own recipes for barbecue and “a great love for cooking.”

Since opening the “private dining room,” the restaurant has increased its monthly volume 20 percent, from $28,000 to $32,000, according to Waite.

“I got 500 personal calls from as far away as Atlanta [170 miles], praising me for having the guts to do it,” Waite said.

The restaurant’s signature “Country Breakfast” is drawing 2,000 covers on Saturdays and Sundays at $4.50 a head. The traditional Southern meal consists of made-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits in white cream and sausage “saw mill” sauce-eggs-omeltes, and bacon.

But it’s lunch and dinner that contributed most to the Old Hickory House’s $1.6 million first year’s gross sales volume, according to Waite, who expects “closer to $2 million the second year.”

Lunch and dinner consist primarily of barbecue — beef, pork shoulder, and baby back ribs –in ketchup and mustard sauces. The average per-person check is $5.50 at lunch, $6.50 at dinner, Waite said.

“And kids pay full price for everything,” he added.

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