Mellow Mushroom Owners Gear Up for Expected High Volume
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts
The multi-use project at the corner of Commerce and Bibb streets is taking shape in more ways than just the physical structure.
The project, which was originally called Montgomery CBD – an acronym for Commerce Bibb Development – is now been marketed and branded with a new logo as 79C. The C stands for Commerce Street.
The four-story project, which is being developed by Birmingham-based Retail Specialists, will feature 54 loft apartments above first-floor restaurants. The project will have 45 one-bedroom apartments and nine two-bedroom apartments. Leasing on the residential units will most likely start in early June, according to Rodney Barstein, executive vice president of Retail Specialists, which is developing the $10 million-plus project.
The downtown Montgomery firm of Partners Realty will handle the residential leasing while Retail Specialists recruits restaurants to the site. And there will be four restaurants in the 18,000 square-foot retail space, including Mellow Mushroom’s second location in Montgomery.
The remaining three restaurants will range in size from about 3,000 square feet to nearly 5,000 square feet, Barstein said. “Some are more of a quick-service-like restaurant,” he said. “We’re trying to bring new (restaurants) to the market or people that have a restaurant in the general area and would like to be downtown.”
Mellow Mushroom business partners and co-owners Alice B. McCollum and Mark S. Hill obviously liked the idea of having a downtown location. With all the downtown events, including concerts; about 70 Montgomery Biscuits’ games a year at Riverwalk Stadium; youth sporting events; and conventions and business meetings, that makes for a lot of potential customers at Mellow Mushroom’s downtown site. Now add all the downtown office workers and all the residents within a few miles.
McCollum and Hill talked about a girls’ volleyball tournament that has 2,000 participants.
“We are a brand name,” McCollum said. “People know Mellow Mushroom all over the Southeast.”
The new restaurant, which could open in September, will seat about 260, with 60 of those outside along with an outdoor bar.
A “growing downtown and the popularity of downtown” are some of the reasons why Mellow Mushroom will open at 79C, Hill said. “More people are going to come (downtown) because there are more options.” It also means if a restaurant is crowded and some don’t want to wait, they have more choices.
Yet, perhaps the primary reason that McCollum and Hill are bringing Mellow Mushroom to downtown is seeing sales per square foot at other restaurants in the area. Retail Specialists estimates sales of $5 million a year at 79C.
That expected high volume means that McCollum and Hill are planning to hire between 110 and 120 employees – more than twice the average site’s 50 employees. The restaurant will also generate revenue with late-night hours. Although not finalized, the owners said Mellow Mushroom may close at 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights.
“We don’t believe there is a need being met currently downtown for late-night food,” Hill said.
Although 79C plans to have four restaurants and there are another five across the street at The Alley, and more at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center, and still more on Commerce Street and plans for more at Lower Dexter, McCollum said she felt “there aren’t a lot of options (downtown) for the amount of people.” She said, “There is a lot of opportunity for retail downtown.”
The owners will have a built-in customer base right above the restaurant – those 54 loft apartments. “We’ve thought about certain specials that will be limited to tenants only – certain services that we may provide to them,” McCollum said.
In addition to those apartments, there will be 164 units less than one mile away at The Heights on Maxwell Boulevard. McCollum said they “will look at what the need dictates” with those residents.
The downtown venue will feature a Mardi Gras theme – accents, decorations, color scheme and more – being located in the entertainment district. Mellow Mushroom boasts an impressive craft beer selection, including some on tap. They have about 100 different ones and rotate their selection and try to always include an Alabama brewery, Hill said. “That has been a huge customer loyalty factor for us.”