He may not be a Renaissance man, but prominent Atlanta personal injury lawyer Gary Martin Hays certainly has a lot of diverse interests.
There's his part ownership of the Gwinnett Gladiators hockey team. His leadership of Keep Georgia Safe. His bustling law firm, which he started in 1993 and has five attorneys and 35 support staff. And, now, his own restaurant, Gary's Bistro in Lawrenceville. There's also an array of charitable work.
"I'm amazed how he's able to juggle all these things. I wonder if he ever sleeps," said Mary Ellen Fulkus, executive director of Keep Georgia Safe, an organization Hays founded that provides safety education and crime prevention training. "I've never seen anyone so able to multitask. He's running all these things and doesn't miss a beat."
Steve Chapman, president and general manager of the Gladiators, called Hays "an inspiring guy."
"Here's a guy who could sit back and just be a law magnate," Chapman said, "but instead, he's chosen to get involved in the community."
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Hays, 46, left his law office for lunch at his bistro recently to talk about his various avocations and occupations.
Q: A lot of people probably know your name, and possibly your face, from your TV commercials, your refrigerator advertising magnets and the like. How weird is that?
A: I'm on the back cover of a lot of the phone books, too. So sometimes when you're propping up junior at the dining room table he's sitting on my ad. What's interesting, though, is that it's not my [picture] in a lot of the ads. So I'm able to hide in anonymity, which is nice.
Q: There are people who look at your ads featuring actors such as Robert Vaughn and think he's you.
A: I actually have William Shatner doing [commercials for the firm] in Macon. There, there's not the confusion. People know that's him.
Q: Is there something unseemly about lawyers doing TV ads?
A: First and foremost, [law] is a profession, and an honorable one. But you've got to be a good businessperson in today's age or you're not going to thrive. You may be the best lawyer out there, but if people don't know you practice in a specific niche, your phone won't ring.
Q: You worked for a time for insurance companies, who you now battle in court.
A: The pay was better working for insurance companies when I first graduated from law school. I got the experience, and now I use it to help those who need it most.
Q: Why a restaurant?
A: I work 55 to 60 hours a week. I never know what time I'm going to head home, and it's important for my wife and three daughters as a family unit to eat together. We were always going out, and the natural extension of that is to eat someplace that has food we love, where it's kid-friendly and where my wife and I can go for a date.
Q: Gary's Bistro does all that, I take it, but there's obviously a business synergy to it.
A: It's an opportunity to further extend the marketing in a way. We're able to promote the law firm here, the hockey team. For away games, Gladiators fans will come here to watch the games. It's a great place to raise funds and awareness for charities. It's a neat place to congregate.
Q: Do you take a turn in the kitchen?
A: I'm a foodie. I'd love the opportunity to come in and cook. I just don't have the time.
Q: Keep Georgia Safe has been a passion of yours since you founded it in 2008.
A: I started it after the abductions and murders of three girls with ties to Georgia. With my wife and I having three daughters, it scared the daylights out of us, and we were thinking what could we do to make sure our girls are safe in the world. It's the father bear kicking in.
Q: And the hockey thing? You're a Southerner, after all.
A: I grew up in South Alabama, and we were so poor we were lucky to have ice in our drinks, let alone skate on it. But the last few years I had the opportunity to get exposed to it and fell in love with it.