Pandemic put a pause on car wash-cafe combo

Owner of Midtown’s Auto Spa Bistro forges ahead with new eateries

Dinner and a show long have been a date-night duo. It turns out that a car wash and a cocktail is a successful combination during daylight hours.

Since 2011, Lemont Bradley has been keeping cars spick-and-span while quenching customers' thirst and feeding them at his Auto Spa Bistro on 14th Street in Midtown. The self-described serial entrepreneur hit on the concept for Auto Spa Bistro when he operated a car wash and noticed that customers would leave to get something to eat while their vehicles got spiffed up. What those customers spent on food and drink, he figured, could be money in the bank.

Since Auto Spa Bistro has been open, it has established a steady clientele, even attracting big names in sports, like Julio Jones and Shaquille O’Neal, and rappers Jermaine Dupri, T.I., Lil Baby and Polow da Don. “Auto Spa Bistro is sort of a landmark now,” Bradley said.

With Auto Spa Bistro on cruise control, Bradley debuted another car wash-cafe hybrid, Eco Car Spa and Amazing Salads & Smoothies, in September on Northside Drive. “I wanted to create a one-stop destination for those in search of a quick and healthy pit stop,” he said.

Car washes at Eco are waterless, using biodegradable products that are more environmentally friendly than traditional car washes. Bradley said the cars stay cleaner for a longer period of time, too.

While customers wait for their car, they can down a shot of ginger or wheatgrass; sip on juice or a smoothie; grab a ready-to-eat breakfast burrito, egg and cheese croissant, salad or wrap; or get a sugar fix with an Italian ice. And, unlike the typically drab automotive service waiting areas, Eco’s 20-seat cafe is cheery, the walls painted graffiti-style in bright colors. Not a bad way to pass time on a Saturday full of errands.

“We were just ramping up. We were building our clientele,” Bradley said.

Then, the pandemic came. Bradley shut down Eco Car Spa at the end of March. The bay doors and cafe finally reopened May 19.

Even though COVID-19 put the brakes on operations at Eco, Bradley did not lay off any of his 40 employees, although work shifts at Auto Spa Bistro were cut back.

The pandemic also hasn't stopped him from moving ahead with his next venture. In July, he hopes to open full-service restaurant Clutch in Brookhaven. Located in the space formerly occupied by Montie's Public House, Clutch will serve American fare amid an environment of live entertainment, ranging from R&B to poetry nights. The project has been in the works for well over a year, but first permitting, then a public health crisis, slowed progress.

Back at Auto Spa Bistro, which has offered food for takeout throughout the pandemic, Bradley plans to debut an on-premises barber shop and salon this fall. “It will be a one-stop shop,” he said. “Get your nails and feet done, hair cut, car washed, plus food.”

Serial entrepreneur, indeed.

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Menu: pre-made breakfast items, sandwiches and wraps, salads, fresh juices, smoothies and Italian ice

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: superfood smoothie, hummus superfood wrap, soy ginger lettuce wrap, jerk chicken salad, blackened salmon salad, cherry Italian ice. The smoothie was thick and fruit-forward. The hummus wrap was chock-full of veggies. Some wraps fall apart as soon as you bite into them; this did not. The lettuce wrap had ground beef crumbles to tuck into bibb and romaine leaves, with hoisin and sweet chili sauces for dipping. The jerk chicken was like a Snackable assemblage of kicked-up chicken salad with sliced tomatoes and a stash of butter crackers. The blackened salmon came on a bed of mixed lettuce, with slivers of red onion, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices and blue cheese crumbles. Compared with the empty calories you get in a snack or soda machine when you get your car serviced, the food and drink at Eco Car Spa will leave you feeling as good about yourself as you do about your clean car.

Service options: order and pay via phone for contact-free curbside pickup; no delivery. If using car wash services, patrons can order on-site and wait at outside tables.

Safety protocols: adhering to all COVID-19 safety protocols; staff temperature checks multiple times a day; all employees wear gloves and masks; employees are ServSafe-certified.

Address, phone: 900 Northside Drive, Atlanta; 470-225-1106

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (hours may vary when rain is forecast)



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