North Fulton restaurant owners get creative to make ends meet

From left to right are From the Earth Brewing Company staff, Payton Hines, Justin Pulido, Jason Stern, Ruben Ortez, and Brian Lee.
From left to right are From the Earth Brewing Company staff, Payton Hines, Justin Pulido, Jason Stern, Ruben Ortez, and Brian Lee.

Credit: William Andrew Estes

Credit: William Andrew Estes

Business owners in north Fulton are finding new ways to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tamara Fuller, owner of The Velvet Note in Alpharetta, hosts virtual concerts on weekends from her music club's stage. Tim Stevens, who owns From the Earth Brewing Company in Roswell, is staging his first drive-in concert on Sunday.

Steven’s concert will be held in the restaurant parking lot. Jamgrass banjo artist Jeff Mosier will perform in front of about 70 cars, Stevens anticipates. Vehicles lined up in five rows will be spaced eight to 10 feet apart. Tickets for front row cars are $50. General admission is $20.

“This accomplishes three things,” he said. “It gives people a fun safe environment to get out of the house; to help fund some musicians and take care of staff.”

From the Earth employs 18 people. Three from the kitchen staff were furloughed after the city of Roswell issued a state of emergency and limited restaurants to takeout and delivery only.

July 30, 2015 - Alpharetta, Ga: The Velvet Note general manager Tamara Fuller stands in front of the The Velvet Note Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Alpharetta, Ga. This is for a live music story for Living Northside. PHOTO / JASON GETZ
July 30, 2015 - Alpharetta, Ga: The Velvet Note general manager Tamara Fuller stands in front of the The Velvet Note Thursday, July 30, 2015, in Alpharetta, Ga. This is for a live music story for Living Northside. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Fuller’s Velvet Note is a smaller establishment that usually employed six people, which she laid off after Alpharetta issued its state of emergency.

“I had to sit down and figure out how to change our business model,” she said.” We’ve been here eight years. We … had figured out how to do things a certain way. And that thing is bringing people together.”

Before the coronavirus outbreak, The Velvet Note gained a local and international following by streaming live performances. Sets featured acclaimed jazz artists often traveling from out of town to perform. Now, each weekend, local musicians will play for audiences watching on Facebook and YouTube. Viewings are free but listeners are asked to make donations through a new button on each site.

On Friday, jazz pianist Kevin Bales will perform and share stories of his musical career. Saturday, The Ray Howard Band will perform Motown songs by request.

Fuller has also turned to her loyal customer base for help. Donations have ranged from a few dollars to $500, she said, adding that the funds help pay musicians and keep The Velvet Note operating.

“There are people who know us and spend a good part of their time here, and there are people who have only been here once and they want to see us do well,” said Fuller.

Fuller and Stevens said the way to get through the coronavirus crisis is to be creative. The Velvet Note will start takeout and delivery food service in April. Dinner for two will come with online access to a previous music show.

From the Earth’s takeout service offers a farmers market box of produce with tomatoes, grapefruit, onions, red potatoes, asparagus and more.

“This is a horrible time for restaurants,” said Stevens. “We’ve been thinking out-of-the-box from day one. My employees have been overwhelmingly positive. We’re looking at this all as a community.”