MADISON – An extensive collection of historic 19th-century structures and small-town charm have attracted tourists, transplants and filmmakers to Madison for years. Now, a burgeoning food scene is adding to the appeal of this quaint Georgia town.

A lot of the recent dining developments are due to one person: Preston Snyder.

Snyder and his wife, Cindi Fetch, moved to Madison from Atlanta five years ago to be closer to his aging parents. After purchasing and renovating an 1850 Greek Revival home just blocks from the old town square, he sold his share as managing partner in Braden Fellman Group, a real estate agency in Virginia-Highland that specializes in small-scale historic preservation.

Snyder may have exited the firm he’d been with for 25 years, but the lover of historic properties couldn’t shake what he calls “the real estate curse” upon moving to the Morgan County seat. “You can’t stop looking at property,” he said.

One by one, he began purchasing and restoring vacant and underutilized buildings around the square. The 19th-century, block-long, brick building that housed Simmons Funeral Home, which had sat quiet for a decade at the corner of Hancock and Washington streets, was subdivided and transformed into Tex-Mex concept Mad Taco, Hart & Crown Tavern, fine-dining restaurant the Dining Room and Buggy Works event space.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Another row of storefronts facing the square now bear signage for more Snyder undertakings: The Sinclair, an all-day cafe and bar housed in an old gas station, and Community Roots Market. Next door to that shop will be Betty Gene’s, a Southern diner named for Snyder’s now deceased mother, slated to welcome guests this summer. Meanwhile, the beauty supply shop on South Main Street is gone, replaced this spring by Patisserie on Main, serving freshly baked breads, pastries and fruit tarts.

All of these concepts are part of Mad Hospitality, the restaurant group that Snyder formed in 2020. Snyder calls himself a real estate guy, but he did learn a thing or two about hospitality when he worked front of house at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, during the Günter Seeger glory days.

Credit: Courtesy of Mad Hospitality

Credit: Courtesy of Mad Hospitality

Mad Hospitality, said Snyder, is a play on words — short for Madison and a self-deprecating comment about him “being a little bit nuts.”

Locals don’t think Snyder is loco. “I think people are excited about it,” said Jennifer Rosa León, executive director of the Madison Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “I’ve been to six ribbon cuttings of his. The mayor said to Preston, ‘Thank you for your vision. Thank you for making Madison what it can be.’”

Credit: Brian Dean

Credit: Brian Dean

A village of visionaries

Snyder is such a visionary that he was named a Georgia Restaurant Association finalist for the Restaurant Rookie of the Year award in 2022. However, he isn’t the only entrepreneur responsible for revitalizing the local food scene.

Keith Kelly, founder, president and CEO of Covington-based Kelly Products, is credited for making local and regional food more accessible to residents when he opened Farmview Market in 2016. Located on Eatonton Road just south of Interstate 20, Farmview Market is an all-in-one specialty grocery store, butcher shop, cafe, creamery, grist mill and open-air farmers market.

Reagan Wright joined the mix in the fall of 2020 when she began offering health-conscious sips and bites at her shop on the square, Madison Square Nutrition.

Down the block, Oconee Coffee Roasters is a venture by husband-and-wife team Jin and Jenny Chiew, who relocated with their young family three years ago from Colorado to be near her retired parents. Their coffee roasting company builds on Jin’s five years as head roaster at Sweet Bloom in Lakewood, Colorado.

And there’s Jakita Manigault, a New York transplant who last fall realized her dream of opening a gift shop at a space on West Washington Street. The Chocolate Box Gift Shop didn’t originally stock confections; Manigault simply intended the name as a tongue-in-cheek reference to herself as a Black woman. But when requests for chocolates kept coming, she gave the people what they wanted.

These new arrivals to historic downtown join established names like chef-owner Francisco De La Torre’s Town 220, Ricardo Casillas’ Mediterranean-inspired Ricardo’s Kouzzina, and Amici, a regional Italian chain that got its start in Madison (and whose founder, Chris Torino, and partner Michael Torino were GRA finalists for Restaurateur of the Year last year).

Credit: Courtesy of Mad Hospitality

Credit: Courtesy of Mad Hospitality

Community benefits

Filling a void in this community of 4,500 residents is a recurring theme among shop owners.

Community Roots Market, open since April 2021, is a result of Cindi Fetch’s observation when she and Snyder initially moved into the area. “I can’t believe there’s not fresh food on the square,” she recalls thinking. As proprietor of Community Roots, Fetch wants the market to be a “gritty Star Provisions,” a reference to the boutique market from Atlanta restaurateurs Anne Quatrano and her husband Clifford Harrison.

As the only roaster in town, Jin Chiew of Oconee Coffee aims “to bring fresh, specialty coffee to the community” but also provide coffee education. To that end, Chiew will soon take over an adjacent storefront, using the space not just for roasting, but also cuppings and training.

Snyder smiles when patrons comment that the Dining Room’s chef’s tasting menus and its impressive wine selection curated by master sommelier Michael McNeill of beverage distributor Georgia Crown satisfy a fix they would formerly fill at a high-end restaurant in Atlanta. “Why would we go to Atlanta and spend $500 when we can eat here in Madison?” he hears.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The forthcoming Betty Gene’s diner is Snyder’s solution to “no place on the square to get a proper breakfast.”

These initiatives have given locals more eating options and visitors more reasons to check out Madison. But they’ve done something else: create jobs.

Joshua Alexander began working as a bagger at Farmview Market when he was 16 years old. Last year, he was hired as general manager of the entire operation. “I wanted to live and be able to raise a family in Madison,” said the 22-year-old University of Georgia grad. “Without Mr. Kelly’s vision, I would probably be driving to work in Atlanta.”

Mad Hospitality is up to 70 employees. Compared to other jobs in the food-service industry, the group offers an attractive compensation and benefits package, including paid time off and a 401(k) for those who work a minimum of 32 hours weekly. In addition, employees are not limited to working at a single Mad Hospitality location. Rather, they can pick up shifts at sister restaurants.

“You can make a life. Not just pass through,” Synder said.

It attracted someone like Dreshawna Reese, 21, to leave her job at Burger King and run the register at Patisserie on Main. “I wanted to try something new,” Reese said.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Mad Hospitality also provides opportunities for training and advancement with a culinary program led by veteran chefs Ryan Caldwell and pastry chef Edouard Fenouil, who was lured to work for Snyder after a five-year run at Alon’s Bakery in Morningside.

Latrice Franklin, 39, joined the company two years ago. Initially hired for lead prep in the central kitchen shared by the Dining Room, Hart & Crown and Mad Taco, Franklin was placed under Fenouil’s tutelage and has risen to become the company’s lead baker.

“All of it is pretty new to me, but I think I got it. Everyone loves the bread,” Franklin said.

Snyder has more excitement in store for Madison. This summer, the retro neon lights will turn on at the New South Motor Inn, a 15-room mid-century motel that he is restoring from its Old South Motor Inn days.

When asked whether he plans to take his vision for combining historic preservation and hospitality elsewhere, Snyder shakes his head. “I don’t have ambitions to take the show on the road,” he said. “This is worth a try. And it’s fun.”

Listen: Download the June 8 episode of the Go Atlanta podcast to hear Mad Hospitality founder Preston Snyder and Ochonee Coffee Roaster owner Jin Chiew discuss the burgeoning food scene in Madison, Georgia.


Credit: Ligaya Figueras

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