By LANDON WOODROOF
Last week, the Brentwood Home Page reported that a Jason’s Deli was planned for the old Ruby Tuesday space at Hill Center Brentwood.
The site plan for that new Jason’s Deli ran into significant opposition at Monday night’s Planning Commission meeting.
While feedback from commissioners and residents was overwhelmingly positive about the prospect of Jason’s Deli joining the Brentwood restaurant community, it was uniformly negative regarding the idea of a drive thru lane at that location at the intersection of Williamsburg Road and Franklin Road.
The discussion of the issue was lengthy, taking up more than an hour of the meeting.
Jay Tortorice, the son of Jason’s Deli founder Joe Tortorice, Jr., started off by speaking in favor of the site plan and the drive thru.
He said that Jason’s Deli locations with drive thru lanes do about 5 to 8 percent of their business at the drive thru. While that may not seem like a lot to some, he said that amount “can be the difference between make or break” at a restaurant.
Besides the dollars and cents of it, Tortorice also said that the company feels drive thrus at its newer locations are essential to meet the needs of its customers.
“Consumers these days want to feel better about what they put on their bodies and in their bodies, and we feel feel like we provide that opportunity for folks who are on the go,” Tortorice said.
He said that a drive thru window gives customers who may have children buckled into car seats, who may have mobility issues or who may just simply be in a hurry an option for a healthier meal than the might get at a typical fast food establishment.
Several people raised the point that the Cool Springs location of Jason’s Deli does not have a drive thru lane, but Tortorice pointed out that location was built 15 years ago. He said the company tries to build a drive thru at all of its new locations in order to stay competitive.
Addressing traffic-related concerns, Tortorice said that Jason’s Deli would not create the sort of logjam problems that the Chick-fil-A across Franklin Road does. He said that a Jason’s Deli location averages about 60 cars a day. To contrast, the Brentwood Chick-fil-A serves about 140 cars per hour at peak times.
Potential traffic problems were nevertheless at the forefront of nearby residents minds. A number of residents from the Meadowlake subdivision, situated just behind the former Ruby Tuesday building, spoke out against the drive thru idea at the meeting.
James Selleh said he loves Jason’s Deli, but feels that a drive thru is a bad idea for this location.
“It will jam up Williamsburg Road, and we’ll have traffic problems,” he said.
Wilson Brim had similar concerns.
“I will eat at this restaurant,” he said. “I just don’t want a drive thru. The traffic is horrendous trying to get out of our neighborhood.” He especially worried about cars being backed up on Williamsburg Road trying to access the restaurant.
Planning Commissioners shared these qualms about traffic, but also worried about pedestrian safety given the proposed configuration of the drive thru, noise and several other aspects of the plan.
“I believe if this were across the street in a wholly commercial area that doesn’t back up to a residential area…it would be a whole lot easier to swallow,” Commissioner John Magyar said. “This to me just seems ill-placed.”
Jimmy Granbery, chairman and CEO of the H.G. Hill Realty Company, tried to allay some of those concerns, particularly around the issue of safety. He said that practically every retail establishment in Brentwood sees pedestrians having to navigate around cars to get in and out of businesses. That goes even for the site’s former tenant.
“Even if you didn’t have the drive thru, you come out that door just like you did for 25 years at Ruby Tuesday and you cross the drive lanes to get to the parking spaces any way you shake it,” he said.
In the end, though, it was clear that the site plan did not have the votes to gain the Planning Commission’s approval. Rather than have it voted down, Granbery requested a deferral until next month, allowing Jason’s Deli to come up with an alternate plan to present to the Planning Commission.
City of Brentwood staff had recommended approval of the site plan, with certain conditions attached.
You can view proposed renderings of the restaurant as well as an earlier version of the site plan here.