At a first glance from the outside of Macon Mall, it is apparent something different is going on.
A natural wood exterior has gone up between Sears and Macys on the second level facing Eisenhower Parkway.
When you step inside, even more is going on.
Construction workers are scurrying around inside the cavernous Smokn Pig BBQ restaurant installing the lighting, seating and kitchen equipment.
The Valdosta-based restaurant is about two weeks away from completing construction of its 15,000-square-foot eatery that will seat about 450 people. It is the companys first venture outside Valdosta, but it already has a large, loyal following, owner Pat ONeal said.
Its menu includes a variety of items in addition to beef, chicken and pork barbecue. It has fresh vegetables, a salad bar, steak, seafood and a special peach cobbler, he said.
We are the largest barbecue restaurant this side of the Mississippi (River), ONeal said. People will drive 100 miles just to eat our barbecue. ... We are going to bring 10,000 to 15,000 people a week to this mall.
The eatery is looking to hire about 150 workers and is taking applications at the mall 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily near the interior entrance of the restaurant. It is hiring for all positions.
ONeal said he thinks the Smokn Pig will be a good fit for Macon and the surrounding area, but it took awhile before he agreed to come here.
Macys wanted a barbeque place, he said. I turned them down four times, but we wanted to help try to get people to come back to the mall. ... We know we have a lot of stigma to overcome here at the mall. But now we have the walkers back in the mornings. You would be surprised at the number of people who have come back.
The restaurant plans to serve beer and wine and it caters to families and will have a family environment, ONeal said.
We are real big in catering and take out, he said.
Ray Parr, the companys corporate manager, said the business sells about 100,000 pounds a year of its one-half smoked chicken from the Valdosta restaurant.
In addition to selling food, the restaurant sells T-shirts with various sayings on them. The most popular one has Got Pig? on it. The companys motto -- Its not a sin to get sauce on your chin -- is also on its shirts.
The company also sells its barbecue sauce in about 100 grocery stores.
The restaurant is the latest, and so far largest, change at the renovated mall.
John Gibson, co-owner of Augusta-based Hull Storey Gibson Cos. LLC, which owns the mall, said the companys investment in the mall continues. It is not a one-month or one-year thing, it is a multi-year effort and we are at the beginning of that and we are committed to it.
Hull Storey Gibson bought the 1.4 million-square-foot mall in 2010 and one of its first moves was to demolish the 423,000-square-foot east wing. That work is mostly done with the former Dillards store still standing separate from the mall.
When people ride by, they are able now to see from Eisenhower Parkway all the way over to Mercer Boulevard, Gibson said.
A new inner-ring road will go between the former Dillards store and the mall, and J.C. Penney will end up with a new parking lot and new facade, he said.
Most of the interior work of the mall is completed, Gibson said. It has new lighting and carpet throughout the mall corridor. Huge historic photos of Macon and Bibb County line freshly painted walls.
Some new tenants for the mall are in the cue and an announcement should be coming shortly, Gibson said.
We are going to complement what Macon has to offer downtown, he said. We think we are going to complement what General Growth Properties (and Jim Wilson & Associates) has done on the Northside of town. ... But what we also believe is that the mall represents an alternative venue. ... We think all this is good for the community and we are going to do our part.
Gibson said he has multiple tenants with offers to take about 60,000 square feet of space at the mall, but until the deals are finalized he cant disclose who they are.
I think the people of Macon are really the beneficiaries and will have more choices, more things to do and I think that helps the community relative to the idea of growth, he said. We are going to bring other kinds of retailers to the market and offer the people of Macon some alternatives they otherwise would not have.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.