Visitors flock to Juliette's Green Tomato Festival

pramati@macon.comOctober 28, 2012 

JULIETTE -- When Lisa Schafer saw that Juliette’s Green Tomato Festival was coinciding with the Pine Mountain vacation she and her boyfriend, John Korycki, were taking, she knew she would they would have to stop by.

“This is my first visit (to the festival),” said Schafer, who lives in central Florida. “(‘Fried Green Tomatoes’) is my favorite movie of all-time.”

Two decades after the movie was released, it’s still the No. 1 tourism draw for the tiny community located in Monroe County. Dwight “Bear” Tyler, whose father-in-law appeared in the movie as an extra pulling a vehicle out of a lake, co-owns the Whistle Stop Trading Post and said the annual festival brings in five times as many people than usually visit his store in a weekend.

“It’s a boost for the economy,” he said. “It keeps the interest up and people keep coming back. People are still finding out about Juliette.”

Tommy Moon, organizer of this year’s festival, said he’s expecting anywhere form 2,500 to 5,000 people for the weekend, and those include international visitors. The guest book in his wife’s store showed visitors from Morocco, Scotland, England and Japan.

“I never thought the movie would have this effect,” Moon said. “But it has, and we’re tickled by it. It’s been excellent for the county and for the whole of Middle Georgia, really.”

Moon said the festival has grown a little each of the 13 years it has run, with more than 50 vendors this year. The festival featured live music, including a bluegrass band playing its versions of music from such bands as Metallica and The Grateful Dead.

None of the vendors are busier during the weekend than Elizabeth Bryant, owner of the famed Whistle Stop Cafe from the movie. Each year, there’s a long line of people sitting on the porch, waiting their turn for the famed fried green tomatoes. Even with temperatures in the low 60s and a bracing wind, the customers still waited.

“I’m actually excited about the cold weather,” Bryant said. “My only concern was that the wind might interfere with things. But I don’t feel like it’s hurt us. ... It’s a great atmosphere, with great spirits. Everyone seems to be happy.”

Bryant said she and her husband have fried so many green tomatoes over the weekend that they see fried green tomatoes in their dreams. Bryant estimated that the cafe will have gone through 22 25-pound cases of green tomatoes over the festival’s two days.

Yvonne Knipschile and Petra Christner, two friends from Warner Robins who are originally from Germany, waited patiently outside the Whistle Stop Cafe. They said the festival is a slightly different feel than the Oktoberfests they attended in their home country.

“It’s not really comparable to (Oktoberfest),” Knipschile said. “But I appreciate all of the crafts. ... I like the vendors and all of the events. It’s nice.”

Korycki said he didn’t know what to expect when Schafer persuaded him for them to attend the festival. He’s never seen “Fried Green Tomatoes,” he said.

“The first thing I’ll do when I get back is watch it,” Korycki said, with more than a hint of sarcasm.

Schafer would have none of it, however.

“Oh, I’m going to make sure you watch it,” she said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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