Francar’s move near campus paying off for former Mercer grad

When Francar’s Buffalo Wings moved to Mercer Village in March, it was a homecoming of sorts for owner Carl Fambro.

Fambro certainly was familiar with the campus and with campus life, having graduated from Mercer University in 1978. Still, there was some apprehension.

But he’s found out that relocating the restaurant from Log Cabin Drive has been worth the risk, he said.

“That first month and a half before those students got out, they whipped us. It took awhile to get adjusted to the new schedule,” Fambro said.

“Summer made me real scared. The students were gone. People were taking vacation. Once the students got back, it picked up.”

Fambro, 53, spent 14 years in the Army after he graduated from Mercer. His time as company commander, overseeing the kitchen, and as battalion executive officer, planning parties and events, convinced him that he could make it in the restaurant business.

“I didn’t want to work for anybody else if there was any way around it,” he said.

He and a former business partner started Francar’s. For a short while, Fambro also took on a second job with Metropolitan Life.

“I could not sell insurance to save my life,” he said, “but I could sell chicken wings.”

The most difficult part of the relocation, Fambro said, was letting customers know he hadn’t just closed down, He’s put out about 6,000 fliers, but says “I still haven’t reached everyone.”

Francar’s was the third college-friendly restaurant to move in across from the campus, joining Ingleside Village Pizza and Jittery Joe’s coffee shop. According to Mercer, the relocation was part of efforts by the university and the College Hill Corridor Commission to revitalize areas around the college and into downtown.

The restaurant is tucked behind the big, brick “Mercer Village” sign and fountain, which initially concerned Fambro, who feared potential customers might not see the restaurant. But passers-by often stop to see — and sometimes even photograph — the fountain, and the park-like area’s benches and tables in front of the business have been a plus.

“Location, location, location,” Fambro said with a grin. “Three truer words have never been spoken.”

Renovations to the building, which had been a sandwich shop and more recently was used for storage, included putting in large windows and knocking out an inside wall.

The flooring is a checkerboard of orange and black, Mercer’s school colors, and the walls are painted in the school colors of his high school alma mater, Central High School.

Decorations include memorabilia from both schools.

It’s a big change from the Log Cabin Drive site, which was a former bar.

“This looks like a restaurant,” Fambro said. “I could never get the other place from looking like a bar.”

Mercer students even play a role in decorating.

“They bring in their shirts, their hats, their pictures, and we put them up.”

Wednesdays are College Night at Francar’s, with students getting discounts of 30 percent to 50 percent.

Francar’s features 34 sauces, with all but three being Fambro’s homemade creations. He has three more in works. Usually he brings in a test group to decide which ones make the menu.

“This time, I’m going to let the students test them.”

James Dunlop, a junior at Mercer, is a regular. His favorite things about Francar’s are its proximity to the school, the Mercer memorabilia and “all the flavors.”

“I eat here at least once a week, usually twice ... or three times,” Dunlop said, drawing a few chuckles from his buddies after lunch there Thursday. “It’s right here on campus.”

The restaurant stays open until 11 p.m. on weekends, then reopens at 1 a.m. to serve night owls.

“We usually put the last student out at about 3:30,” Fambro said.

He might not be holding down two jobs, but Fambro might as well be. The restaurant is open seven days a week, and Fambro said he usually puts in about 86 hours a week. When he’s not working late, his wife, Sharon, usually is.

They marked their 10th anniversary Oct. 17, but celebrated the next day, a Sunday when students were out of school.

“We went out, ate dinner and slept ... a lot,” he said.

Fambro still manages to find time to help out in the community. He serves on the school council at Ingram-Pye Elementary and helped organize its first Parent-Teacher Organization. About 40 parents showed up Tuesday night for the PTO’s first meeting.

“We’ve been pushing all summer long to get parents involved,” he said. “Hopefully, if the parents become interested in test scores and studying, the students will get serious also.”

The restaurant also tries to support charitable efforts by Mercer student groups. Ten percent of proceeds from sales Thursday were earmarked for Chi Omega’s Walk for Wishes, a benefit for Make-A-Wish.

“Since we’re so close to the campus, and the students are involved in a lot of stuff, we try to help,” Fambro said.

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.