The story of one seafood eatery’s remarkable Macon legacy
Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series about local items of historic, noteworthy or unusual significance gleaned from nearly two centuries of Telegraph and Macon News archives.
When it comes to sit-down restaurants, there aren’t many in Middle Georgia that have lasted as long in the same location — or anywhere for that matter — as this well-known national-chain eatery has. It sits alongside an automobile dealership, directly behind a shuttered credit union in the parking lot of a long-demolished shopping center that was once anchored by a now-vanished Kmart.
The Red Lobster at 2077 Riverside Drive in Macon, was built in 1972 and has outlasted the Shoney’s across the road and also out-lived a once-popular Chinese restaurant at the corner of Ingleside Avenue.
A seafood staple for going on half a century now, the somewhat tucked-away Red Lobster, which is all but blocked from view by that closed credit union and the sprawling Riverside Ford beside it, is a testament to the power of popcorn shrimp.
Perhaps it is the draw of drawn butter and Cheddar Bay Biscuits or, more likely, the allure of a known, consistent commodity. Walmart could probably open a store at the bottom of a crater and folks would find it. The same, it would seem, goes for seafood platters and the novelty of live lobsters in burbling tanks.
The red and gray, white-trimmed restaurant, which sits down a slight slope from Riverside Drive, didn’t make much of a splash in the local newspaper when it opened in May of 1972 and began serving its broiled Fisherman’s Platter — lobster, sea bass, shrimp, scallops and deviled crab with hush puppies, potatoes and cole slaw — for $3.75.
An advertisement the restaurant ran in The Telegraph back then declared the place “Informal … Family Priced.”
Informal as it may have been, going there in those days was for many an extravagance. Dressing up for a dinner was not unheard of.
Harley Richardson, the manager of the Red Lobster when it first opened, told this newspaper at the time that “seafood restaurants were once located mainly in New England, but now we see many more in the Southern area.”
Less than a month before it boiled its first lobster and fried its first $2.35-a-dozen shrimp, there was a small construction fire there. A caption bearing the punny-but-steak-centric headline “Medium Well” was published next to a Telegraph photo of the minor damage, noting that “a kettle of pitch caught fire, scorching the front of the building.”
Jane McAlister, who wrote restaurant reviews for the paper, in September 1978 captured the Red Lobster’s essence in the opening lines of her write-up titled “Red Lobster Brings Sea Inland”:
What sultry Macon could really use is a sea breeze. Even more enjoyable would be the sea that usually goes with it. But restaurant fanciers such as myself would be willing to settle for one of those rundown shacks on the wharf. … Unfortunately, Macon has not been on the coast for several million years, but it has a substitute for the shack: Red Lobster. As long as you keep in mind that it is just a substitute. … Can you tell the fish is frozen, not fresh? Certainly. But it is so well prepared that you would have to be pretty spoiled to dislike it.
Red Lobster was such destination dining that brides on occasion hosted bridesmaids’ luncheons there.
“Family,” its then-general manager John Tucker told a Telegraph writer, “that is what we really go after, a family type atmosphere.”
The Red Lobster has for the most part, despite its popularity and longevity, kept a low profile.
A handful of other local eateries have been around longer, including Fincher’s Barbecue, Tucker’s Barbecue and Nu-Way Weiners. Some Waffle Houses predate the Red Lobster here, as does the regional S&S Cafeteria chain, which first opened a small, home-cooking restaurant in Macon in the late 1920s.