A long-vacant, lakeside restaurant building is getting brought back to life by a retired Air Force colonel.
The building on Moody Road is adjacent to Leisure Lake and has been the home of several restaurants. It was last the Catfish House, which closed in 2011. It had been several other restaurants prior to that.
Now it will be called The Pond and will open as a family breakfast and lunch spot, with dinner to be added eventually, said owner Joe Wilburn. The building is 5,000 square feet, and he is adding another 1,000 square feet to expand the kitchen and employee work space. It will seat over 200 people, including the lakeside patio area. He also is building an enclosed area with large windows so people can enjoy a lake view even in bad weather.
“We hope that to be one of the unique features of the restaurant,” Wilburn said. “There are not many locations in Middle Georgia with a nice lakeside view.”
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He bought the building a year ago and spent months planning the project before major renovations began in December. He is aiming to open in July. Wilburn, who retired from Robins Air Force Base after 26 years in the service, said he will have invested over $1 million in the project by the time the restaurant opens..
It’s an ambitious undertaking for a first-time restaurant owner, but Wilburn said he has recruited people with experience in the industry to help him.
“To me it’s about what team you assemble,” he said. “We have a great general manager who has successfully run restaurants right here in Warner Robins as well as in Macon.”
The general manager is Timothy Chambliss, who has run the Danielle’s New Orleans Bistro in Warner Robins and Texas Cattle Company and the Downtown Grill in Macon, along with other restaurants. Chambliss has worked with a lot of restaurant owners, and said he is impressed with Wilburn. He said the restaurant will be unlike any other he has worked at in the past.
“The ambiance we are attempting to create is some of the greatest vision I have ever seen,” Chambliss said. “The detail that Joe demands has been something I have not witnessed in the restaurant industry. Warner Robins is dying for something on this level.”
With its proximity to the base, Wilburn said he hopes the restaurant will become a prime lunch spot for workers there, providing a tranquil mid-day retreat from the stress of work.
“We are looking to bring something new to the community with a nice dining experience that’s friendly on the pocket, but with fresh prepared, chef-inspired fresh ingredients and an atmosphere and ambiance that’s unique, and warm and intimate,” he said.
Trent Carriker, owner of Wellston Decorating Center next door, said lack of customers has not been the problem for restaurants that have closed at the location.
The first restaurant there was call Fritzwilly’s, which opened in the early ‘80s and was a popular spot for years.
“It was a huge crowd back in the day,” Carriker said. “This was one of the happening places at one time.”
He said in later years no one has had the right vision for the building, but he believes Wilburn has it and will do well.
People who live on the lake would frequently drive their boats to the restaurant in the 1980s and Wilburn said he hopes to bring that back.
“We’ve already had some of the residents stop by to tell us how much fun it was just to be able to drive the boat up,” he said.
Wilburn, originally from Los Angeles, said one of the first things he noticed when he moved his family to Warner Robins 12 years ago was a lack of independent dining options, particularly when it came to breakfast. He has been planning to open a restaurant since 2007, before he even retired, with an eye toward filling that void.
“Right now if we want to have a nice dining experience we drive to Macon,” he said. “We hope to be good enough that people from Macon will drive here.”