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Chatting With This Year’s Flagpole Athens Favorites Winners

This year’s Flagpole Athens Favorites winners provide the Classic City with many different types of goods and services, but they all exhibit a certain kind of magic—something that keeps their charmed customers coming back again and again. We spoke with five of this year’s victors to ask what makes their businesses so darn special.

Ryan and Shae Sims, Donna Chang’s (Winner: Favorite Asian Restaurant; Runner Up: Favorite Date Night, Favorite Wine Selection)

FlagpoleIs there one “unicorn” item on your menu that stands out above the rest?

Ryan and Shae Sims: The New York sour. It outsells every other item on any of our menus. It’s a somewhat forgotten classic, but we are thrilled that it caught on. Red wine and bourbon aren’t usually friends, but this drink is the exception.

FPWhat’s the most magical thing about Donna Chang’s?

RSS: The magic of our restaurant comes from our version of hospitality, executed by our amazing front-of-house and back-of-house staff. We always strive to be different and excellent without sacrificing empathetic warmth, delicious and well-sourced food and a first-class experience.

FPAre there any secret menu items that regulars can order?

RSS: We have a version of our boiled wontons that include adding our peanut sauce all over them. Definitely a comfort food. Besides that, we always have a few different hot sauces and chile pastes kicking around.

FPWhat is your favorite Athens restaurant besides Donna Chang’s?

RSS: There are far too many to single out one as our favorite. We think Athens is one of the very best food cities in the South. We will say that catching a Liverpool or Atlanta United match at The Royal Peasant with a pint of Guinness and some fish and chips is one of the greatest pleasures in town.

FPWhat is the secret to running a business that the people of Athens consider a favorite?

RSS: We try to be as genuine as we can. When you walk in to our restaurant, it is an extension of our home. We think of it as hosting a big dinner party every night of the week. Hopefully, that translates into something that is loved by our community.


Photo Credit: Savannah Cole

Peter Dale

Peter Dale, Maepole (Winner: Favorite New Restaurant, Favorite Take Out; Runner Up: Favorite Vegetarian Options)

Flagpole: Is there one “unicorn” item on your menu that stands out above the rest?

Peter Dale: The crunchies. They’re lesser known, but once someone tries them, they get hooked. Crunchies are a magical mixture of seeds with spices and agave. Add them over the top of any Maepole plate and get crunch, flavor and all the health benefits of seeds, including fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.

FP: What’s the most magical thing about Maepole?

PD: The magic of any successful business is the people. We’ve been so lucky at Maepole, and at all my businesses, to have assembled a fantastic team who each bring something unique. It truly has been awesome to get to know them, work side by side and watch them grow.  

FP: What is your favorite Athens restaurant besides Maepole?

PD: I find myself at Donna Chang’s and home.made a lot. Over the years, I have worked with the owners/chefs of both spots and think they’re great cooks and awesome people.  

FP: What is the best and worst thing about running a restaurant in Athens?

PD: Best: Athenians are so loyal and supportive of local businesses, especially the food scene. Worst: While much better than in the past, Athens is still pretty seasonal, meaning some quiet weeks in July.  

FP: Is there anything you wish you could serve but don’t think people would buy?

PD: My Mom is from Ecuador, and in the Andes region of Ecuador, the specialty is roasted or fried “cuy” (aka guinea pig). I don’t see that being a big seller in Athens anytime soon.  

FP: What do you think is the secret to running a business that the people of Athens consider a favorite?

PD: It’s great when someone walks in your door for the first time, but it’s even better when they come back. Make sure those people know they’re appreciated.  


Photo Credit: Savannah Cole

Blind Pig Tavern

Rob White, Blind Pig Tavern (Winner: Favorite Wings; Runner Up: Favorite Trivia)

Flagpole: How did you come up with the restaurant’s name?

Rob White: A blind pig was a place that served alcohol illegally during prohibition. I also thought we could do a lot with it in regards to T-shirts, etc. [Really, I] just liked the name.

FP: Is there one “unicorn” item on your menu that stands out above the rest?

RW: We sell pretty much a lot of everything. But I’d say we’re really known for our fried pickles.

FP: What is your favorite Athens restaurant besides Blind Pig?

RW: Kelly’s Jerk and Tlaloc.

FP: What is the secret to running a business that the people of Athens consider a favorite?

RW: Good product, good service, good atmosphere. Have a place people like being at.


Photo Credit: Savannah Cole

First American Bank and Trust

Julie Denton, First American Bank and Trust (Winner: Favorite Bank)

Flagpole: Is banking in Athens any different than banking at your other locations?

Julie Denton: No one will argue Athens is a unique place, and we are proud to [have been] a part of it for 90 years and counting. All of our locations have things that make them different, but one common thread is a strong sense of community.

FP: What’s the most magical thing about First American Bank and Trust?

JD: The most magical thing about First American is every employee brings a special something which sets us apart. We rely on each other to be the best we can be, and bring the best to our community every day. It is a great place to work, and a testament to this is return employees. People leave to start a family, move or try another career path, but so many come back. You could say we cast a spell.

FP: Has there ever been a strange request from a customer to a teller?

JD: We do get some unique requests, but Athens, as mentioned, is a unique place. We do our best to accommodate our customers within FDIC guidelines.

FP: What are the best and worst things about running a business in Athens?

JD: The best thing is seeing our friends and neighbors in our branches every day. We are here to support you in good times and bad. The worst thing is we do have close relationships with our customers, and if they struggle, we feel it. We work closely with them to get through it, and offer solutions, support and heart.


Photo Credit: Savannah Cole


Amanda Crook, Pawtropolis (Winner: Favorite Pet Boarding/Sitting Service)

Flagpole: What is your favorite part of running Pawtropolis?

Amanda Crook: The difference we make in people’s lives. Yes, we care for the animals, but in doing so, we are actually serving their owners. We honor each person by caring for an animal that they treasure. Clients are able to handle events in their own lives without the added stress of worrying about their pet. They may be at work, going to school, on a vacation or even suffering something negative, like a family loss or hospital trip. I also love that Pawtropolis is able to pay people for hard, honest work. We are supporting moms, dads, families, college students and more. The money that passes through from the client to our staff continues to make a difference in both their lives and in the community.

But really… puppy kisses.

FP: Is there anything magical about Pawtropolis?

AC: Pawtropolis itself is magical! I believe that pets are God’s love wrapped in furry packages, and we get to have two buildings full!

FP: Looking back from when you first opened to now, is there anything you would change?

AC: When I first opened, people in Athens were like, “Why in the world would I bring a dog to day care?” Now, people say they couldn’t have a pet without us. From the beginning, the Athens community has supported me. I opened straight out of college at only 23 years old… I started my dream by asking my Memorial Park dog park friends, “Hey, what do you think about this idea?” And now, I am constantly amazed by what Pawtropolis has become. Thanks, Athens!

FP: What is the strangest customer request you’ve ever received?

AC: We had one favorite client that, for lunch, enjoyed warm oatmeal. We were happy to oblige.

FP: What is the secret to running a business that the people of Athens consider a favorite?

AC: We love the Athens community. We strive to be good neighbors and provide services that our community wants and needs. As I always say, we love people by serving their pets.