The Blue Willow Inn, a Social Circle institution, was busy Friday afternoon, but the amount of customers has declined since the death of owner Louis Van Dyke in late-November and his widow, and current owner, Billie, worries that without more customers, the famous restaurant will close.
In an effort to remind everyone that the Blue Willow had not closed, Van Dyke called a press conference to ask for support. The restaurant is currently protected because of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy but Van Dyke said that the bank - Wells Fargo, formally Wachnovia - has given them an April deadline.
A large part of the Blue Willow's troubles come from the Blue Willow Village that sits behind the iconic landmark. Largely empty, the village was opened by Louis in 2008 and was originally intended to be the home of a religious-themed museum and several retail shops and restaurants. Although pre-leased at near capacity, when the economy began to fail so did the village and would-be tenants backed out. And while the Blue Willow isn't for sale, the Village is, along with several other real estate ventures owned by Van Dyke.
According to former state Sen. John Douglas, who lives in Social Circle, the Blue Willow is becoming active on social networking sites in an effort to remind people they are still around. The restaurant currently has a Facebook page and he is working on helping them set up a Twitter account.
Mayor Jim Burgess said that the Blue Willow has, in the past, drawn over 200,000 people a year and provided up to 100 jobs.
"We are still open, there are still pots on the stove and they're full," said Van Dyke. "But right now we're working on keeping the wolves at bay ... I want people to come and to come hungry."
Opened in 1991 by the Van Dykes, the restaurant was originally called Billie's Blue Willow. Several months after opening columnist Louis Grizzard visited and wrote about the restaurant. The Blue Willow has won multiple awards from Southern Living magazine and is known for its upscale southern cuisine.