The influx of Adventists to Atlanta is a boon for the city’s economy. Estimates put the financial impact of the 59th General Conference Session at some $80 million, including $6 million for use of the Georgia Dome and adjacent Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), which is hosting the session.
Restaurants near the Georgia Dome have been creative in catering to Adventists’ culinary preferences by promoting an array of vegetarian eats.
Great Wraps in the CNN Center has offered a selection of vegetarian wraps to supplement its meat options. A cashier at the Mediterranean eatery guessed that approximately 90% of his business this week has been selling veggie foods. A Taco Bell vendor reported selling mostly vegetarian foods as well. Indeed, all across Atlanta’s downtown, vendors are capitalizing on Adventist crowds. Veggie hotdog stands have popped up everywhere.
However, having Adventists in town isn’t all good news for Atlanta’s businesses.
Mark Geiger, Associate Director of Communications and Marketing for the GWCC confirmed in a phone conversation with SPECTRUM that the General Conference management asked Starbucks to shut its doors.
Initially, the coffee retailer had been open for business, and owing to its proximity to the conference exhibit hall, received steady business. Then, mysteriously, after the first weekend of the General Conference Session, Starbucks stood shuttered. The shop’s abrupt closure fueled numerous rumors among exhibitors and conference attendees.
Some, noting that the closure coincided roughly with incoming president Ted Wilson’s election, suggested that Wilson was responsible. Others said that enough Adventists had complained to Starbucks—some versions of the story even had GC attendees picketing the establishment—that the retailer decided to shut its doors. According to another rumor, General Conference management paid Starbucks what it would have lost in wages in order to shut it down.
There are two Starbucks outlets inside the GWCC—the now-closed location in building C of the Congress Center, and another far on the other end of the expansive World Congress Center in building A. The Starbucks in building A (which opens into building B) has remained open for business throughout the GC Session. Rajmund Dabrowski, director of communication for the General Conference, told SPECTRUM that because the General Conference rented only buildings B and C, the church cannot control concessions in building A.
Geiger clarified rumors by noting first that the GC management did ask that Starbucks in Building C be closed for the duration of the GC Session, and suggested that caffeinated beverages were the reason. Geiger denied that Starbucks received any remuneration for closing its doors. He noted that the GWCC wanted to keep its customer (the GC) happy.
Sheri Clemmer, associate meeting planner for the GC Session, did not respond, by the time of publication, to several requests for comment.
Thursday morning, reports began coming in that the church had also forced a menu change in the Terraces Restaurant, the exclusive dining facility serving the GC inside the World Congress Center. A cashier in the restaurant, located in building B, revealed that General Conference management had asked Terraces to stop serving beef hamburgers. Before Thursday, the restaurant had served both beef and vegetarian patties.
Caffeinated beverages are still available inside the GWCC. A vending machine sells Coca Cola products, some of which contain caffeine. In addition, the Starbucks in building A remains open, though business is relatively sluggish, according to workers in that locale.
Sports bars and grills surrounding the Congress Center are also doing less business with the Adventists in town. Dantanna's, a steak, seafood and spirits restaurant in the CNN Center directly across from the GWCC, has seen its sales dip. The restaurant’s bar has sat empty this week, and steaks and seafood have failed to attract the mostly vegetarian visitors who have taken over Atlanta’s downtown. Luckily, coverage of the FIFA World Cup, which Dantanna's has promoted aggressively, has helped to win back some customers.