Photo by Valerie Baldowski
Restaurateur Diane Walker (standing) checks on customers, Brenda Pulliam (from left), Roslyn Sprayberry, Lynda Masters and Judy Vance, during their lunch. The women are regular customers at AJ's Turkey Grill in McDonough.
In the culinary world of burger joints, pizza parlors and sandwich shops, AJ's Turkey Grill is in a category all its own.
The restaurant, located at 1320 McDonough Parkway in McDonough, is tucked away behind a car wash that faces Jonesboro Road, near a drug store and a grocery store. The eatery is managed and owned by Tuscaloosa, Ala., native Diane Walker, who named the restaurant after her nephew, Andrew Robinson, Jr., known as "AJ."
Before going into the restaurant business, Walker was an accounting specialist for Georgia Power. After a number of years, she said working in "corporate America" was less than fulfilling, so she moved her career in a different direction.
Most of her menu items are turkey based. Choices include turkey burgers, turkey club sandwiches, turkey wraps, turkey Philly sandwiches and turkey Polish sausage. There is also turkey pot roast, turkey taco salad, and turkey Cajun jambalaya.
The idea to open a restaurant focusing primarily on turkey came from her own health concerns.
"I do not eat red meat," she said. "Because of my cholesterol and high blood pressure, my doctor recommended I eat healthier."
On Friday, some of her customers raved about their meals.
"I love hot dogs, and they have the best hot dogs anywhere," said Roslyn Sprayberry, of Stockbridge. "I get one just about every time, and their sweet potato fries, you can't beat them."
Sprayberry was joined by Judy Vance, Lynda Masters and Brenda Pulliam for their weekly lunch. All are regulars who have frequented the restaurant since its opening in mid-2008.
Sprayberry said they have lunch at AJ's every Friday, the same day they meet to play Canasta together.
"No matter what you order, it's always good," she said. "I've tried the barbecue, and it was very good. I've [also] tried their plain hot dogs, and their slaw dogs."
Masters, a Locust Grove resident, said AJ's caters to her specific dietary needs, and that Walker has the kitchen staff specially prepare meals for her, upon request.
"I have to stay away from wheat and gluten," said Masters. "I have to be careful, and they always are very good about checking ingredients to make sure that I get everything I need, and nothing I don't need."
Pulliam, who had just finished a barbecue sandwich, also has special dietary needs.
"I had to ask what was in the sauce, and they were very nice to check on that for me, to make sure I could eat it," the Stockbridge resident said.
Pulliam tries a different menu item each time she dines at the eatery.
"The last time I came, I got a wonderful salad, and it's always too much to eat," she said.
Across the dining room, Joseph Cunningham and Kimberly Strickland were digging into turkey burgers.
Cunningham said the restaurant's sign, which sports a muscular turkey holding up a sandwich, drew him in for the first time. The McDonough resident gave AJ's a thumbs up.
"The food is great [and] I love it," said Cunningham. "What I like about it is, it's healthy."
Strickland, an Ellenwood resident, said she recently earned a nutritionist's degree online, from Kaplan University.
"I'm not a big advocate of red meat, but turkey meat is pretty healthy and lean, on whole wheat bread," said Strickland, a first-time customer. "I don't feel guilty. I can still get my burger."
Walker opened her restaurant in an inconspicuous spot based on finances.
After presenting her business plan for a restaurant to a local bank to request start-up capital, she said she was turned down. The reason, Walker said, was that the bank did not feel a restaurant with the concept of a turkey-based menu was a good business risk.
"I had to use my own savings to find something within my budget," she said. "It was right at $100,000. This was the most economical choice."
In November, the restaurant was featured in a major, national newspaper, Walker said.
"That day, some judges and attorneys came by, and told me they didn't even know I was here until they read the story," she said.