Two-hundred Minutes in … Cumming’s Vickery Village

written by Colleen Ann McNally | photography courtesy of VICKERY VILLAGE | THINK CREATIVE EDGE; PINSPIRATION; CHERRY STREET BREWING CO-OP; COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY

I HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT VICKERY. 
Despite our offices being a whopping 10 minutes away, truth be told, it’d been years since I’d visited. This microcosm of culture is a master-planned community of high-end homes, restaurants, shops and schools, amid horse country just a few minutes west of exit 12 off Georgia 400. My delight in rediscovering it probably has something to do with the fact that I’ve grown as much as it has.

As a daughter of an interior designer, I spent a fair bit of time in or surrounded by beautiful homes. Toting along with my mom on an occasional appointment might have been something I whined about at the time, but in hindsight, I can fondly reach back and browse a mental catalogue of striking sites she worked on, including properties in Vickery.

At that age, I didn’t covet their charming brick facades or porch steps lit by standing glass lanterns. The Chill Hill, a seasonally operated ice cream shop in the center of Vickery Village and its short walking distance to the surrounding families, however, didn’t go unnoticed.

The village’s shape resembles an amphitheater’s audience, and in the middle, The Chill Hill is flanked on all sides by common space and the Forsyth County YMCA, as well as shops, restaurants and offices at street level, with more businesses and apartments on the stories above. Together, they comprise a 200,000-square-foot, mixed-use development where residents could “live, work and play” before these terms had become part of Atlanta’s common lexicon.

But then, like many projects during last decade’s recession, progress halted. Some doors shuttered. And I, as I suspect many folks who reside outside the Cumming circle, forgot about the Village — until now. 

A PLACE TO MAKE YOUR OWN

In the window of one vacant space, colorful balloons and words scripted in blue paint herald a change. “Really Really Good Things Are Coming Soon,” it tells me. The calligraphed sentiment was written by the people behind Pinspiration, a do-it-yourself Pinterest inspired “makerspace” and full-service beer/wine bar. After huge success in Phoenix, Ariz., founder and CEO Brooke Roe chose to expand and sent her sister Tiffany Frick to open the first franchise. 

“Vickery Village is the perfect fit for Pinspiration,” Roe said. “We were looking 30 for a space that would inspire, and we can’t wait to get creative with our new neighbors. We love the surrounding area, the beautiful center and the strong sense of community we feel here.” Roe’s concept sounds slap-yourself-simple, as in you’ll wish you had thought of it first. Pinspiration makes use of Pinterest as a tool to select the arts and crafts projects that are trending now. Whether with your kids, your girl gang or for a playful date night, each customer can choose from a constantly changing list of preassembled project kits of his or her choice and follow iPad tutorials to work at their own pace, whether in the studio or ordered to-go.

When it officially opens later this spring, the venue includes spaces you can reserve, including a VIP party room. Personally, I can’t wait to visit the Jackson Pollock-esque splatter room where customers go to literally sling paint at canvases and each other while making a messy masterpiece.

But, what’s the connection between Phoenix and Cumming? Both are places where Russ Scaramella, one of the partners of Vickery Village Communities, Inc – new ownership since July 2016 – spends a lot of time.

“Atlanta has always held a special place in my heart and I have embraced the community both personally and professionally,” Scaramella said. “As a current investor in various real estate projects, we saw a tremendous opportunity and potential in Vickery Village. We knew we could bring to the table our background and experience to take [the area] to the next level. We are frequent customers of Vickery and love the uniquely designed community and its businesses, which was a very motivating factor for us. It felt right for us to get involved and enhance our role by becoming more aware of what is needed there.” 

Initial improvements included substantial capital investments on the property including the installation of artificial turf and pavers in the Village Courtyard area, improvements in landscaping, drainage and external power, as well as other property repairs and upgrades. The Courtyard has since played host to philanthropic initiatives such as Lily’s Run, the communitywide Trunk or Treat event and a food drive in partnership with Meals by Grace to benefit Forsyth County families in need. Scaramella’s role has also involved personally recruiting tenants — case in point, Pinspiration.

“For those that have been to Vickery Village in the past, we welcome you back and will continue to exceed your expectations,” Scaramella said. “For those that have yet to visit, we welcome you in and look forward to creating a memorable time for you, your friends and your family. We want people to understand that by coming to Vickery Village, you are helping to support local businesses, which is important to the community, as well as the charities we support.”

It was this shared vision that hooked Frick to relocate for a new venture and considering Pinspiration’s confidence in Vickery Village’s next act, I believe their notion that goodness is just around the bend. So, I kept exploring. pinspiration.com

ANOTHER PINT OF PUSHING BOUNDARIES

Anchoring one end of the Village is Rick Tanner’s Grille & Bar, an upbeat family friendly watering hole that has withstood the test of time, despite the tide of changes surrounding it. 

Many Northsiders have tasted Tanner’s Original Rotisserie Grill, which dates back to 1986 and is a popular stop in Suwanee for those headed to and from Lake Lanier. The same clan is responsible for good eats with a neighborly feel here. In fact, Tanner is a resident in Vickery and his children, Nick and Alisa, have expanded their family’s footprints with Forsyth County’s first brewpub: Cherry Street Brewing Cooperative and Taproom.

Adjacent to the restaurant, the award-winning Cherry Street has one of the largest selections of any brewery or brewpub in the state. There’s an average of 28 on tap and while many offerings are seasonal repeats or experimental exclusives, the year-round line-up includes, for example, The Dirty Frenchman (a French-style Saison with Farmhouse yeast) and Chief Suwanee’s Stash Coconut Porter (a robust, London-style pour unlike most dark beers you’ve tried).

Why a co-op? In short, it all stems back to community: to establish and bring together like-minded people, and to brew the beer that people want to drink. With a handful of accolades from local and national competitions, Cherry Street’s impression is about to get larger — as in twice the size of their current brewing operations with retail space to accommodate their growing popularity.

To learn more and sample a flight for yourself, take a brewery tour on Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. The Taproom also contains a full bar with craft cocktails, a sophisticated whiskey and bourbon selection, a balanced wine menu and snacks/tapas.

Thanks to Forsyth County’s new open-container law, when the weather is nice, the kids can keep playing in the Courtyard while you finish a pint and a game of chess in front of Anthony Gallery. It’s a little like Mayberry, but instead of an ice-cold cherry Coke, you’d be more likely to be sipping on a Cherry Limeade Berliner Weisse. cherrystreetbrewing.com; cherrystreettaproom.com

DEEP ROOTS

So, you get the idea — you could truly spend a day here. But if you’re on a tight schedule (and who isn’t?), then make a reservation at Branchwater for dinner. Opposite the courtyard from The Chill Hill awaits this under-the-radar gem from Chef Todd Hogan.

Hogan’s résumé runs deep, although many of us have only just begun to take notice of his culinary perspective, following the opening of Branch and Barrel in Alpharetta’s Avalon. He’s a graduate of the esteemed Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, has cooked at the James Beard House in New York and consulted on projects across metro Atlanta. He owned Indigo in Roswell before it burned down; he has since revived the concept in Milton as an upscale and swanky modern-American dinner club that’s making its own splash.

Not unlike Cherry Street’s co-op philosophy or Scaramella’s community-first focus, Hogan employed a flexible, trial-and-error approach after opening Branchwater as a fine-dining steakhouse. After listening to feedback from locals, waiters swapped sport coats for denim shirts, but the quality of neither food nor service has faltered.

“The place with the really good Brussels sprouts?” my friend asked enthusiastically when I mentioned my plans to dine. She wasn’t the first to tip me off; Frick admitted that after trying them, she has had dreams about them.

When I finally sat down for the anticipated meal, my party of two let our waiter take the wheel, and he didn’t steer us wrong. The first plate to arrive on the table was a heaping pile of the crispy greens, dressed with housemade bacon and maple vinaigrette. The second dish was the bourbon barrel smoked salmon, served with spicy remoulade and warm flatbread. It was love at first bite and from there, I knew I was in for a satisfying meal — a delicious promise on which the courses didn’t disappoint. My favorite? The palm-seared ahi tuna and gingered lo mein noodles, plated playfully with a familiar take-out box spilling out Asian slaw.

Finally, because our seasoned waiter divulged proudly that he is engaged to the pastry chef, we ordered not one, but two delectable desserts. facebook.com/branchwatervickery

LIVE, WORK, PLAY PHILOSOPHY

Walking — more like waddling — back to the car, I took in one more 360-view of the village, noting places like The Flower Post and Village Italian that would require a return visit, not to mention the allure of other doors opening soon.

One concept hatching this month is Nido Café, a place for coffee, tapas and chocolate modeled after the Spanish dining experience. With a back porch that overlooks the Courtyard, its location inspired its name — the Spanish word for nest — as much as the owner’s desire to become a sanctuary for you and your friends.

Before I could drive away from Vickery Village, I followed the road upward to where the residences are tucked away and got lost on purpose, turning down street after street of designer homes. Now seeing it with new, older eyes, I soaked in all the thoughtful touches — and the few for-sale signs and lots under construction, as I once again entertained the idea of living steps from an ice cream shop.

“Vickery is captivating — most don’t leave the community unless it’s job-related,” said Bob Komar, of Keller Williams Realty, The Komar Team. “We’ve moved three times within the neighborhood, which isn’t unusual; many residents move within Vickery to upsize, downsize or simply to better match their family needs to another home’s features.”

“Vickery’s lifestyle is unique, relaxing and appealing, and works to get residents socially together in the truest spirit of ‘community,’” Komar added.

After all, it’s who you’re with, not where you are that makes all the difference. But don’t take our word for it. Spend 200 minutes there, and you might find that’s not quite enough. vickeryvillageshops.com