Pros and Cons: Atlanta restaurants pulling out all the stops for Dragon Con's 60,000 attendees

Sci-fi enthusiasts dressed as Star Wars characters march past onlookers during the Dragon-Con Parade through downtown Atlanta, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006.

JOHN AMIS / Associated Press

While the hallways of Peachtree Center Mall are quiet on an early Friday morning, the kitchen of one of the center’s vendors — Firehouse Subs — is bursting with high energy, occasional banter and the completion of various food preparations.

Within minutes, large quantities of meat are sliced and stored, trays of chocolate chip cookies are baked and wrapped, and the inventory for the latest food supply shipments are signed off and sealed.

The high volume of items and fast-paced movement of team members signals the near beginning of a high-profile event that many Atlanta-based entrepreneurs, employees and vendors have been preparing for months to conquer — Dragon Con 2022.

Returning to full capacity after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual five-day convention, which is to be held concurrently with Atlanta Black Pride and The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, is expected to bring in a whopping 60,000 visitors into the city.

For many downtown restaurants, bars, and quick service operations, the heat is on — both figuratively and literately.

‘They not only get to know Atlanta, they get to know us.”

Ahmet Toker, owner – Metro Cafe Diner

“We need folks back in the city and this is a great event because it brings in so many,” said Grant Rohletter, co-proprietor of Firehouse Subs Peachtree Center with his brother and business partner Clint. “Our goal is to sell as many sandwiches as possible.”

While the year has been slightly unpredictable in customer volume, Rohletter and his team are eager at the chance to reach closer towards the financial numbers of 2019 Dragon Con sales.

Firehouse Subs Peachtree Center co-owner Grant Roheltter (left) and General Manager Gene Way (right) anticipate Dragon Con to be their busiest and most financially lucrative weekend of 2022. The Dragon Con staff consists of seven employees of the Peachtree Center location, as well as employees from participating Firehouse locations franchised by Roheltter. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

“We start prepping weeks in advance and luckily we’ve got several years under our belt, so we’ve got a pretty decent idea on what to order up and how to staff up,” he said. “This one is a little bit trickier. This one is supposed to be back to normal, but we’re not totally sure. It’s still a bit of a guessing game.”

Gene Way, Firehouse Subs Peachtree’s general manager, began preparing orders for food and sanitation deliveries nearly two months in advance, with most items doubled in quantity.

“I plan on going through 60 cases of medium white bread … ordering at least 60 cases of turkey throughout the whole thing” he said. “That’s just a piece of our inventory … let your imagination go from there. It’s about four weeks’ worth of work in four days.”

Across the corridor from Firehouse, Caribou Coffee manager Fletcher Mattern makes similar preparations, coordinating scheduling with his staff and checking last-minute inventory.

As a special promotion for Dragon Con, Caribou Coffee has created specialty beverages to be sold during the event, themed to potions from classic video games. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

“A lot of it comes down to logistics, making sure that you have a product on hand…stuff that people are going to want to buy, not too much but not too little,” he said.

Mattern noted that the increase in tourism had helped to bring back stability to his business as well as many others.

“Without the conventions coming into town you wouldn’t have been able to even afford rent,” he said.

“Last year was much more of a COVID year, there was a huge cap on the number of people who were allowed to come. We’ll probably see around 17,000 of them pass throughout Thursday to Monday. I wouldn’t say we’re back to normal as far as business goes, but I would say we’re not in the ‘red’ anymore.”

“A lot of people are coming in and they not only get to know Atlanta, but they get to know us,” said Ahmet Toker, co-owner of Metro Cafe Diner, a 24-hour bar and restaurant located downtown.

“It’s going to be twice as much as far as sales go than what we usually do … I’m really excited,” he said. “We just want to be busy all day long and all night.”


Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many business owners have found that the greater challenges are not in how they are going to feed the estimated crowds, but in who is going to serve them.

“Staffing has been an ongoing issue since reopening Late 2020,” said Alexandra Dixon, general manager of Meehan’s Public House, a nostalgia-based Irish pub. “We have been able to cover our staffing measures by changing our procedures over the last two years to accommodate crowds of all sizes.”

“Employee habits have changed,” said Toker. “It’s become harder to hire people and keep them long enough. It’s a lot harder to get them back to work and on their feet.”

Metro Cafe Diner hostess Divine Olowu reviews seating reservations for incoming patrons. (Kenny Murry/ WABE)

Most establishments have experienced a drastic loss of employees since 2020, with many such as Metro Cafe Diner, taking on seasonal staffers to assist with the heavy workload.

For years, Firehouse Peachtree Center has relied on the help of employees from neighboring franchises to work the five-day event, three times the number of normal staff.

Although it is a smaller team compared to previous years, Edna Jeffries, a shift manager and eight-year Dragon Con veteran, is confident in her team’s abilities.

“We want to make sure that our staff is up to par,” she said. “Now we are short-staffed, but we still gone get it. We’re going to give it 100%.”

Firehouse Subs crew members work together to prepare meals during an afternoon “lunch rush” for hungry patrons. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

“At the end of July, all through August, we’re hiring and training … we try to train at least a month out,” Mattern said. “If they don’t know what Dragon Con is or haven’t seen it before, I like to explain it to them so they can have an idea of what they’re in for.”

A crucial aspect that all of the business managers and owners interviewed agreed on is effective communication amongst staff helps to take the stress away from team members and long wait times away from guests.

“We still gone get it … we’re going to give it 100%”

Edna Jeffries, shift manager – Firehouse Subs Peachtree Center

“The most fun is being able to successfully move the line, to turn the team into a well-oiled machine where we are producing and creating, and there’s a nonstop rotation of order, make, produce,” Mattern said. “The most important thing is for everybody to know their positions … that they are 100% confident that they can be there, and that they can take these orders.”

One of the most important responsibilities performed by Meehan’s staff members is ensuring sanitary precautions to assure that both guests and staff remain in good health.

“On a daily basis, we sanitize all items used by guests constantly,” Dixon said. “We ensure tables are sanitized fully between uses and other contact surfaces. We have hand sanitizer dispensers mounted and placed throughout the pub … as well as more eco-friendly disposable products to prevent reuse.” 


Despite the breakneck preparations and last-minute challenges, there is still much more than the potential revenue growth that proprietors and their employees anticipate seeing.

“Since it is such a really hectic, and sometimes overwhelming experience, it’s really important to make your team feel excited for it,” Mattern said. “As a team, we’re all enjoying each other. It’s important to get them involved and make sure they are having a fun time.”

Another saving grace for many of the proprietors and employees working throughout Dragon Con is having a front row seat to all of the activities that occur throughout the weekend, from the Saturday morning parade to interacting with a sea of creative cosplayers.

“I like to see the costumes, the people, the parade,” said Jeffries. “I just like the excitement and to run out and take pictures.”

“Just to be here in the middle of Dragon Con is a sight for itself, a hoot and a half,” said Way. “Especially Dragon Con during nighttime, it can turn into a pretty wild affair. It’s a pretty funny environment; just make sure not to bring your kids.”

At Meehan’s, Dixon allows her staff to take their love of the event one step further.

“Our staff loves the atmosphere created by the Dragon Con attendees,” she said. “We allow the staff to dress up along with them for the event days to partake in the fun.”

“Make your team feel excited for it … make sure they are having a fun time!”

Fletcher Mattern, general manager – Caribou Coffee Peachtree Center

In her experience working Dragon Con weekend the previous year, Caribou team member Kylie Svymansky noted that what left a strong impression on her were not the costumes, but the attitudes of many customers.

“They are always so sweet,” she said. “They always see how busy we are but are still so patient with us, and will crack jokes with us. They are always super playful.”

Caribou Coffee team member Kylie Syvmansky creates artwork to promote the business during Dragon Con festivities. (Kenny Murry/WABE)

And whether you are going to be behind the counter or ordering from the counter this weekend at Dragon Con, Syvmansky offers this reminder.

“Get a full night’s sleep beforehand,” she said. “It’s going to be a long day but you’ll get through it and make a lot of really good memories.”

However, if you are behind the counter, sitting back to take in the weekend’s events may not last for long.

“After the next one, you start thinking about the following one,” said Way. “It takes about a year to mentally prepare for it.”