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Uncle Jack's Meat House's new Peachtree Corners location opening for reservations on Wednesday

After three years of planning, Willie Degel finally got to host an event at his new Uncle Jack’s Meat House location in Peachtree Corners this past week.

It was a three-night VIP sneak peak meet-and-greet at the restaurant, which will open to the public Wednesday on a reservations only basis. There were sample size versions of the restaurant’s signature dishes as well as drinks and a visit by retired wrestler Ric Flair, who frequently had people coming up to him at the bar to ask if he would pose with them for a photo.

“It’s three years in the making, it’s amazing,” Degel said. “It’s a load off me. I basically came through, every time I do something, I get on a mission. I focus, I lock in and then I have a moment to myself and I pray to God and my father and all the other loved ones I’ve lost and I tell them all, ‘Look what I’ve done. I’ll never stop. I hope I make them all proud.’”

For the time being, the new Uncle Jack’s location will serve dinner crowds on a reservations only basis. Degel said the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to get a full staff so sticking to reservations only for now will help them be able to ensure they can provide quality service.

“We’re going to be open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Degel said. “We’ll go five days, diner-only in the beginning. Then, once we get the staff, we’ll go lunch and dinner seven days, but we need a month or two.”

The new restaurant is located in Peachtree Corners’ Town Center, and is adjacent to that development’s parking deck. It can seat 225 diners and features indoor and patio dining areas.

The approach to this new location is slightly different from the Duluth location because that location was a renovation of an existing space. The Peachtree Corners location is a new space.

“Duluth was a facelift but it still was a huge buildout (and) this one was from the ground up,” Degel said. “It was mud and dirt. I designed the building for the city with the developer and then we built the store from the ground up.”

There is also a 16-seat dining room for private parties at the restaurant. It is named the “Ric Flair Suite” in honor of the former wrestler, who lives in Gwinnett County and is a frequent guest at the original Uncle Jack’s Meat House location in Duluth. The room has 16 seats, all situated around a round table, in a nod to Flair’s 16 championships.

“I’m honored and thrilled,” Flair said of the suite. “He’s been so respectful of me and my career. It’s a great restaurant to begin with, but he’s a great guy. Sometimes the connection is never the same, but you’ve got a great place to go, a great place to hang out, great service, great people behind it and it’s going to be successful.”

Degel said the restaurant also features several menu items that are mainstays at all of his restaurants, such as the Ooey Gooey Mooey Burger.

But, there are also menu items that are specific to the Peachtree Corners location. Some of them are nods to the city’s history, such as “The Duke,” a burger that has a dry-aged meat blend, fresh Georgia peach jam, house-made peanut butter and maple bacon on a brioche bun. It is named for Paul Duke, who is credited as being the “father” of Peachtree Corners and launched a vision in the late 1960s and 1970s to make the then-unincorporated area a technology hotspot.

Other menu items specific to this location — some of which are meant to meet local dining needs rather than be a specific reference to the area and its history — include the Peachtree Salad, the Peachtree Cobb Salad, the Georgia Pecan Waldorf Salad, an Asian Salad, the Seared Tuna Sandwich, a Garden Vegetable Lasagna, Beef Stroganoff, a Crushed Walnut Sweet Potato Mash, Crispy Pork Belly Chicharrons and Swedish Meatballs.

“You do your research,” Degel said. “That’s why it’s called ‘The Duke.’ The Duke owned this whole area — and it wasn’t John Wayne ... We look at what the needs are for the area. We track how much corporate lunch business (or) how many women during the day are going to be coming out after working out or playing tennis and what are they going to looking for.

“That’s why I opened up the chopped salad section for them. I added the tuna salad. Then I look at the diversity of our scratch plates and we have a nice vegan option and beef stroganoff pasta option. So we keep adapting the menu based on the area.”

This is the third Uncle Jack’s Meat House location in metro Atlanta, behind the brand’s original store in Duluth and another location in Roswell.

Degel is also planning an Uncle Jack’s Tavern that will be located in Lawrenceville’s downtown SouthLawn development. Designs have already been approved, but construction was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Lawrenceville restaurant is coming soon, however.

“It starts construction in a couple of weeks,” Degel said.

Reservations for the new Peachtree Corners Uncle Jack’s Meat House location can be made by visiting www.unclejacksmeathousepeachtree.com.

Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson says high 'Gwinnett Standard' must be maintained during COVID-19 pandemic, afterward

Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson devoted her first State of the County speech to maintaining the “Gwinnett Standard.”

The county’s new chairwoman touched on the need to maintain a high standard of excellence, both during the COVID-19 pandemic, and long after it ends. That includes areas such as housing, addressing food insecurity, economic development, transportation and relations between law enforcement and the community as a whole.

“You may not have heard the phrase the ‘Gwinnett Standard,’ but I can guarantee you’ve felt it,” Hendrickson said. “What’s normal here would be amazing almost anyplace else. What’s ordinary in Gwinnett is extraordinary elsewhere.”

Some of the efforts Hendrickson highlighted in her speech are initiatives the commission has already taken on in the last two months, or were started at the tail end of 2020.

Some of those include the ongoing plans to redevelop Gwinnett Place Mall and the former Olympic Tennis Center site, as well as the new Police Citizens Advisory Board that was established in January.

Hendrickson said the Gwinnett County Police Department has held CALEA accreditation — something only 4% of the nation’s more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies hold — since 1993.

“And we can still do better,” Hendrickson said. “We’re committed to listening to our community. So this year, with the support of our leadership, we established a Police Citizens Advisory Board to take feedback from residents and inform future policy.

“And we know the job is more than just responding to crime. It’s about preventing crime, too. Many factors that are linked to crime — factors like poverty, substance abuse, mental health challenges and lack of education — can and should be addressed before a crime is ever committed.”

The chairwoman also said she is “encouraged by the prospect of identifying strong, affordable housing solutions” through the county’s ongoing housing study and that she is excited about an effort to give disadvantaged businesses an opportunity to do business with the county.

“We will employ every strategy available to us to close the racial wealth gap and increase household median income through workforce development and entrepreneurship opportunities,” Hendrickson said. “And, I look forward to people coming from around the world to visit our innovative, groundbreaking research and development sites, like Rowen and the Water Tower.”

Hendrickson’s speech also included a video featuring Commissioners Marlene Fosque, Ben Ku, Kirkland Carden and Jasper Watkins III talking about some of the projects the county has underway to address various issues in the community.

“There are injustices and inequities in our community that we must tackle with the same resolve and standards we use to address challenges like water quality and public safety,” Hendrickson said.

Carden talked about the Gwinnett Entrepreneur Center, which is expected to open this spring in Lawrenceville, as well as the county’s Small Business Assistance Program that was launched last year to help smaller businesses hurt by the pandemic stay open.

Ku talked about the ongoing Interstate 85 Corridor and Bus Rapid Transit studies, and said the county must look at multi-modal options to address Gwinnett’s transit needs. Voters rejected referendums designed to support transit expansion in 2019 and 2020, although last year’s referendum lost by a very narrow margin.

County commissioners are expected to put another referendum on the ballot at some point in either 2022 or 2024 when general election ballots will include a governor’s race and a presidential race, respectively.

“Transit must be part of Gwinnett’s future to keep our progress from grinding to a halt,” Ku said. “Identifying our residents wants and needs is the next step in keeping our county moving forward.”

Watkins talked about the county’s partnership with the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments to open a mass COVID-19 vaccination site in the former Sears at Gwinnett Place Mall. He also said the county needs to work on helping healthcare officials in their efforts to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“We must educate and reassure people of all backgrounds that this vaccine is safe and effective,” Watkins said. “It’s our job to reach people where they are, in their language, and inform them that this vaccine is our best chance to save lives.”

And, Fosque talked about efforts to address homelessness and housing insecurity in the county. She mentioned Project Reset, an effort she and Chief Magistrate Judge Kristina Blum to help families facing eviction during the pandemic stay in their homes by working with property owners.

Hendrickson called on community leaders around the county to become the “standard bearers” in a team effort to help ensure Gwinnett provides quality services to all members of the county’s community.

“The Gwinnett Standard rallies us behind one common purpose — to see this community achieve the remarkable, dynamic success we’ve all grown to expect,” Hendrickson said. “This is a time of need, but it’s also a time of great opportunity. We have fought through a difficult year, and though the journey isn’t over, a new horizon stretches before us.

“Despite the challenges we face, I have never been more hopeful about Gwinnett’s future than I am today. With the Gwinnett Standard of excellence as our foundation we are strong, and we are resilient.”

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GCPS Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks is not seeking contract extension past 2022, prompting school board's conversations about his future

New light is being shed on why Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks’ contract was discussed by the county’s school board on Wednesday, and it appears to be the meeting was the first step in preparing to hire someone to replace him next year.

Wilbanks’ contract to lead the state’s largest school system runs through June 2022, meaning he still has more than a year left as the district’s top administrator. In a statement, Wilbanks said he plans to stay on through the end of his contract — but he is not looking to stay beyond that.

“I have shared that this is my last contract,” Wilbanks said. “I work at the pleasure of the board … should they decide they want me to stay until June 30, 2022, I am prepared to honor my contract.”

Wilbanks’ job security has been the subject of a lot of discussion in recent months with competing petitions, one calling for his firing and one supporting him, circulating in the community. That raised questions about why his contract was up for discussion in executive session at a called meeting this week, sparking fears among some of his supporters beforehand that the board was meeting to fire him.

In addition to his contract, a meeting agenda listed “Superintendent evaluation” and “Leadership Personnel” as items that were to be discussed during the executive session.

The board spent two and a half hours in executive decision, but did not reach any decisions on the items discussed.

“We did not take any action in executive session and will continue conversations over the next several weeks,” board Chairman Everton Blair said as the board came back into open session.

Board members did not say during the meeting why the items concerning Wilbanks were on the agenda. Blair, speaking through District spokeswoman Sloan Roach after the meeting, said he could not comment further on the matter beyond what he said when the board returned to open session.

Roach said Wilbanks told board members in December that he would likely not seek an extension of his contract, which is set to expire in June 2022. Two seats on the board have changed hands since then however, and Roach said Wednesday’s executive session where the contract was discussed was a chance to renew that discussion.

“Having that conversation now means the board will have the time it will need to make decisions and put a plan in place to find his replacement,” Roach said.

Superintendent searches, especially national ones, can take months to complete. Roach said Wilbanks has traditionally notified the board in the September before his contract is set to expire if he plans to seek an extension or not in case a search was necessary.

The school board will have to pick someone to do the search — that could be a local search committee, the Georgia School Boards Association or a private search firm — and come up with a job description, including qualifications and criteria it is looking for.

An advertisement for the position would have to be drafted and published, and then there is an application period followed by a vetting period designed to narrow down finalists that the school board can interview before contract negotiations with a final candidate takes place.

Finally, a new superintendent would be hired after a contract agreement is reached.

When Buford City Schools searched for a replacement for former Superintendent Geye Hamby a couple of years ago, it took nearly half a year to prepare for, begin and complete the process after Hamby resigned in August 2018.

When Clayton County Public Schools was looking for a new superintendent in late 2016 and early 2017, it took nearly seven months to complete that search.

It is possible that laying the groundwork for a search now could allow the school board to hire someone in time for Wilbanks and his successor to go through a transition period.

That’s what Columbia County Schools did when it hired Steve Flynt away from his job as GCPS’ head of school improvement and operations in January to be its new superintendent. Flynt is working with Columbia County’s current, retiring superintendent this spring on a transition, giving him a few months to prepare before he takes over this summer.

Wilbanks has been GCPS’ superintendent since 1996, and he will be in his 80s, or about to enter them, when his current contract is set to expire.

There have been rumors circulating in recent months that the board was about to fire Wilbanks, prompting the competing petitions circulating in the community.

If the school board were to fire Wilbanks before his contract expires, the termination clause of his contract stipulates the board would have to give him 90 days notice of its plans to do so. The board could fire him either with cause, or without it. The district would have to pay him if he is fired without cause.

The amount Wilbanks would have to be paid depends on when he is fired.

If he is fired with more than a year left on his contract, the district would have to pay him the equivalent of one-year’s worth of salary.

If he is fired with less than a year left on his contract, however, the district only has to pay him whatever is left on his contract.

The state’s transparency in government website, open.ga.gov, states Wilbanks was paid $621,036 in fiscal year 2020, which ended last summer. The superintendent’s contract states, however, that his base salary increases on Jan. 1 by the same percentage that the average teacher’s salary increased from the previous fiscal year to the current one.

But, the board could also fire him “for cause” and that section of his contract does not specify how much money, if any, he would be owed.

“If the decision is made for me to leave earlier that is (the board’s) decision to make,” Wilbanks said. “I enjoy coming to work every day and remain committed to serving the students, staff, families, and community of Gwinnett County.”

Victim in early morning fatal shooting on I-85 was Houston-area rapper Chucky Trill

Gwinnett County police are trying to determine why a rapper from the Houston, Texas area was fatally shot in the southbound lanes of Interstate 85 early Friday morning, and are asking witnesses to step forward as they try to identify a suspect.

Cpl. Collin Flynn said Sugar Land, Texas resident Corey “Chucky Trill” Detiege, 33, was shot by an unknown assailant shortly before 3 a.m. near Jimmy Carter Boulevard on I-85. Officers responding to a call about the shooting found a stopped vehicle and Detiege, who had been shot at least once.

Detiege was taken to a local hospital, where he died from his wounds.

“Detectives responded to the scene and began speaking with witnesses,” Flynn said. “There is currently no description of the suspect vehicle. Investigators believe that there may be witnesses to either the shooting or the events leading up to the shooting. Detectives are asking those people to come forward and contact the police department with any information that they have.”

News outlets in Texas are reporting that Detiege was in the Atlanta area for the NBA All-Star Game, which is set to take place Sunday at State Farm Arena.

At this point, police have not yet determined the motive for the shooting so it remains under investigation.

Anyone who has information about the shooting is asked to call detectives at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477. They can also visit www.stopcrimeATL.com. There is a cash reward offered by Crime Stoppers for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.

Tipsters are asked to reference case No. 21-017155.