By J.D. Moor
You’re cruising through north Buckhead’s expansive, expensive, contemporary neighborhoods. Up ahead is the crossroads with Sandy Springs. Suddenly, there’s a rustic, anachronistic landmark – a lone, commercial enterprise catches your eye.
You’ve intersected with Northside Drive and Mount Paran Road, where this antique destination survives in the present. It’s the Mount Paran Country Store, where folks come to gas up, eat up and cheer up.
One recent day, floral designer Britt Wood was filling up his SUV there. “They’re always very nice and grateful for your business. I like the charm and convenience of it,” he said.
Step inside, and one sees how the 1906 façade belies a plain convenience store stocked with a smattering of food, drinks and supplies, plus one very popular feature – a hot grill deli.
“It’s the fresh burgers, biscuits and BLTs that keep customers coming back,” said owner Pete Chevallier, who runs the place with his wife, Jan. They’ve owned the place for about 10 years. “That’s what they rave about the most. Thirty-five percent of our business is lunch, and we could triple that if we just had the parking,” Pete said.
A regular customer, Angie Hoyt, interrupted. “Diet Coke’s out,” she said, and Pete broke away to refill the soda fountain.
“I come every day for a Diet Coke and a banana,” Hoyt said. “This place is much better now that Pete’s running it.”
Jan greeted another customer who was coming in. “Hey, good morning! How ya doin’?”
Jan then dished out a serving of history on the place. “Mr. Norman had it as a farmhouse in 1906,” she said. “Folks would pick up their mail from him, but he got tired of them helping themselves to his coffee and food when they came over. So he started selling to them instead, and he made more money than he did farming.
“That’s the original farmhouse fireplace over there,” she said, pointing toward an interior wall in the store.
The Buckhead Heritage Society recognizes the store’s uniqueness. “The Mount Paran Country Store is one of the earliest buildings that still exists in Buckhead, and is a wonderful visual reminder of our rural roots and a time when the country store was at the heart of community life,” said Executive Director Erica Danylchak.
Pete Chevallier said business has been bouncing back lately. “2007 was our best year yet. We make a little on our ‘private label’ gas, so we’re hangin’ in there,” he said.
From the cash register, Jan Chevallier hollered to her husband, “Make sure you tell him about the movie!” Apparently, Hollywood crews just used the store for scenes in the upcoming film, “A Friggin’ Christmas Miracle,” featuring Robin Williams.
The store plays a role in real kids’ lives too. Jan told a story about one boy who credits the store with changing his life. “Decades ago, he got caught stealing some bubble gum by Mr. Norman. He was so scared and upset, he swore never to get in trouble again. He became a lawyer and a judge. He’s now one of our best customers.”
Some parents bring their kids in for a reward of treats and candy on Friday afternoons. “It’s a tradition around here, and we can tell who’s gotten A’s and who hasn’t done so well in school that week,” Jan Chevallier said.
Also, the store gets in the spirit every Halloween and Christmas. Valerie Thompson of Sandy Springs reminisced, “Our son always loved the decorations there during the holiday season. It is very quaint.”
A customer on her way out of the store yelled into the kitchen. “Hey Lavern!” The woman working the grill answered, “Hey sweetie. How’s your mama feelin’ these days?” Pete was back working in the kitchen too, as he introduced Lavern Moses. “She’s our secret weapon. It’s her cooking and her chili that keeps them all coming back,” he said. Lavern shared her secret. “The only way to cook is to season – not too much, but you gotta put taste on it,” she said.
There’s no doubt that the country store has a flavor all its own. “We just love interacting with all the people,” Pete said.
And Jan is just as happy. “This is our dream come true,” she said. “It’s our retirement plan to run a mom and pop store.”