As the loud “pings” of aluminum bats sound in the distance, Carol Gregoire takes an order through a window from a mom wanting a pickle and some pickle juice for her toddler.
Carol serves up the pickle in a small foam cup for a dollar. She tells the woman, who’s dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, that she hopes the young one enjoys it.
It’s another Saturday at the ballfields in Dunwoody Park. Carol and her husband, Bill, are working the concession stand, selling hot dogs, chips, candy and, yes, pickles and pickle juice, to baseball players and their family and friends sitting in the stands.
“On a beautiful Saturday or Sunday, we’re out with the community and watching baseball,” Carol said during a lull. “What’s not to like?”
This is not your fancy chef-driven or chain-restaurant concession stand where a hamburger can cost $12 or more, such as the ones at the new SunTrust Park. Carol and Bill, who don’t have an official name for their for-profit concession business, sell sodas and candy bars for $1.25, cheeseburgers for $4 and even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for $2.
Carol is a bookkeeper at Dunwoody Elementary School and Bill drives a bus for the DeKalb County School District. Their daughter, Katherine, 25, is a teacher at Dunwoody High School and occasionally helps out at the stand.
Carol and Bill have been in the concession stand business for some 20 years, beginning at Murphey Candler Park in Brookhaven, where they live. Carol played softball as a girl on the fields there and when her daughter signed up to play, Carol signed up to help.
She began selling snacks and drinks at the Murphey Candler Girls Softball Association games and tournaments with other volunteer parents and did so for about eight years.
When the association decided to get out of the concession business 12 years ago, Carol recruited Bill to run their own literal mom-and-pop business.
Last year, some Murphey Candler leagues decided they wanted local restaurant Café at Pharr to take over the concession business. Carol and Bill thought their other career was over.
Jerry Weiner, president of Dunwoody Senior Baseball, however, had other ideas. He called Carol and asked if she would be willing to take over concessions for their league. “Miss Betty,” who was in her 80s and had run the concession stand business for Dunwoody Senior Baseball for years, was ready to finally retire, Weiner told them.
“So we came and worked with Miss Betty last spring to learn the ropes and decided to do it,” Carol said. “This is on a much smaller scale than at Murphey Candler. It’s much more laid back and definitely something the two of us can do.”
DSB does not charge the Gregoires rent to use the stand, a simple building set up between the two baseball fields at Dunwoody Park. The family purchases the food it sells, marks it up and keeps any profits.
“I wouldn’t say we make a huge amount of money,” she said. “But it is enough to give us extra stuff and to give us nice family vacations. I can see us doing this when we can retire.”
Carol said she takes a simple approach to pricing. She wants a family to be able to eat at the park for around $20 because she knows money is not always a luxury.
“Who wants to pay $30 for a park meal? For that amount, I may as well go to a restaurant and have a margarita,” she said.
“I may sell a drink for $1 and someone else sells it for $2, but I know I am making money on that $1 and that I’m not trying to gouge you,” she added. “I just ask myself, ‘What would we pay if we went out?’”
Over the years, customers have told Carol they wanted healthier food options. She does sell protein bars for $2.50, but attempts to sell items like salads or healthy drinks were largely unsuccessful.
A major reason Carol said she decided to go into the concession business all those years ago was to provide jobs for her son and daughter, who started working at the stand wrapping burgers and working the window in their early teens. Katherine still helps out when she can.
Carol credits the concession stand business for also keeping her and her husband young. They don’t have a cash register and count money in their heads. The children and teens they see at the ball park are many of the same ones they see at their jobs in the school system.
The job is not just candy and sodas, however. The hours are long — especially after putting in a long day at school or driving a bus. Working seven days a week is also not unusual, so rooting for a rain-out is not frowned upon in their household.
“We like rain outs,” Carol said with a grin. “But we also know there will be makeup games.”
Does Carol have a specialty? Some coaches and players tell her she makes a “mean grilled cheese sandwich,” she said.
And when it’s not busy, Bill said he likes to pull up a chair outside and watch a game while working on a crossword puzzle.
“Sometimes we can just enjoy the day,” he said.