The question of who is to blame for the failure of Dunwoody dining spot The Hall at Ashford Lane after just a month in business is still a mystery, but it may be as simple as looking at the financial history of its owner, Jamal Wilson.
Of Wilson’s food hall projects that were either in the concept stage or those that reached fruition, only one remains open – and that location is currently operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Rough Draft did a survey of the properties that Wilson controlled since 2017, and found, through court filings and news reports, that three of his ventures failed and several proposed projects never got off the ground.
The Hall on Mag opened in August 2022 in New Orleans and closed in December that same year. The Hall on Franklin in Tampa opened in 2017 and closed in 2020.
The Hall on the Yard opened in 2021 in Orlando and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January 2023.
The Facebook page for The Hall on the Yard remains active, with the last post on July 8 touting some of its menu offerings. In the “About” section, it invites readers to “check out our other locations, including – The Hall at Midtown (Tampa), The Hall on Central (St. Petersburg), The Hall at Ashford Lane (Atlanta), and The Hall at Capital View (Tennessee).” Most of the pages have not been updated since 2021 and contain very little information.
The Hall at Ashford Lane in Dunwoody opened in late May of this year and was closed by July 5. The location, with nine food stalls and reportedly housing Georgia’s largest bar, opened to great fanfare on May 26 and abruptly ceased operations on July 5.
Several ex-employees accused managers of firing most of its staff and replacing them with undocumented workers. The former employees say Wilson still owes them thousands of dollars in back wages, even though he told Rough Draft on July 9 that they were “being paid as we speak.”
According to news reports and court filings, Wilson gave various explanations for the failure of each of the locations – the pandemic, unanticipated tenant buildout costs, space limitations, and in the case of The Hall at Ashford Lane, “some financial difficulty.”
Most of the now-unemployed staff members said the blame lies squarely on Wilson, including hiring people who were unqualified, workers who reported to work incapacitated on a regular basis, and managers who provided little communication or leadership to the ill-trained staff.
Kilolo Epps, who was hired in late April as a bartender, said the entire operation was “sketchy from the start.”
“I was hired on the spot as a bartender, and I’m not even sure they looked at my resume,” Epps said. “The training kept being pushed back again and again, and then we started in May. But ‘training’ was hardly the word to describe it.”
Epps said the bar staff spent the whole month of May “sitting around getting drunk,” and that the workers were never given an opportunity to taste or learn about the different food offerings.
She said her suspicions about the establishment were confirmed during a meeting that Wilson held with the staff before the food hall opened.
“There were about 50 people sitting in the meeting and one of the first things Jamal said was, ‘If you have a problem at work, I don’t give a f-ck. I don’t want to hear about it. Go talk to your manager,’” Epps said. “That’s when I knew that there would be no accountability whatsoever and everyone could pretty much do whatever they wanted.”
After not getting paid for several weeks, Epps threatened to quit. She said she eventually got her paycheck, but by that time she had no faith in the operation. She resigned in late June.
“It was my second job, so I’m fine, but truthfully, they wasted my time, and they took my money,” she said. “This wasn’t The Hall – it was the hell.”
Wilson’s website, explorethehall.com, in the last two days has taken down The Hall at Ashford Lane in its list of locations, but still listed The Hall at the Grove in Snellville as “coming soon.”
An invitation to bid “a restaurant as part of The Grove at Towne Center development” is active on the Snellville city website.
“The Hall at The Grove is a two-story, 17,200 square-foot unique restaurant with event space on the second floor,” the information on the city’s website said. “The project will be funded with bond funds.”
However, a spokesperson for the city said that it doesn’t have “a business relationship with Mr. Wilson.”
“We hope to let the community know soon about the tenants we will have,” the statement said.
Rough Draft also contacted the Dunwoody property owners – Daytona Beach, Fla.-based CTO Realty Growth, which purchased the 269,000-square-foot retail center in 2020 – with a list of questions specifically about Wilson, the process for vetting credit-worthy tenants, and the plans for the now-shuttered space. Representatives from the company did not respond before Rough Draft published this story.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.