“The first year was better than we thought,” he said of his Roswell eatery. “I feel like we’ve gotten our legs underneath us, and the concept is really coming together.”
Hugo’s Oyster Bar, at 10360 Alpharetta St., is the brainchild of Schwenk and Roswell local Rich Clark.
The two have worked together since the early 1990s. Together, they opened the C&S Seafood and Oyster Bar in Atlanta seven years ago.
Whereas the Atlanta restaurant has peak seasons, Clark said the newer Roswell establishment is more of a “year-round” operation.
Clark said he wanted to open a restaurant close to home and with a different atmosphere. While he said C&S was a “white cloth” eatery, he wanted Hugo’s to feel more like a neighborhood restaurant, with an emphasis on Southern-style seafood.
The variety of the seafood offered, Schwenk said, makes Hugo’s stand out. “Our pitch is sort of the coastal-inspired Southern cuisine,” he said, “from the delta of Mississippi all the way around to the Carolinas.”
They both said they like to try their own takes on regional favorites from seafood meccas like New Orleans and St. George Island.
The restaurant’s signature dish, Clark said, is chargrilled oysters seasoned with Parmesan cheese and Cajun spices. The plate bears Clark’s own initials.
Hugo’s held a gumbo cook-off in May, and recently celebrated Independence Day with a lobster special.
The restaurant also throws special events for Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday and St Patrick’s Day. They even held a Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner last Christmas Eve.
“I like to be very community-oriented,” Clark said. “We’re always open.”
Clark, who has called Roswell home for 15 years, said the city was a fantastic market. He said he took great strides to make Hugo’s feel family-friendly.
“As this area of Roswell grows, I feel like we’ll just continue to grow,” he said. “It’s viable. People up here go out.”
The Roswell brand, he said, was very important. “The people of Roswell really support small businesses,” he said. “No one wants neon signs out there. We want to keep it like it is, understated.”
Residents embrace Roswell’s historic feel, Schwenk said. “They don’t want a Super Wal-Mart right over here.”
In such a competitive market, Schwenk and Clark agree that it takes more than just good food to make a north Fulton restaurant successful. Beyond providing value and quality, Hugo’s head chef said it is vital for businesses to heed customer feedback.
“You’ve got to let your customers dictate your business a bit,” Schwenk said. “We try to make sure our servers and our managers are dialed into it … we really do listen to what our guests are saying.”