Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Government Remains Stuck with Seized Restaurants

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Government Remains Stuck with Seized Restaurants

Article excerpt

MARIETTA, Ga. _ The walls are adorned with posters of legendary film gangsters, but don't be fooled: This is no den for criminals.

At Jilly's restaurant in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, the barbecue-ribs menu doesn't change unless Uncle Sam says so. What's more, the waitresses and cooks come recommended by the FBI.

The federal government has operated two Jilly's _ the other in suburban Sandy Springs _ since drug agents seized the assets of businessman Carl Coppola in 1986. The restaurants, each valued at about $1 million, were confiscated along with $3.3 million in drug profits.

The government would like to unload the rib joints, as it quickly does with most seized assets. But it can't sell them until Coppola exhausts his appeals. Prosecutors say Coppola ran a cocaine and marijuana smuggling enterprise between Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He is serving a 55-year sentence.

Though a metro-wide Atlanta Ribs Challenge award displayed in the foyer predates the feds, Jilly's ribs in Marietta are still rated above average.

"A good, but somewhat sweet rib," said Lee Walburn, editor of Atlanta Magazine and a barbecue connoisseur.

"But just as a citizen, I'm opposed to government ownership of barbecue joints," he said. "It's one of the last pure things in this country."

A contractor was hired to run the eateries, which are part of a local franchise chain, and an employee, Michael Eilermann, was given the manager's job in Marietta. The unusual set-up has given him an unwanted education in bureaucracy.

Anyone he hires, from assistant managers to cooks to waitresses, must undergo an FBI criminal background check. If he wants to change a menu item or paint the bathroom, he needs U.S. Marshal Service approval.

When something is broken or new equipment needed, Jilly's must take bids and wait for the wheels of the bureaucracy to turn. …

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