FANTASTIC FIVE: A salute to the five businesses with the most votes in The Best of Hall 2020

How Advanced Eye Center Built an unwavering client base in Hall County

Story by Elberta McKnight

Dr. Ackerman Performs laser treatment at Advanced Eye Center
Photo provided by Advanced Eye Center

In 1994, Dr. William C. Ackerman’s life was changing in ways that would mean better vision for thousands of people he had yet to meet. Ackerman was getting ready to graduate from the ophthalmology program at Callahan Eye Foundation Hospital at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB).

A so-called Navy brat, Ackerman had moved a lot. But this time, it was different. He was moving to Gainesville to join Steven Wisehart’s ophthalmology practice; Wisehart was also a graduate of Callahan Eye Institute. Together, the two put Advanced Eye Center on the map in Gainesville. “As Dr. Ackerman neared graduation from UAB, he sought a practice in Georgia and looked for a location where he could become a community member, both personally and professionally,” said Practice Administrator for Advanced Eye Center, Brett Mercer. “He wanted to be in a place where he could get to know his patients.” And that he did. Many can recite Ackerman’s fishing stories or proud tales of his prize-winning Brittany Spaniels.

Mercer says it’s simply the philosophy of the practice that no one ever feels like “just a number.” And he can attest to that. Because long before he worked for the practice, his wife was a patient of Dr. Ackerman’s. That was 18 years ago. Mercer’s wife had worn contacts and glasses her entire life. She wanted to know if she was a candidate for LASIK; if it could help her to see better. After the examination, Dr. Ackerman told the couple, LASIK was a viable option. He told her what to expect during the procedure, as well as what it would be like afterward. Mercer adds “I vividly remember immediately after the procedure she said, ‘I can see the leaves on the tree across the street.’ I asked her what she saw before and she said ‘green.’” Suddenly, she could play tennis, enjoy water sports, exercise and just live her life without the aid of glasses or contacts.

While LASIK changed her life and so many others, it also changed the field of ophthalmology. “LASIK changed the philosophy in ophthalmology that we were not only trying to preserve eyes, but allowed us to improve vision and eliminate the need for contacts and glasses for the first time in a patient’s life,” said Mercer. “It is really a life changing and lifestyle changing procedure.” At Ackerman’s original office location, he was able to provide patients with all the medical services of ophthalmology, but not the ancillary services, like LASIK. In 2003, that would change as Ackerman prepared to move again; this time, to a new facility, the one in which he operates out of today. Under one roof, Ackerman, Dr. L.W. Robinson, III and the Advanced Eye Center team are able to offer medical care, surgical services and optical services to all.

ADVANCED EYE CENTER
625 South Enota Dr. NE, Gainesville, GA
Dr. William C. Ackerman
Dr. L.W. Robinson, III

What Bluefin does right

Brady Galloway, Aaron Church, Jeremy Allison, Joshua Heeden,
Anthony Coleman, Jonathan Stamey enjoyed lunch at BlueFin.

In an interview last year, Raymond Yap was asked where he saw himself in five years. His answer? He wanted his restaurants to be better known. That wish is coming true by way of the devoted patrons who dine at his Asian-fusion restaurant in Gainesville. Yap owns BlueFin Hibachi & Sushi, which has been named as one of Hall County’s Best for the fourth consecutive year now. He calls the recognition “humbling’ but also admits, he and his team work hard to keep customers coming back.

Gainesville is known for its good cuisine. Yap knew what he was up against when he opened the restaurant in 2014 but wanted to establish his business with a personal touch, rather than simply relying on a marketing/media campaign. He decided he’d take a grassroots approach, wooing the community. Yap began showcasing his cuisine at town events and when a school team needed a sponsor, he and BlueFin were there. “We feel now like we’re part of the community and we want the people who come here to feel that way, too,”’ said Yap.

But community involvement on its own didn’t win BlueFin over in the hearts and stomachs of Hall County patrons. BlueFin’s food, or more precisely put, the variety of food, has definitely tipped the scale. Yap takes great pride in using fresh ingredients each day to prepare everything to order. “Some restaurants put hot and sour soup in a pot and cook it all day,” said Yap. “But we don’t do that. We serve every order and prepare it when it’s ordered. Just like that. “Everything is made to order. If people have allergies, we work around it. We try to cater to our customers. If they don’t want this or they want to add that, if we have it in house, we’ll do it.”

BlueFin isn’t Yap’s first or only restaurant. He owns BlueFin in Rome and has operated the Okinawa restaurants in Cartersville and Marietta. A native of Malaysia, restaurant life wasn’t necessarily his first ambition. His first foray into the world of restaurants was working for his sister in summer months when he was home from college. That was around 1991. Five years later when he was engaged to be married, his mother-in-law insisted he find something in which he could be his own boss. Owning a restaurant seemed like a natural fit. Remember, expert advice always urges an entrepreneur to do what he or she knows. “I know what people like,” Yap begins. “You go to an American restaurant, you order what? Burger and fries. If I want to sell Chinese food in my restaurant, that’s fried rice, lo mein (noodles) and sesame chicken. Food like that.”

Yap offers far more than just traditional Chinese food. Between the dinner menu, the lunch menu and the to-go menu, BlueFin offers seven varieties of Elite Sushi Rolls, at least 31 options of regular sushi rolls, traditional favorites like General Tso’s chicken, Kona Mango Mahi-Mahi, Massaman Curry, Chicken Spicy Basil Leaf and Hibachi dinners featuring filet mignon, salmon, chicken, shrimp, scallops and steak. Out of nearly 500 Google reviews, the restaurant draws high praise for its service, prices, atmosphere, sushi/sashimi, kimchi, hibachi, sesame chicken, fried rice, ginger dressing on salads and Miso soup

BLUEFIN HIBACHI & SUSHI
1642 Park Hill Dr, Gainesville, GA
Raymond Yap, Owner
Peggy Lim, Manager
Dawn Lindsay, Lead Server

Expansion in Longstreet Clinic’s future

Longstreet Clinic pediatrician Curtis Malcom, M.D., with a patient and
family in the Gainesville office. Photo provided by the Longstreet Clinic.

There are few like it in the entire state of Georgia. Longstreet Clinic is not part of a hospital system or a university. Instead, it is owned and operated by physicians after goals, and a lot of them. The clinic employs roughly 900 people. Between 100 to 120 are physicians. An additional 100 are advanced practitioner providers. The remainder are administrative and medical staff. “Our primary mission and goals,” began Longstreet Clinic Chief Executive Officer Amelia “Mimi” Collins, “are around providing the best care and improving health outcomes for our patient population and meeting the needs of our patients and the communities we serve.”

To accomplish that, the clinic continues to expand. Within the next six months, Collins anticipates Longstreet will break ground on a new building for the existing Gainesville campus. “The new building will be connected and integrated with the existing facility,” she said. “So it will hopefully feel like just an expansion of the existing facility.” She anticipates the construction will take roughly 18 months.

Once the new building is complete, look for some practices in the older section of the Gainesville campus to move into the newer area and expect some specialty practices “that make sense to be co-located” to also take root. “We tend to think about our growth strategically and plan for our growth strategically, based on physicians and provider recruitment needs,” explained Collins. “And so as we add physicians and add specialties, then that’s what drives our facility development.”

Gainesville boasts the largest campus of the clinic’s 11 locations, with a facility that currently measures 100,000 square-feet, before the planned expansion. Longstreet also intends to add a building this year to its vascular surgery practice in Lawrenceville.

But the clinic’s care far surpasses brick and mortar. For example, for the past five years, the clinic’s nurse practitioners have been making house calls to a percentage of the population possibly too sick to come into the office for follow-up care. “When you’re sick and going through a lot of those kinds of conditions, it’s difficult to get to the doctor’s office during regular hours and make an appointment and do all those things,” said Collins. “so we are trying to really reach out and innovate care in our marketplace and to really try to help that population have the best outcome that they can and the kind of care that they need as close to home as is appropriate.” The approach seems to be making a difference. Collins says post discharge readmissions are down for that cross-section of patients. “

One of the things from a health care perspective we all want to avoid is unnecessary readmissions,” she said. “And so we really leverage those nurse practitioners, because we only have a few, to visit those patients with very complex conditions. “We try and think out of the box,” Collins paused, “and recognize that healthcare delivery is very different now than 25 years ago when we started. And we have to constantly evolve to meet those needs. The communities and patient demands are much different than they were 25 years ago.”

Longstreet Clinic was founded in 1995 when eight specialty practices decided to merge. Today, the clinic treats patients in the following specialties: internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, obstetrics, gynecology, adult and pediatric inpatient medicine, general surgery, oncology, hematology, physiatry, orthopedics, sports medicine, neonatology, perinatology, neurology, neurosurgery, vascular surgery, colorectal surgery, bariatric surgery and medical weight loss. The mission, when it started, was to offer the community a fully-integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to health care at an affordable price.

Residents must feel like the clinic is on the mark. They continue to put Longstreet Clinic at the top of the list when it comes to the Best of Hall County vote. “I’m very honored and proud that the community sees us in that light,” Collins said. “I’m humbled to even try to attempt to say why but I know our philosophy is very focused around being engaged in our communities and understanding what is happening in the communities we do serve. “I’m very proud of the staff we have and their commitment to meet the needs of our patients in a compassionate and new, innovative way.”

What is it about Danny’s Donuts?

Siluom Nuon (left) and Erika Cruz (right) showing the assortment of
donuts available at Danny’s Donuts Flowery Branch, their newest
location. Danny’s Donuts Flowery Branch is at 4037 Winder Highway.
Photo provided by Danny’s Donuts.

Tiny bits of bacon. Maple glaze. All atop a fluffy, light donut. It’s a thing. Anyone who’s ever been to one of the three Danny’s Donut locations in Hall County can tell you; the bacon maple donut has a fierce following. But no one donut stands alone at Danny’s in Gainesville and Flowery Branch. From sprinkles to sour cream bars to French crullers and eclairs like testimonials, the donuts are more than just a bread and sugar confection: they rule in the hearts and stomachs of Danny’s patrons.

Between Yelp and Google alone, there are hundreds of reviews reading more like testimonials. The majority professing Danny’s has the best donuts they’ve ever tasted and vowing loyalty only to Danny’s from that moment forward. One patron even described a donut hole as being so light and airy, it “vaporized” in his mouth. Another giving high marks to a bear claw with apple filling. Good stuff.

But Danny’s doesn’t live on donut sells alone. No. There’s more. Breakfast sandwiches, like a ham and cheese croissant and a sausage, egg and cheese bagel. There’s coffee, ice coffee drinks, smoothies, Boba tea and milk from a local dairy, which patrons feel is a nice touch.

Danny’s staff also draws high praise. The donut eatery is owned and operated by a local family which includes Andy Nuon, Tony Long and Theresa Vin. The name Danny? It’s Nuon’s young son. Nuon actually learned his craft in California, according to his website. He’s been a baker for 25 years. “We are dedicated to making each culinary experience from our kitchen a memorable one,” writes Nuon.“Our menu reflects a balance of comfort and innovation, as well as a high standard of quality and integrity. “We believe in love above all things, and we hope you will taste that value in our food.”

Danny’s operates from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day of the week. Patrons advise getting there early for the best selection though, because the bakery will close early if they run out of donuts. Danny’s three locations are: 417 Main St. SW, Gainesville, 975 Dawsonville Hwy., Suite 19, Gainesville, and 4037 Winder Hwy., Suite 501, Flowery Branch. A dozen donuts will set you back about $9. On occasion, you may find a free donut hole or two in your bag.   

DANNY’S DONUTS
Three Hall County locations
Andy Nuon, Owner

Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic: A history of firsts

A patient receives a cardiology test
at Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic.
Photos provided by Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic.

Only those living in Gainesville 67 years ago will remember when Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic first opened its doors. The beginning was humble. Far from what today’s facilities look like, the original location for Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic was a tiny, renovated house on East Broad Street. But while the facility may have been small, Dr. Henry S. Jennings’ vision was big. Around 1953, Jennings was in practice at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

He had his sights set on Gainesville and thought the area needed an Internal Medicine practice offering exceptional specialized care. It was forward thinking. This was an era in which one general practitioner did it all; specialists, especially four specialists, didn’t work out of the same small office. But Jennings, Dr. Sam Poole, cardiologist Warren Stribling and oncologist James A. Butt pioneered the foundation of what Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic is today.

The practice now has 35 specialists and covers these areas of adult medicine: endocrinology, pulmonary care, internal medicine, oncology/hematology, nephrology and rheumatology. The clinic also offers a sleep medicine program, an on-site retail pharmacy, radiology and other ancillary services. “We’ve been here since 1953 and I expect they’ll be talking about diagnostic clinic in 2053. Easily,” said the clinic’s former Chief Executive Officer Bill Beyer. “This has a very strong future and we will live up to everyone’s expectations of us.”

Beyer retired in January. Under his watch, the clinic became part of Northside Hospital Atlanta, a transition he remains very proud of. “There’s plenty more to do and as I turn the reins over now to our new CEO, she will have lots to do and she is certainly capable of it.” Now at the clinic’s CEO helm is Heather Abraham; a health care administrator with 20 years of experience in medical practice management. She leaves Columbus, Georgia as the Executive Director/Chief Operating Officer of Piedmont/Columbus Regional Medical Group to take the role at diagnostic clinic. Under Beyer’s leadership, Northeast Georgia Diagnostic Clinic has been a strong performer in the Hall County Best Of vote. It’s something that truly means a lot to Beyer. “We have great physicians and staff,” he said. “I think we have wonderful patients. We have patients who are extremely loyal to diagnostic clinic and we are loyal to them. “But all in all, it’s nice to know our patients care as much about us as  we care about them.”

NORTHEAST GEORGIA DIAGNOSTIC CLINIC
Gainesville Office (Main Campus): 1240 Jesse Jewell Parkway SE, Gainesville
Oncology/Hemotology: 1485 Jesse Jewell Parkway, Suite 330, Gainesville
Braselton Satellite Office: Highpoint Medical Center, 1270 Friendship Road, Suite 100, Braselton
Braselton Oncology: Riverstone Medical Plaza, 1255 Friendship Road, Suite 230, Braselton
Heather Abraham, Chief Executive Officer. Dr. Matthey Harris, Managing Partner

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