Foodies unite. It”s chow time!

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by Lisa Anders

Inventive tapas and live jazz, Flamenco guitar and Zydeco music. Internationally recognized wine lists with chefs who have cooked for the queens, princes and celebrities. If you think that you will have to pack the family in the car and head into Atlanta for such diverse dining experiences, think again. It might just be in your own backyard!

"The belief that chain restaurants are the only types of dining experiences that you can have in Gwinnett is a really common misperception," Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau (GCVB) Executive Director Caryn McGarity explains. "Our desire to help change that perception is one of the reasons that the GCVB created the first-ever "Gwinnett Restaurant Week."

Modeled after a successful program known as Downtown Atlanta Restaurant Week that is now in its fifth year, the premise of Gwinnett Restaurant Week is simple.

Participating restaurants create a three-course dinner for $18.18, plus tax, plus gratuity. "All of our participating restaurants are upscale, and the average cost of a three-course meal is $35-$40, so it”s a great deal," McGarity says. The $18.18 price point is "catchy and will be easy to remember, and history buffs will recognize 1818 as the year Gwinnett was founded."

Gwinnett Restaurant Week is just one aspect of the GCVB”s celebration of National Tourism Week (NTW). Sponsored by the Travel Industry of America, Tourism Week is celebrated by the industry and communities across the nation to help promote travel to and within the United States, and works to increase awareness of the travel and tourism industry”s economic impact.

The GCVB is developing and hosting a number of activities to celebrate tourism in Gwinnett and "with the large number of restaurants here, creating something to promote and market our restaurants was a perfect fit," McGarity says. "Our tourists aren”t as obvious as those in Orlando or Las Vegas. Our tourists are business travelers, competitors in sporting events, meeting attendees and family reunions, among others, yet regardless of the type of visitor, great food is often what travelers remember best about a meeting or vacation."

When planning restaurant week, the GCVB chose to promote it not only to hotel guests, but to local residents. "We have more than 1.8 million visitors each year, and many of them stay with family and friends. We want our locals to know that there are unique, non-chain options for all tastes," McGarity says.

Dining aficionados will be excited by the great mix of restaurants across the county.

These restaurants are paving the way for change in Gwinnett”s dining scene, specializing not only in good food and customer service, but having live music, award-winning chefs and more adventuresome menus. Just a few years ago, it was rare to even see a Gwinnett restaurant reviewed in the local publication.

Local restaurateurs are also seeing definite changes in their clientele over the past few years as well. "Many of our customers used to commute to Buckhead for a good dining experience, and are really happy that they don”t have to do that any more," notes Chris Hope, proprietor of Sperata, a Mediterranean restaurant located on Main Street in downtown Buford.

Christopher Pyun, chef and co-founder of Hi-Life Kitchen and Cocktails, concurs, adding, "Good, creative restaurants also need chefs and owner who aren”t afraid of pushing the envelope. Our guests have become much more knowledgeable."

Pappadeaux General Manager Todd Staley notes that the diversity of his guests has changed tremendously over the past few years, a fact that is echoed in Gwinnett”s changing demographics.

Staley is also impressed by the influx of new restaurants all over the county, a

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