By Mollie Davis
Owner of Sid’s Soup, Salad, and Sandwich shop, Bob Berg has fed thousands of locals and visitors during his 30-plus years as a restaurant owner, getting to know folks from all walks of life who enjoy eating with friends and reminiscing over the pictures, antiques and collectibles hanging in his breakfast and lunch eatery.
After graduating from Georgia Southwestern in the late 1970s, Bob came to Macon looking for work and moved into the Macon Health Club dormitory downtown. After living there for a few months, he was hired as a manager to help the struggling gym boost its membership. Then called the “Macon Health Center,” Bob knew his first order of business was changing their name, as employees constantly answered calls from people who mistook the gym for a doctors’ office.
With little management experience, Bob thrived at the Health Club and came to see the gym floor as the melting pot for people from all walks of life. The dormitories were teeming with young people and those down on their luck, looking for a fresh start and a temporary place to stay. Macon socialites and business owners also frequented the Health Club, and Bob recalled that folks like the chairman of Charter Medical worked out alongside those who could only afford their rent week-to-week. He explained the friendly community between business professionals and downtown “characters,” like the member who always worked out while walking on his hands. Later Bob found that this “hand-walker” was Oscar Bradley, featured in Guinness Book of World Records for once performing a handstand jump over a rope 27 inches high!
“It was a diverse group of people, for sure. But they came together,” Bob remembered, saying that his days at the Macon Health Club really opened his eyes to the community in Macon.
After working at the gym for three years, Bob took a leap of faith and opened his first Sid’s Soup, Salad, and Sandwiches shop at 336 Second Street. The brick building, just blocks away from the Health Club, was where Macon’s own and world famous poet Sidney Lanier once practiced law. Named in his honor, Sid’s opened its doors in 1981 to serving downtown Maconites breakfast and lunch. For 33 years the shop was a pillar among downtown businesses, and the spot where Bob met his wife and his three sons worked their first job.
In 1984, the second Sid’s restaurant opened its doors. Formerly the Macon Varsity where Gregg Allman and his friends liked to eat, the Sid’s Forsyth location now is one of the Corridor’s favorite sandwich shops, complete with a warm fire in the hearth and a roadside marquee with a sense of humor. Though he admitted that the quirky sayings aren’t always original, Bob hopes they make someone’s day a little brighter. After all, his shop is about much more than sandwiches. For example, in March last year, Bob and employees at Sid’s organized the “Varsity Cruise In,” a car show that heralded to the days of the Varsity in the 1960s, filling the Sid’s parking lot with American muscle cars, restored classics, and collectibles from the Jones County Cruisers. The event raised funds for a former employee who had been paralyzed in a car accident in 2012, and Bob hopes it will be a recurring event during the Cherry Blossom festival each spring.
It isn’t just the soups, salads and sandwiches that make Sid’s so special. Neatly lined up near the fireplace are the original booths from the Roy G. Williams drug store from downtown.
Opposite from them is a Coke machine near the counter, a prized possession, purchased for just $40 off the porch of a house on Second Street. An iced tea canister from a restaurant on Grey Highway was dropped off one day when the owner just carried it inside, explaining that he’d love for Bob to display it at Sid’s along with this other collectibles.
An employee donated her trombone to make an ode to Macon’s music history. Similarly, Bob has come to own pictures of cadets at Camp Wheeler in 1943 and class photos from Lanier High School in 1924. The black and whites are snapshots of a Central Georgia from a different era. Bob can point out a customer’s great aunt, or a regular’s cousin, among the line-up of faces in each photo. The whole restaurant has the feel of a walk-in time capsule, and Bob makes for a great tour guide along the way. As Macon continues to grow and change, Sid’s remains an anchor in the Corridor, collecting memories and snapshots of the community for all those who come to love Macon.