Restaurant business remains brisk in the busy Atlanta metropolitan region.

People see crowds in dining establishments and produce distributors report the movement is helping sales.

Nickey Gregory, president and owner of Nickey Gregory Co. LLC, Atlanta, said the segment is gaining ground.

“Foodservice sales are inching back,” he said in early June.

“With the economy, retail was strong but foodservice seems to be starting to experience a little growth. When people are buying houses, that means there’s a little more money out there.”

After a rough patch during the past several years, restaurateurs are trying to stay fresh, and, through better training and efficiencies, improve their sales, said David Collins III, president of Phoenix Wholesale Foodservice Inc., Forest Park, Ga.

He said distributors are also experiencing increased sales in some emerging markets.

“I think they’re starting to see some growth,” Collins said.

“They’re open to more ideas and are looking at new things. They’re ready to expand and grow. If there was hesitancy before, it’s like the economy is getting a cup of coffee. They’re not necessarily ready to run a marathon, but they are testing the waters. They’re putting their feet in the water and seeing how it’s not as cold as it once was.”

All-Pro Food Service Inc., Atlanta, serves many schools and universities and institutions including prisons and jails.

Ron Mabra, chief executive officer, said business is strong.

Those institutions buy large volumes but want high quality at the lowest cost, he said.

“Prison business is booming, but they don’t want to pay anything,” Mabra said.

“The margins are low. They only shop for the low price. They want top Cadillac food but only want to pay Volkswagen prices for it.”

Mabra said colleges and universities remain important customers that buy food with high quality specifications.

Cliff Sherman, owner of Sunbelt Produce Distributors Inc., Forest Park, said the state of foodservice business depends on who’s in the conversation.

“Some of the foodservice distributors are singing the blues, while some are high on the hog,” he said. “You talk with the same guy, and the next week he will be reversing.”

Sherman said purveyors supplying white-tablecloth and fast-casual restaurants enjoy consistent business. He said the restaurants he patronizes are usually busy.

Andrew Scott, former sales and procurement manager for General Produce Inc., Atlanta, said the city’s restaurants remain busy.

He said foodservice jobbers he talks with characterize business as steady to above-average.

“Our foodservice sales usually go down when summer comes,” Scott said.

“We sell to customers delivering to schools. There has been a lot of money thrown at the schools for produce purchases. That’s been a nice short in the arm.”

Brian Young, vice president of Coosemans Atlanta Inc., said Atlanta area restaurants serve up favorable business.

He said restaurateurs and jobbers are giving him good reports about the state of the region’s foodservice sales.

Young also said those jobbers retain a key part of the distribution chain.

“Everyone is out there to compete for the same share of the market,” he said. “You can’t get away without selling good quality product.”