From a Small Town to a Thriving Gem: My Lake Oconee Stories Over the Years

From a Small Town to a Thriving Gem: My Lake Oconee Stories Over the Years

  • Riezl Baker
  • 09/13/23

From a Small Town to a Thriving Gem:

My Lake Oconee Stories Over the Years​​​​​​​

Written by Riezl Baker, Luxury Lake Oconee Real Estate

As I sit back and reminisce about the past, I can't help but smile at the thought of how our beautiful Lake Oconee, once a small and quiet town, has evolved into the vibrant and sought-after destination it is today. My husband, Ted, and I took a leap of faith when we moved here in 1997 as young newlyweds, little did we know that we were about to become witnesses to some of the most extraordinary moments in the town's history.

Jerry’s Bait and Tackle.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Back then, the closest grocery store was Jerry's Bait and Tackle, a charming place where you could buy everything from bait and worms for fishing to fresh vegetables and the finest rib-eye steaks. Now, who knew you could satisfy both your fishing and steak cravings in one stop? Talk about a unique shopping experience!

Variety of Cuisine. Or Lack of.

Silver Moon Restaurant was back then affectionately known as "Mike's Place," a spot where men and contractors would gather after a long day's work. With the combination of beer and tales, the laughter and camaraderie were endless.

And let's not forget Lakeview Restaurant, the go-to Friday night spot for the best fried catfish - a delectable treat that brought locals together in the name of good food.

Before He Was Famous.

The real highlight of those days was none other than Zac's Place, where the now-famous Grammy award-winning singer Zac Brown began his musical journey. Serving steak dinners with his father Jim, 

Zac would then captivate the crowd with his soulful tunes, not knowing that one day his song "Chicken

"Zac would then captivate the crowd with his soulful tunes, not knowing that one day his song "Chicken Fried" would become a worldwide hit and launch him into stardom."

Fried" would become a worldwide hit and launch him into stardom. It's safe to say we all danced to his compositions with blissful ignorance!

What Are Bagels?

I still remember how I settled into my new life faced with the daily dilemma of keeping my job in Atlanta while living in this tiny town. My early morning drives to work became an adventure of their own, and a visit to the local Golden Pantry store added some comic relief. My simple quest for bagels was met with perplexed looks, leaving me with an offer of chicken biscuits instead. Well, who needs bagels when you have a deliciously southern alternative?

The President of What?

As time went on, Lake Oconee's charm attracted more than just curious newcomers like myself. Even presidents of the country were intrigued, with then-Governor George W. Bush choosing the area for one of his very first fundraising event. I recall planning the event at Great Waters and never could have imagined that this president would become a frequent visitor to our little paradise.

I'll never forget the incredulous reaction of my client from Chicago, who doubted my warning about encountering traffic due to the President Bush’s visit. "The president of what?"

I'll never forget the incredulous reaction of my client from Chicago, who doubted my warning about encountering traffic due to the President Bush’s visit. "The president of what?" he asked.

he asked. Oh, the look on his face when he saw the American flags and cheerful kids lining Hway 44! I couldn't help but share a laugh at his disbelief.

Putting On The Ritz.

And who could forget the eyebrow-raising announcement of the Ritz Carlton's arrival? Locals wondered why they would open a Ritz in the middle of nowhere. Little did they know that the opening of the upscale Ritz Carlton by the Reynolds family would put the town on the map, attracting visitors from near and far. With the influx of visitors, the area's real estate market witnessed a significant surge.

Fast forward to the past three years, and the pandemic sparked a migration to our little town, revealing its secret to the world. The surge in visitors and new residents has led to some traffic encounters, reminiscing on the days when the only traffic was behind a slow truck.

Yet, amidst all the growth and change, the heart of Lake Oconee remains its people, including the newcomers who quickly become part of the welcoming community. I can attest that the people of Lake Oconee are its greatest asset, as they warmly embrace and welcome others just as we were embraced all those years ago.

As I look back on this journey, I feel blessed to have witnessed the evolution of this special place. From its quirky beginnings to its now vibrant and cherished status, Lake Oconee will always be home and hold a place in my heart - a place that has truly come alive with laughter, friendship, and unforgettable memories.

Riezl Baker

Riezl Baker

Realtor® | Founding Principal

About The Author

Riezl Baker is an award-winning real estate agent with 22 years of real estate experience at Lake Oconee, Georgia. A resident since 1997, she is well-known for her business accomplishments and extensive community involvement. In 2020, she and her husband Ted co-founded Luxury Lake Oconee Real Estate Group to combine their over 40 years of experience in the Lake Oconee market and with a mission to provide the highest level of service to clients.
In 2022, Riezl closed over $131 million in sales and was recognized as “Top Luxury Real Estate Leader'' by The Atlantan magazine and “Real Estate Newsmaker & Achiever'' by RIS Media. She was recognized as a 2021 Top Producer after closing over 70 transactions totaling $115 million and was awarded the Crystal Phoenix Award by the Lake Country Board of REALTORS®. 
She is passionate about her community and has been involved on a leadership level for many different organizations. She is the Past Chairman of the St. Mary's Good Samaritan Hospital Board and was part of the original founding Board that steered the opening of the hospital in 2013. She co-chaired the successful 2023 Heart & Soul Gala at The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Lake Oconee which raised over $450,000 for the local hospital. In 2010, she and her husband co-founded the Lake Oconee Food & Wine Festival to benefit local education, which has evolved into a three-day destination event at The Ritz-Carlton. An advocate for the arts, Riezl is a Board Director for the Oconee Performing Arts Society (OPAS). She was the President of the Lake Country Board of Realtors® in 2016. The Atlantan magazine awarded her "Expert in Second and Vacation Homes" for 2020 and 2021. She was recognized as a "2021 Top Luxury Real Estate Industry Leader" and was also nominated as "Best Bilingual" and "Best Community Impact" in Georgia.
Riezl holds a Bachelor's degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration and joined the Hyatt Hotels as a Corporate Management Trainee. She worked for the company for seven years in Operations Management and Hospitality Sales in Houston and Atlanta. She served as a Board Director for Meeting Professionals International (MPI), the largest meeting and event industry association, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Breakout, Georgia MPI's monthly publication that is distributed to thousands of members.
As the Director of Athens (Ga.) Convention and Visitors Bureau, Riezl developed strategic plans to attract conventions to the city. In 2000, she obtained her real estate license and worked for Reynolds Lake Oconee Properties where she was a top producer for 20 years. 
Riezl is a public speaker and has spoken at several national real estate conferences and webinars. She was an invited speaker at a National Empowerment Conference in Las Vegas in 2022 where she spoke about “Successful Entrepreneurship in America.” She was also featured in a 2022 episode of Fox Business Network’s prime-time real estate show Mansion Global. 
She and her husband have been married for 26 years and have two children, Stuart, who is a junior at Yale University, and Remi, who attends Interlochen Performing Arts Academy.

Community Footprints

  • Co-Founder, LEAD Lake Oconee
  • Board Member, Oconee Performing Arts Society.
  • Board Member, St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation Board.
  • Past Chairman, St. Mary Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation Board, 2017-2019.
  • Past President, Lake Country Board of REALTORS®, 2016.
  • Co-Founder, Lake Oconee Food and Wine Festival.
  • Three-Year Chair, Heart and Soul Gala Benefit, Ritz Carlton Lake Oconee.
  • Co-Chair, Heart and Soul Benefit Gala, 2022

Work With Riezl

A consistent top producer in the Lake Oconee area, Riezl has been recognized with numerous awards for her business accomplishments and community involvement. Contact Riezl today if you are thinking of selling or buying, or both.

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