Mac Thurston, ’80, has been helpful in quenching the thirst of Atlantan’s since the early 1980’s as the owner or Mac’s Beer and Wine in Midtown Atlanta.
Originally from Indiana, Thurston arrived on the Georgia State campus in 1972 after transferring from his previous institution and graduated from the Robinson College of Business with a BBA in 1980. Forever grateful to his older sister, who introduced him to Georgia State, Mac has always been a big supporter of the university. This includes a fellowship in the department of history, named after that older sister, who is now deceased, as well as his ongoing love for Panther athletics, most notable Panther basketball going back to the hiring of the legendary “Lefty” Driesell in the mid-1990’s. Thurston recently spoke with the Alumni Association’s Dave Cohen.
DC: What factored into your decision to attend Georgia State University?
MT: It was pretty simple Dave. It was fame, fortune and females. I left an all-male school in the cornfields of Indiana and I had an older sister that had moved to Atlanta and she introduced me to Georgia State. I instantly fell in love with it and left the all-male college in the cornfields of Indiana and transferred for fame, fortune and females. (laughs)
DC: How much of a culture shock was it going from those cornfields in Indiana to downtown Atlanta?
MT: It wasn’t all-together too bad. Obviously the noise and the congestion was something that took a little bit of getting used to but when I first walked on to the GSU campus in 1972 it just seemed alive and very vibrant and it seemed as though you were in a city that was open to a lot of new things, new ideas and new people. It was sort of a welcoming environment.
DC: Was there a favorite class or professor that you remember being influential during your time at Georgia State? A professor that made an impression on you that you maybe still carry to this day?
MT: Oh without a doubt. That would be Dr. David Schwartz. He was a Ph.D. in marketing at about the time I had his 101 class, which was one of the first classes that I took at Georgia State. He was, I believe, the head of the marketing department at that time and he had written a book called The Magic of Thinking Big and that book and his class changed my life and it changed my direction. It made me understand that what I was doing in pursuing a marketing degree at Georgia State University was absolutely what I should be doing, so it really solidified my decision to change colleges and immerse myself in an urban university.
DC: How did you end up finding your way into the beverage business?
MT: That was pretty simple. Out of necessity I had to make a living and I was able to, more or less, con my way into what is now a very large chain (restaurant). At that point they were just starting out and had opened a couple of units in Atlanta and I was able, through deception, to get hired as a bartender and then they trained me from scratch, at which point, I then left that company and came downtown and worked in one of the large hotels that had just opened about a year before I got here. This would be about 1973. It was just out of necessity. I had to make a living and I had to pay for school so I did it as a bartender and that’s how I got into the business.
DC: So all these years later what is it about the business that still keeps you enthusiastic about running your own business?
MT: I used to be able to answer that question with just one statement but now it is a variety of things. I have sons that are almost college age, actually one that is in college and another that is almost in college, so that certainly is a motivator. I really enjoy the interaction I have with my staff. I employ a lot of young people and I employ a lot of college students. I enjoy the interaction with my customers. We have people that have been shopping with us for years and years. I’ve watched their children grow up. It’s a combination of several things that really makes me want to get up and make this a better place for people to shop, a better business for me personally and just overall being a part of the midtown and downtown community has been fabulous for the last twenty-seven years.
DC: You have been a big supporter of Georgia State University and Georgia State Athletics over the years. What is it about Georgia State that has captured your passion?
MT: I do have a love for the university and when you look at the state of Georgia certainly Georgia State is not the first Division 1 college that you think of when you think of athletics. I think it goes back to what I’ve said time and time again, and that is you can have one of the best business schools in the country, you can have the farest seeing telescope in the world, that is actually controlled by our astronomy department at Georgia State. You know, you can have the fabulous nursing program that has really helped underpin Grady Hospital. You can have all these things and yet what would Duke University be without Mike Krzyzewski and their basketball team? It was driven home to me when Dr. Patton took the time and the money to hire “Lefty” Driesell, longtime coach and a guy that was a legend in his own right, to come to a school like Georgia State and make a stand and I just felt that if the university was willing to make a commitment like that, to a person and coach like “Lefty”, then they needed as much support as they could out of their alumni. I’ve always had an affinity for Georgia State. We actually have, in the department of history, a fellowship named after my oldest sister, who introduced me to Georgia State, who is now deceased. There are a variety of things that have brought me back but on the athletics side it was “Lefty” and once he got on board, I got on board and I’ve stayed on board.
DC: Is there one memory that stands above during your years associated with Georgia State?
MT: It was fun cutting down the nets in the sports arena after the Panthers won the Trans America Athletic Conference (TAAC) tournament in 2001. I think watching the team and “Lefty” with both of my sons, and they were younger then, we are all sitting in the seats and to watch them cut down the nets, that was a lot of fun. That whole period of the anticipation that we were getting better in basketball and the team was bringing recognition to the university by advancing to the NCAA Tournament. (Georgia State was sent to the NCAA Regional in Boise, ID where they shocked Wisconsin in their opening game before falling to Maryland in the second game) Anyway, that time period was just so exciting.