March 2011

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When I was in college twenty years ago in Washington, D.C., I worked at a restaurant in Friendship Heights. I was the lowest in the pecking order, responsible for taking dishes from the expediter and topping them off with whatever they needed—a side of fries, a sprig of parsley, a ramekin of whatever. Then I’d arrange the dishes on a tray, hoist it over my shoulder, and bring it out to the servers. If they were busy with other diners, I’d deliver the plates myself. “Uh, who ordered the burger, medium well?” Food runners (that’s what they called us) got a portion of each waiter’s tips, but our profits were directly proportional to how much the waiters liked us.
I loved the upstairs/downstairs dichotomy of the place. In this case, the dining room was civilization, while the kitchen was organized chaos. The chef would not stop singing, the expediter would not stop cursing, and the dishwashers were bathed constantly in a cloud of steam. I’d read Down and Out in Paris and London that year, and while my working conditions were a bit more humane than those George Orwell experienced as a plongeur, I came to understand there is one truth about restaurants that is eternal: You don’t open one to make money.
 
Here at Atlanta magazine, we pride ourselves on our comprehensive and no-punches-pulled coverage of the city’s dining scene. But restaurant criticism is, by definition, an attempt to assess the experience of the average diner—what he sees, what he eats, how it tastes. What we can only imagine are the months of thinking and arguing and preparing and the lost sleep that led up to that moment when the braised rabbit was set down before us, the sides at ten and two o’clock.
 
Several months ago, we got an interesting offer: How would we like to hang out with three business partners who had just signed a lease on one of the most coveted (among chefs, anyway) kitchens in town? We’d get to follow them through the thousand headaches that come even before the first diner is seated—headaches like liquor licenses, certificates of occupancy, hiring staff, what salt and pepper shakers to buy, and oh yeah, the menu. The unfettered access allowed our senior editor, Amanda Heckert, to demystify what goes into making a restaurant, from the moment demolition began on the old space right through opening night and beyond. It’s an unvarnished look into not just the kitchen, but the heads of the people whose imagination and entrepreneurial spirit make this city such a vibrant place. Will Local Three make it in the fickle world of Atlanta dining? Only time will tell. But one thing comes through crystal-clear in Amanda’s story: If Local Three doesn’t make it, it won’t be for lack of trying.
Contact Steve Fennessy at sfennessy@atlantamag.emmis.com

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