Root beer + vanilla? Just the beginning. You can assemble an ice cream float in a hundred different ways—with an icebox full of local products. Here are a few made-in-Atlanta combos to get you started.
Che Butter Jonez
One of the liveliest food-related Instagram accounts in the city belongs to Che Butter Jonez, the beloved food truck from spouses Malik Rhasaan (the titular Che) and Detric Fox-Quinlan (aka Bae Butter Jonez). Their shouty joie de vivre is also conveyed in their business motto—“I cook better than your muva!”—and, now, their first brick-and-mortar outpost, a cheery counter-service joint neighboring a Chevron station. Rhasaan, a Queens native, is the chef, offering a cuisine woefully underrepresented outside the five boroughs: New York street food. You can keep your lox bagel, your $1 slice—to me, the perfect NYC dish is the soul-satisfying chicken and rice served from its halal carts, and I’m awfully grateful to CBJ for making a solid version available here. One recent lunch hour, a customer tucking into a plate of Who Let Mookie Make the Pasta (named for Spike Lee’s character in Do the Right Thing) mused aloud that the dish—spicy, garlicky noodles with spinach, tomatoes, and Parm, plus shrimp, mussels, or chicken—reminded him of a jerk pasta he used to enjoy on 14th Street in Manhattan. The aforementioned offerings appear on a frequently changing menu that also includes That Sh!t Slambing—a smashed lamb burger with caramelized onions and a creamy herb sauce—and a bodega-style breakfast sandwich. Open at 7 most mornings, Che on Cleveland is just off I-85; this food would be great on the go. 757 Cleveland Avenue, Perkerson, 404-919-4061
When last he graced the pages of this magazine, in February, Scotley Innis was doing a brisk takeout business selling decadent dishes like lobster mac and cheese from a ghost kitchen called Scotch Yard. These days, Innis is serving lobster mac—and other preparations at least as sumptuous—at the Continent, his long-awaited restaurant on Buford Highway. In his oxtail lo mein, the noodles’ chew is offset by the meltingly fatty meat and sweet, tender onions. Like Scotch Yard, the Continent takes its culinary cues from Africa—the lamb chops are inspired by suya, the West African street skewers—and the Caribbean: It’s not every Atlanta chicken joint that marinates its wings in warming jerk spices, then tosses them in sweet-tart tamarind sauce. It’s exceedingly easy to feel comforted by this food but harder to feel challenged by it: I wouldn’t have minded a bit more spice, funk, sour—something to make a diner sit up straighter in the Continent’s enveloping red booths. The ultrachill atmosphere does, no doubt, recommend this restaurant, where the staff are unflaggingly friendly and where Innis himself—a former Hell’s Kitchen contestant with a face for television—may drop by the table to see how things are going. A cigar bar adjoins (but is sealed off from) the dining room. 4300 Buford Highway, Chamblee, 404-228-2027
Drawbar is a stylish new restaurant located . . . well, somewhere deep within the Interlock, the mixed-use development opening in phases on Howell Mill Road. Wander around long enough and you’ll find it—and once you get there, wander a little further onto the patio, which affords beautiful views of downtown Atlanta. Maybe other people have had trouble, too; on a recent weeknight, the roomy dining room and bar, which double as the lobby of the Bellyard hotel, were all but deserted. The emptiness only intensified that weird, irresistible charm you encounter in certain hotel restaurants, which Drawbar has in droves: After I ordered a drink (the purple-hued, gin-based Ocean Eyes, similar to an Aviation), a server who was not even my server dropped by and chatted me up for a good 20 minutes, touching on everything from the miso-glazed salmon, which she recommended, to Atlanta’s Black Pride festivities in September, which she also recommended. I sipped my drink; I had a blast. The menu—from Christina Wai, a hotel-restaurant veteran—has a little something for everyone and nothing particularly audacious; Southern influences show up in dishes like pimento cheese arancini and Coca-Cola short rib toast. I’m suspicious of anything “glazed” that’s not a doughnut, but my new friend was spot on about the salmon. 1 Interlock Avenue, Westside, 404-806-8333
The Abby Singer If you’re looking to get a little starry-eyed before wandering through the immersive Van Gogh “experience” at the Pratt Pullman District, stop on the way in at the Abby Singer—the first permanent dining establishment in this rambling campus being reconstructed from the old bones of an early-20th-century manufacturing facility. The niche this low-key counter-service restaurant seeks to fill is “comfortable food cooked with the Midwest in mind,” and the dish anchoring its menu is the Jucy Lucy—a Minneapolis-born burger in which molten cheese is encased within the meat rather than topping it. When I visited recently, though, said cheese seemed to be missing—leaving just a whole lot of burger and bun, plus half-raw onions (“caramelized,” per the menu) and mass-market pickles. Cheese or no, some seasoning would’ve been nice: sauce, aioli, ketchup or mustard, a bit more salt; man cannot live by half-pound portions of unflavored beef alone, even if that is the dominant culinary style of the upper Midwest. (I’m from there! I’m allowed to joke!) Still, the tater tots did everything they needed to (come winter, one hopes, they’ll find their way into another Minnesota delicacy: hot dish) and the cocktails, as I suggested earlier, were affecting. In particular, a watermelon-hibiscus-mint agua fresca had two virtues: It was delicious—immensely refreshing and not too sweet, with your choice of gin, vodka, or tequila—and it was served in a 16-ounce cup. By the time I tottered away along the Pullman Trail, most disappointments were forgotten. 225 Rogers Street, Kirkwood, no phone
Daisuki Sushi Izakaya Daisuki conveys great affection in Japanese—the literal translation is “big like”—and conveys, as well, the jovial mood inside this new Johns Creek spot, where customers are greeted warmly in Japanese and bade a farewell that’s at least as effusive. The menu is a nice mix of sushi-counter favorites, deftly prepared with fresh-tasting fish—I enjoyed the chirashi bowl, an assortment of sashimi over vinegared rice, and there are many options for maki and nigiri—and hot snacks to share alongside bottles of Sapporo and/or sake. In the latter category, see, for instance, tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet), fried chicken, vegetable croquettes, the wonderful savory Japanese pancake okonomiyaki, and irresistible takoyaki—soft-centered octopus fritters. Daisuki has been serving takeout since March and only recently opened for dine-in service; outdoor seating is available, though the view is of a strip-mall parking lot. 11105 State Bridge Road, Johns Creek, 678-585-1604
A version of this article appears in our August 2021 issue.
You’re on the street, at the wheel, or—let’s face it, the most realistic possibility—looking at your phone. With one hand tied up, there’s no reason you can’t still be snacking on one of these five-finger-friendly (and highly summer-appropriate) foods.
Korean-style hot dogs, like the ones at Doraville’s Oh K-Dog, are famously maximalist—skewered, battered, and made with ingredients that can include mozzarella, potatoes, and squid ink.
Especially in summertime, the herby, tart, blended basil lemonade at East Lake brunch destination My Coffee Shop is a cult favorite—and for perfectly good reason.
Reina pepiada (loosely, “curvy queen”) is an apt name for these plump arepas from Cylantro’s Venezuelan Cuisine: griddled corn cakes stuffed with a creamy mix of chicken, avocado, and cilantro.
Imagine chicken shawarma piled with hummus and baba ghanoush, pickles and slaw—and also french fries. That’s the mighty Shouk, available in a pita at Krog Street Market vendor Yalla.
The chefs behind the Queen Churro food truck favor dramatic (and delicious) presentations—like this towering dulce churro milkshake.
These wildly colorful, ice-cold confections are a warm-weather treat in New Orleans—and at the Sno-Good New Orleans Sno-Balls food truck in Atlanta, with over 30 flavors including strawberry cheesecake.
With more restaurants intent on offering food that travels well, the options for picnic fare are arguably better than ever. That situation probably won’t last (and frankly, thank goodness). But while it does, here are some of the best snacks to take to the park—and some of our favorite places to spread a blanket out.
This Atlanta institution has been serving solid Japanese fare since 1972, but you can’t really bring hot pot to the park—luckily, the restaurant’s sushi is always fresh and smartly packaged for carrying out.
Take it to: Morningside Nature Preserve, where you can watch dogs play in the sand along the creek
James Beard nominee Jarrett Stieber pivoted hard to takeout during the pandemic, and, though the restaurant has since reopened for dine-in service, you can still pick up Stieber’s “Just Fuck Me Up, Fam” prix fixe menu to go, which could include menu mainstays like his gefilte caesar salad and mala beef with matzo balls.
Take it to: Fucked up, you say? Keeping with the theme, drive on over to Constitution Lakes and dine among the doll’s heads.
Plant Based Pizzeria
Pizza comes premade and requires no silverware—it’s every bit as picnic-friendly as fried chicken. This pizzeria turns out popular vegan pies (with optional gluten-free cauliflower crust) as well as calzones, another perfectly portable option. Try the Georgia Peach, a pie with spicy Beyond sausage, roasted peaches, red onions, and jalapeños.
Take it to: Freedom Park
Chase it with: Milk and bubble teas from Honey Bubble, right across Ponce from the park
This buzzy Israeli restaurant on Ponce asks for $18 in exchange for six mezze, which can include roasted beets, sumac-cabbage slaw, pickles, olives, and more. Throw in the restaurant’s pita and Hummus No. 2—with roasted butternut squash, harissa, and the nut-and-spice blend dukkah—and one or two of its boozy Turkish-coffee shakes and you’ve got the fixings for a pretty good afternoon.
Just a quick BeltLine stroll away: Historic Fourth Ward Park
Big Dave’s Cheesesteaks
West Philly transplant Derrick Hayes has earned a swift and loyal following for his enormous cheesesteaks made with grass-fed beef, his highly portable (and highly cheesy) egg rolls, and his ardent support of Covid healthcare workers and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Take it to: Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, a verdant urban oasis with Civil War earthworks. The forest is also home to a gorgeous waterfall.
JCT. Kitchen & Bar
This Ford Fry joint offers a fried-chicken picnic pour deux, including the titular bird, biscuits and jam, deviled eggs, braised greens, and mac and cheese.
Take it to: Long-awaited Westside Park, built around the massive Bellwood Quarry reservoir, is slated to open this summer just a few minutes away; it’ll be the city’s biggest park. The park’s initial phase will include trails, a “grand overlook,” and a lawn for picnicking.
Familiar sights: Bellwood Quarry has been the filming location for scenes from The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, The Hunger Games, and other movies and TV shows.
Tassa Caribbean Restaurant
This Marietta Caribbean spot is a popular destination for rich, well-spiced chicken, goat, and chickpeas and potatoes—and more—enfolded in tender roti flatbread. Grab a fresh sorrel, passionfruit, or soursop juice to go with it.
Bring it on: An afternoon ramble through the East Palisades trails along the Chattahoochee River
It requires 48 hours’ notice, but Linton Hopkins’s Piedmont Park picnic for two provides a proper Southern lunch and probably some leftovers: a half loaf of bread, a pint of pimento cheese, Holeman & Finch bread-and-butter pickles, and Zapps chips, plus two cookies.
Take it to: Where else? Piedmont Park. If you spread your blanket out on the park’s north end, you can easily hit up Orpheus Brewing afterward for a beer.
Linger over: The grocery options at the Buttery when you pick your food up. From packaged sauces and seasonings to fancy meats and cheeses to some of pastry chef Jen Yee’s wonderful cookies and croissants, you may find a few more things to like in this thoughtful little market.
Kinship Butcher & Sundry
The chef at this brand-new VaHi business is Myles Moody, who’s worked with Linton Hopkins; the thing to get is a picnic basket for two or four, with cheese, ham, tomatoes, pork rillettes, and a baguette, plus (optional) caviar-add on.
Take it to: Orme Park, a sweet little VaHi nook built around Clear Creek and restored about a decade ago
Sweet treat: If you don’t mind a stroll back to Virginia Avenue, Kinship is right next to Paolo’s Gelato—and a little cioccolato (or lemon sorbetto) never hurt anyone.
However many you order, Lee’s assembles some of Atlanta’s best banh mi, but pro tip if you’re feeding a crowd: It’s buy five, get one free. A few classically porky banh mi—like one with ham, head cheese, and pâté—are joined by solid vegetarian options, including an avocado and a tofu sandwich.
Take it to: The picnic tables at Doc Manget Memorial Aviation Park, where you can watch planes take off and land at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (and kids can run around at an aviation-themed playground). There’s also hiking trails right across Clairmont Road at Ashford Forest Preserve, previously a “protection area” for one of the airport’s (now disused) runways.
Lake & Oak BBQ
Chef Todd Richards’s East Lake barbecue joint sells individual plates, but you’ll also find the means to feed a family: You can order brisket, ribs, chicken wings, and pulled pork by the pound, to go with pints of Brussels sprouts and cabbage slaw, stewed collards with smoked chicken, smoked mac and cheese, and more.
Take it to: Kirkwood Urban Forest Preserve, a five-acre greenspace with picnic tables, a meadow, a community garden, and a frog pond
One of the best deals is town right now is whatever they’re serving on any given day at Staplehouse, which converted during the pandemic from a temple of fine-dining to a much more accessible (and affordable) market with a can’t-miss menu of takeaway items. Grab a pepperoni hand pie, some cheese and crackers, and a few canelés and head to Grant Park.
Something to consider: Swinging by 3 Parks Wine Shop en route for something to sip on. (If you buy it in a can and use a koozie, probably nobody’ll hassle you.)
Dosirak are Korean lunchboxes, with a bed of rice providing the base for a few judiciously chosen components: At this Edgewood Avenue spot, you can choose among bulgogi (marinated beef), japchae (stir-fried glass noodles), kimbap (a seaweed and rice roll akin to sushi), dumplings, and Korean fried chicken. (Also worth noting: It’s right around the corner from Sweet Stack Creamery.)
Take it to: Rose Circle Park, home to the 0 Mile Marker for the Atlanta BeltLine—and right across the street from the panoply of breweries housed in the Lee + White district
Souper Jenny At the Roswell location of Atlanta-area icon Souper Jenny, a fancy PB&J—with local Georgia peanut butter and jam from Fairywood Thicket Farm, on Alon’s bread—will set you back six bucks and give you plenty of fuel for exploring Roswell’s extensive walking paths.
Check out: The Roswell Riverwalk at Azalea Park, or the extensive trail system around Vickery Creek Falls
Sure, you can drive an hour from Atlanta in just about any direction and wind up someplace verdant and beautiful. And fine, here’s some suggestions for state parks and other wild areas studded with spectacular waterfalls, miles of hiking trails, and hidden swimming nooks. But just as important: What are you going to eat along the way?
The Latin American–influenced Kakao Cafe serves espresso drinks alongside cubanos and chorizo-stuffed breakfast burritos. Also, crucially: churros.
Bulgogi and brie grilled cheese, from the Asian fusion restaurant She Craft Co, is a gooey, satisfying—and fortifying—lunch. Snag an Asian lemonade (with lime, ginger, and lemongrass) from the grab-and-go case.
Just 25 minutes from downtown, Frank’s Family Restaurant—Greek and Italian, right off the interstate, between a gas station and a wing joint—is worth a drive simply for its divine cheddar grouper sandwich, served piping hot on crusty bread. Also notable: cheesy spinach pie and fruit turnovers the size of a dinner plate.
Assemble a picnic from the offerings at Cleaver & Cork, a new butcher shop in downtown Newnan, which sells charcuterie fare including cheese from Sequatchie Cove Creamery, Phickles pickles, and more.
Way down yonder by the big Alan Jackson mural (it’s his hometown), Rock Salt Milk Bar offers ice cream in flavors like orange-cardamom and snickerdoodle.
Go old-school at Charlie Joseph’s, a LaGrange institution since 1920, with a slaw dog and a lemon sour. Also on offer: Brunswick stew and Frito chili pie.
Tucked behind a Piggly Wiggly off the town’s main strip, cute little Taqueria Estrella Roja offers the usual taco fillings in handmade corn tortillas as well as two immensely flavorful veggie options: zucchini and mushroom.
On your way to a hike? It’s a carb boost. After a hike? A well-earned reward. In any case, Wild Leap Brew Co. provides a spacious outdoor area for sampling some of Georgia’s best beer.
The massive biscuits at Rushing Trading Co. are built—and named—with sustenance in mind: See, for instance, the Hunters Biscuit (country ham, Irish cheddar, apple butter) and the Intermediate Hike Biscuit (sausage, egg, cheese).
The “world comfort cuisine” at Rico’s World Kitchen includes impeccably seasoned lumpia—Filipino egg rolls—and sandwiches worth stopping for, like mojo pork with pickles and guava barbecue sauce.
In one tasty package—either individually sized or by the loaf—Diletto Bakery’s cheese and guava–stuffed bread covers two of the most important food groups (cheese, bread). Snag a mango or passion fruit juice for the road.
If the huge apple fritters aren’t reason enough to stop at the Jaemor Farm and Market farmstand on Cornelia Highway, here are a few more: fried pies, boiled peanuts, and peach and strawberry soft-serve, made with fruit grown on site.
Costa de Jalisco—both a taqueria and a grocer—offers the possibility of picking up road-friendly food (including cheesy birria tacos) and snacks and Jarritos for later.
Citrus zest and bell peppers add a kick of flavor to the Turkish tuna avocado melt at Sweet Breads, a brunch spot where biscuits and gravy are another fan favorite.
The wood-fired oven at Grains of Grace enriches the flavor of everything from bagels to waffles to hot, flaky beignets, with plenty of other lunch options available in this cute cafe.
Consider the different meanings of the word idle, starting with the least savory. Cars sitting in place, engines running—stuck in traffic, say, or at a fast-food drive-thru—contribute a not-insignificant amount to annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, when vehicles were off the road and factories idled, emissions dropped, offering a tantalizing glimpse of an environment headed in the right direction, if still under some duress. Of course, those emissions already have bounced back.
Still, there are other ways in which pandemics can leave a mark for the better. In Slate last year, Vanessa Chang described how past public-health crises affected the built environment: Early in the last century, doctors prescribed rigorous indoor hygiene, fresh air, and sunlight for tuberculosis patients, influencing architectural modernism’s emphasis on clean lines and minimal clutter. “A house is only habitable when it is full of light and air,” said Le Corbusier, the Swiss architect.
What will be the long-term effects of these last, long months? One pandemic adaptation I’m hoping will prove permanent is the walk-up window, an adjustment made by many restaurants and cafes. The bakery in my neighborhood shut down for months; when it reopened, it was with a brand-new sliding window facing the street. Along with my neighbors, I waited happily in line for cookies as traffic whizzed past behind us.
It wasn’t just about being able to eat cookies again. The window lent the street a new sense of vibrancy, as walk-up windows across Atlanta are doing. Quickly, it felt less like a forced adaptation than a happy embrace of the outdoors, mixing food with fresh air and sunshine and blurring the distinction between public and private. Like the city blocks that shut down so restaurants could expand their open-air seating, the walk-up window encourages street culture. Outside is a place anybody can be—especially the sidewalk, which everybody owns. You don’t buy your way onto the sidewalk; you don’t pay to stroll by. The window has a democratizing effect.
The walk-up window, maybe, could embody the spirit of the 21st century—the climate adaptation century, when we rethink our relationship to the outdoors—in much the same way the drive-thru represented the benighted 20th: the plastics century, the Silent Spring century, and, yes, the automobile century. Idling in line to get oyster po’boys and sazeracs at Bon Ton’s walk-up window is the opposite of idling at a McDonald’s drive-thru—an essentially solitary experience, each driver trapped in their own little emissions generator. (And anyways, if you must stay in the car, there are far better options.) Waiting at a walk-up window doesn’t have to be a social experience, but it could be. Even if you’re just looking at your phone, you’re outside and among others—a kind of idle time that, in its small way, encourages us to think differently about the spaces we move through. There is the possibility of spontaneity, even joy. You could meet a dog, or several dogs. Maybe somebody walks by playing the accordion. I don’t know! But you have to get in line to find out.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon recently, a DJ spun tunes in the sleek, cozy confines of Hippin Hops—a new brewery whose front doors open wide onto Glenwood Avenue—while friends gathered on sidewalk picnic tables or played cornhole on the patio. It felt good to be back in a welcoming neighborhood hangout, and even better after a couple of the brewery’s fine beers. The menu, which bartenders amiably walked customers through, features a half dozen; the saison-style Bier Saigon was delicate and fresh-tasting, and an IPA called the Baby Mama Drama was briskly fruity without being overpowering (though, if fruity’s your thing, you can get this one served in a pineapple). The beer is the main draw here, though a menu of Southern-ish food—baked oysters topped with Cajun spiced shrimp, lobster and waffles, gator bites, and a by-the-book shrimp po’boy—is entirely solid. (If a bit spendy: Expect to pay $6 for a side of unremarkable fries with that sandwich.) Founded by husband-and-wife duo Clarence and Donnica Boston, Hippin Hops stakes a claim as the first Black-owned brick-and-mortar brewery in Georgia, but, happily, its days as the only such establishment are numbered: Atlantucky Brewing, by members of Nappy Roots, launches this year in Castleberry Hill. And the Bostons are already expanding, with planned locations in East Lake and Stone Mountain. 1308 Glenwood Avenue, East Atlanta Village, 678-713-2739
Fresh faces appeared this spring in the kitchen at Tiny Lou’s, the dim, swank restaurant below the Hotel Clermont, and, if I may anticipate your question: Yes, there is still a dessert on the menu named for Blondie, Atlanta’s stripper laureate. Under previous management, pastry chef Claudia Martinez earned acclaim for her Ode to Blondie—who performs at the Clermont Lounge—and I’m very pleased to report that Charmain Ware, her successor, has upheld the dancer’s good name and then some. Now called Hello Blondie, the dessert in its current form is absolutely bananas: Specifically, it is a banana blondie, hidden under creamy layers of hazelnut praline and caramelized namelaka, a kind of white chocolate ganache. The balance of the menu, from executive chef Jon Novak (formerly sous chef at the Napa Valley restaurant Torc), comprises favorites of the French bistro—fans of steak frites and good burgers will find both here—and other elevated preparations like a chicken “duo”: one leg whose skin has been alchemized, by way of confit, into a rich lacquer, plated with a beautiful slab of potato and poulet pressé—fine slices of chicken and tuber layered like a napoleon, its surface buttery and crisp. The menu changes seasonally, with other recent highlights including foraged-mushroom risotto, asparagus with poached egg and ramp pistou, and a salad of spring greens and rhubarb vinaigrette. 789 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Poncey-Highland, 470-485-0085
Like a cicada on a 17-year schedule, shedding its youthful exoskeleton to embark in search of a mate, 8Arm undergoes an occasional profound metamorphosis. Shutting down in April following the departure of redoubtable chef Maricela Vega, 8Arm emerged several weeks later in an entirely new guise, reconfigured by owners Nhan Le and Skip Engelbrecht in the style of a Japanese izakaya. That’s a world of flavors away from Vega’s plant-forward, locally rooted but globe-spanning cooking—but in no way a bad thing. New executive chef Hiro Endo (Ginya Izakaya) and chef de cuisine Allen Suh offer both pitch-perfect renditions of Japanese street foods—like gooey-centered takoyaki: spheres of battered octopus, decorated with umami-rich bonito flakes and Kewpie mayo—and bespoke creations such as a spicy tuna roll with fermented chili paste, pumpkin oil, cucumber, and just a hint of brown sugar. Vegetal and candylike at once, the dish is enchanting. Delicately flavored chilled vegetable ramen will especially hit the spot at the height of summer, and the rest of the small plates on the menu—seaweed salad, sweet and smoky grilled skewers, many nigiri—will reward repeat visits. One might quibble with one aspect of that menu: The only way to view it is by scanning a QR code, a rising dining-world trend that (like the restaurant’s cashless policy) seems needlessly exclusive—what about diners who don’t have smartphones?—as well as a vibe killer: We should at least have the option of putting our phones away at dinner, especially dinner as head-turning as this. 710 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Virginia-Highland, 470-875-5856
Genius is forged in the fires of necessity and, this past year, in the oven at Nick Melvin’s Lake Claire home, as well. Leaving a job at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q when the pandemic hit, Melvin (who cofounded Doux South Pickles) turned to selling breakfast burritos out of his driveway. He amassed a following that’s set to grow now that he’s expanded Poco Loco into a takeout counter in the old Dish Dive space, across from East Lake MARTA. Your mileage may vary, but, to me, Melvin has seized on the perfect setup. Here’s how it works: You go, you get a tremendously good Tex-Mex–style burrito—a chewy handmade flour tortilla encasing richly spiced fillings like achiote-roasted pork shoulder, beans stewed with Pine Street Market bacon, and cauliflower “chorizo.” Then, you get a second burrito, and maybe a third, fourth, and fifth—these guys are frozen, so you can heat them up at home at your leisure. Then, you select some groceries from the cold case, with ever-changing options including green chili pork, beans, pints of salsa and chimichurri, and housemade tortillas. Plenty of restaurants have gotten into grab-and-go during the pandemic, but the abbreviated menu Melvin has assembled here is no less than irresistible. Check each week’s menu online and consider ordering ahead—currently, Poco Loco is open only Thursday through Saturday. 2233 College Avenue, Kirkwood, no phone
Every spring, Atlanta’s Papadopoulos family celebrates Easter in big Greek style, with a locally famous blowout involving music, ouzo, and an egg hunt. And—importantly for our purposes here—a feast of spit-roasted animals, among sundry specialties. Not long after Easter 2021, the family (who own Athens Pizza in Decatur) brought those meats to the masses with Karv Kitchen, where they serve a kind of fast-casual version of the roast beasts prepared by chef Sandy Papadopoulos at the annual shindig. It abuts a Five Guys on the ground floor of an apartment development overlooking busy Peachtree Boulevard; suffice it to say, the food outshines the location. Similar to how Chipotle has burritos and bowls, the basic unit here is the “Karv,” either a wrap or a “stack” atop rice, fries, or potatoes. That’s the first choice of several diners will make: Next one selects a meat (rotisserie chicken or pork, slow-cooked lamb, short rib) and a “flavor profile” combining various ingredients, sauces, and garnishes. Because I can only be me, I went the route that involved the most french fries—that’s the “Greko.” I ended up with a fluffy pita stuffed with hand-cut fries, supertender chicken thigh, pickled veg, mustard, and a rich, tangy tzatziki sauce—it was pleasingly spicy and so juicy (not a complaint!) that next time I might get it over rice. Meatless options are not only available but plentiful and thoughtful—for instance, a corn-avocado salad with the sheep’s-milk cheese kefalotyri and tempura-fried zucchini and eggplant chips. No ouzo, but there is beer. 5126 Peachtree Boulevard, Suite 200B, Chamblee, 770-710-0119
El Vinedo Local
As if following a long slumber, this airy, urbane South American cafe from proprietor Robert Kaster has awakened slowly over the course of the spring. Initially, El Vinedo Local (“the local vineyard”) was open only for breakfast, lunch, and coffee, with the promise of wine and dinner on the near horizon as of press time; someday soon, one hopes, patrons of the Fox Theatre, a stone’s throw down Peachtree Street, will even be able to drop in after a show for a late-night nosh and a nightcap on the restaurant’s handsome patio. No matter the time of day, a visit pays in delicious dividends. Chef Bruno Vergara, most recently of South Main Kitchen in Alpharetta, turns out delicate arepas and empanadas (including empanadas Criolla, stuffed in the style of Vergara’s native Uruguay with ground beef, olives, and hard-boiled eggs), Argentine-style choripán sandwiches (filled with chorizo and chimichurri, served with yucca fries), and a lively ceviche of Georgia shrimp, crunchy plantain chips, cilantro, and Meyer lemon oil. The coffee (fair trade, organic) is from Americus roastery Cafe Campesino, and a majority of the wines will be from South American producers. 720 Peachtree Street, Midtown, 404-596-8239
Tum Pok Pok
The Mekong River separates the country of Laos from the northeastern Thai region of Isan, with some culinary tendencies shared across the waterway: heat, funk, lots of salads. Those elements are also characteristic of the invigorating fare at Tum Pok Pok, a new Isan restaurant on Buford Highway from Adidsara Weerasin, who owns Bangkok Thyme in Sandy Springs. On the numbered menu, it’s best to start at the top: #1 is lab kao tord, a spicy, slightly sweet, lime-spiked ground-chicken salad, laced with cilantro and shredded ginger and served with the lettuce leaves it’s meant to be eaten off of. The sharp heat, the herby tang, the tender meat—they’re set off beautifully by peanuts and crunchy clusters of sticky rice. You’ll want to order a series of these street food–style plates, so why not move on to #2: lemongrass-scented e-sarn sausage, whose heat is amplified by coins of raw ginger and a chili dipping sauce. And speaking of heat, don’t skip the cleansingly fiery som tum pla lah—papaya salad with fermented fish sauce (#12)—unless it’s in favor of a full som tum platter (#14), which also has pork sausage, boiled eggs, and other goodies. (The restaurant’s name is inspired by the sound of chilis being beaten in a mortar in the preparation of som tum.) Pad Thai (#17), several curries, and other, more standard Thai fare is available further down the menu. The dining room is charmingly cluttered with colorful decor. 5000 Buford Highway, Chamblee, 404-990-4688
La Calavera Pizza
One of the very first lousy things to happen last year was the January closure of La Calavera, where Mexico-born, Atlanta-raised baker Eric Arillo crafted sourdough breads and sweet Mexican pastries including conchas and (in season) pan de muerto, the bread of the dead. Now, Arillo and his wife and business partner, Dale Ralston, have resurrected La Calavera (Spanish for “skull”) as a pizza joint. On a recent weeknight, the deck ovens were cranked up and the pair were vending pies from a takeout window off the side of the building, offering 16-inch circles and grandma-style square pizzas they call ladrillos, or “bricks,” because “they’re red, hefty, and have four corners.” Fair enough. Ladrillos—which are lovely, soft inside and crisp at the edges—are also notable because they’re available by the slice, at $2.50 per, with toppings extra. Full pies include the Homeboy, with mushrooms and Spotted Trotter pepperoni, and the Luna, with fresh and shredded mozz. More toppings wouldn’t be terrible, nor would a more interesting selection of composed pies, but one can’t fault Arillo’s excellent sourdough crusts, made with white, whole wheat, or gluten-free flour. (Vegan cheese is also available.) The whole wheat, in particular, provides a welcome bit of sweetness and plays off the dried herbs sprinkled on the pies. 1696 Memorial Drive, Kirkwood, 404-697-7030
People began to gather on the pier at daybreak—in ones and twos at first, dog walkers and early birds and retirees, but the crowd grew as the sky lightened and the sun pierced the horizon over the ocean.
Actually, the sun was not the only thing piercing the horizon. Some improbable object, too, chugged steadily forward across the water. From the pier, it looked like St. Louis’s Gateway Arch, but yellow and sort of steampunk—less like a boat than a piece of heavy construction equipment. Which, essentially, it was: The VB 10,000, as the machine is called, is a heavy-lift vessel, the biggest of its kind built in the United States, and it had sailed from Florida. Its destination was the Golden Ray, a 656-foot freighter that capsized in St. Simons Sound with some 4,200 cars on board, the largest cargo shipwreck in United States coastal waters since the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989. The ruined vessel had lain there for more than a year. And the VB 10,000, which could lift 7,500 tons—built by the company Versabar to install oil platforms, or salvage those wrecked by hurricanes, in the Gulf of Mexico—was here to clean up the mess.
The VB 10,000 sailed up a shipping lane that runs, straight as an airport runway, from the open ocean through the straits between Jekyll and St. Simons Islands. Crews approaching at dawn see Georgia’s coastal islands—with Cumberland way over to the left, Sea Island on the right—lit up by the rising sun. Eventually, the scene narrows to reveal the condo-lined beaches of St. Simons at starboard and the forested shores of Jekyll on the port side. The Sidney Lanier Bridge rises in the background of this tableau, with the colonial-era city of Brunswick just beyond.
The Port of Brunswick is one of the busiest on the East Coast for a specific kind of traffic: the enormous, car-carrying vessels known as ro/ros, for “roll on, roll off.” They’re basically floating parking garages, with thousands of vehicles in their holds that can be loaded or unloaded via a ramp that lowers off the ship. Brunswick is a conduit for imports and exports of 12 major auto brands, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz USA. The Golden Ray had just picked up a load of Kia Tellurides and other vehicles when it tilted over.
Now, the ship rested on its side on a sandbar, its big maroon keel pointing southwest, visible from Highway 17 and the surrounding islands. Doug Haymans, the director of the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, could see it from the window of his office beneath the Sidney Lanier Bridge. “You sort of get the sense of a dead, helpless animal laid out there,” Haymans said. “You see other ships sail past it each day, and you have to wonder, if ships were animate objects, what the ship thinks about its brother laying on its side.”
The Golden Ray had been there so long that it had become a fixture of the landscape and of the local imagination. Placards on the pier directed onlookers to a website for more information. A gift shop on Mallery Street sold T-shirts with an illustration of the Golden Ray and a little witticism: SHIP HAPPENS. Patrons at Barrier Island Brewing, near the King and Prince resort, could order a beer called Golden Ray IPA.
The VB 10,000 consists of two barges joined in catamaran formation, with two 240-foot lift gantries arching between them. By the time the vessel showed up at St. Simons, the Golden Ray had been encircled in a one-mile environmental-protection barrier, a system of netting and pilings meant to catch debris while the ship was dismantled in situ. On the morning of October 27, 2020, the barrier was opened, and the VB 10,000 maneuvered inside. Straddling the wreck, the lift vessel would attach to a heavy chain that crews had looped beneath the Golden Ray, then pull the chain upward and back and forth, moving it in superslow motion—seven feet per minute—to cut through the hull. Eight cuts would be made, the body divided into seven pieces, and, by this means, finally—finally—the ship would, at long last, be rescued from its ignominy.
Some historians find it useful to talk about, for instance, the “long 19th century”—the idea being that historical periods are defined less by arbitrary stop and start dates than they are by earth-moving events and, really, feelings: According to this schema, the 19th century didn’t begin at midnight on January 1, 1801, but rather with the French Revolution in 1789, and it didn’t end until the onset of World War I in 1914. Future scholars may find it similarly useful to refer to the long year 2020, for reasons I don’t need to fill you in on. In late 2019, a cluster of pneumonia cases were reported in China that would bloom into a global pandemic, bringing the world to a standstill that has not yet ended. Over roughly the same time period, the dismal carcass of the Golden Ray has loomed over St. Simons Sound, emanating its own surreal inertia while simultaneously—perhaps?—reflecting our own.
As the most recent year dawned, a columnist from the Brunswick Newsissued a series of humorous predictions. “I would give a definite date for when the Golden Ray will be fully removed from St. Simons Sound, but these are my 2021 predictions,” he wrote. “I’ll save that one for 2022.” Nobody died; some levity is permitted.
From the perspective of the Golden Ray, the long year 2020 commenced shortly after midnight on September 8, 2019. Arriving the day prior from Jacksonville, the ship had offloaded some subcompacts and taken on the SUVs, then left port under the control of Jonathan Tennant, an experienced harbor pilot. (When certain large commercial ships enter U.S. ports, they’re required by law to be put under the control of local harbor pilots, such as Tennant—experts on the ins and outs of area waterways. Pilots board incoming ships in the open ocean; on the outbound transit, once they’ve guided the vessels from port, they disembark onto small boats that bring them back to shore, like a taxi.) Transiting past Jekyll Island, Tennant initiated a starboard turn out to sea that he’d made thousands of times. As he would put it in a 2020 hearing, part of a Coast Guard investigation into the accident: “Everything was just as normal as could be until it capsized.” The results of the investigation have yet to be released, but testimony has suggested the Golden Ray may have been unstable due to the way the vehicles were loaded and the fact that, on an earlier leg of its voyage, the ship had let off water ballast. In short: It may have been top-heavy, rendering a routine turn treacherous. As the ship settled onto its side, Tennant realized the situation had become “a lifesaving event, not a piloting event” and saw “fear in the faces of the people around me”—members of the Golden Ray’s 23-person crew, mostly from South Korea and the Philippines. He tried to assure the captain, he testified: “We’re going to be okay, we’re on a sandbar and the calvary is coming, the Coast Guard is on the way.”
As rescue boats arrived on the scene, most of the crew were able to evacuate via a fire hose lowered down the side of the ailing ship. In his own testimony, Coast Guard captain John Reed said that, when he reached the shipwreck just prior to daybreak, having driven overnight from Charleston, he saw smoke, smelled fire, and heard “large crashes inside the hull every few minutes,” from what he presumed to be vehicles breaking free of their tethers. Four crew members were still unaccounted for at that point. Initially, Reed testified, “there was a great deal of doubt concerning any remaining survivors.”
The following morning, more than 24 hours after the capsizing, the missing men were located, alive, in the engine room. Rescuers drilled holes to share food and water and used leaf blowers to force fresh air into the sweltering space while they devised a plan to extract the stranded men. Reed feared, he said later, that cutting into the hull might create sparks that could cause an explosion. But he also feared the remaining crew members wouldn’t survive until they could retrieve the proper salvage equipment. Finally, responders drilled a series of overlapping holes through the almost inch-thick steel hull of the ship, gaining access to three of the four seamen, with the last trapped behind explosion-proof glass that had to be scored, then broken with an ax. About 40 hours after the ship went down, all of its crew were safe. The Golden Ray—partly owing to Tennant’s decisive actions as the vessel overturned—had come to rest in relatively shallow water on a sandbar, likely saving lives and allowing the port to reopen partially in a couple days and fully after a couple months.
The worst was averted, but the ordeal was just beginning. The Golden Ray held nearly 400,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil, which began to leak into St. Simons Sound as responders worked to stabilize the wreck. Though they were able to pump most of it out, it’s unknown exactly how much fuel oil remains on board—and how much ended up on the shorelines and in the marshes of St. Simons Sound. The Altamaha Riverkeeper, which spent the autumn of 2019 working with local charter fishermen to monitor pollution in the area, estimates that some 30 miles of shoreline experienced oiling to some degree, out of the roughly 120 miles that make up the estuary. The contamination was compounded by Georgia’s exceptionally high tides, which lifted the oil into the salt marsh in places and left it there, in horizontal lines across the marsh grass, as the waters receded. Fletcher Sams, the Riverkeeper’s executive director, showed me pictures on his phone of some of the scenes: “It looks like somebody got a can of black spray paint and just drew lines through the marsh,” he said.
Sams tracked the spots where oil was located on maps that he shared with members of Unified Command, the ad hoc body charged with responding to oil spills. It consists of a representative of the federal government (in this instance, the U.S. Coast Guard), the state government (Georgia DNR), and the “responsible party” (typically, the vessel owner, which, in the case of the Golden Ray, is the South Korean company Hyundai Glovis).
Doug Helton, whose office is in Seattle, visited the scene as a representative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Emergency Response Division. Helton told me that he “missed” the Exxon Valdez on account of being in graduate school but that he’s been involved in every major oil spill since, including the Deepwater Horizon, which discharged roughly 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. “In terms of the amount of oil that was on the ship and the amount that was spilled, it was relatively small compared to an incident like the Deepwater Horizon,” Helton said of the Golden Ray. But in the immediate aftermath of the wreck, locals feared the worst, and some in the tourism industry—charter fishermen, for instance—reported slower-than-usual bookings due to concerns over pollution.
In October, it was determined that the Golden Ray was too structurally unstable to be refloated and hauled away. It would have to be demolished in place—hopefully before the arrival of hurricane season 2020. By the following spring, though, as demolition efforts ramped up, responders found themselves contending unexpectedly with a global pandemic that was disrupting supply chains, sparking lockdowns, and impeding what was already shaping up to be a fiendishly complicated salvage operation. Salvors began welding custom-made lifting lugs onto the hull of the Golden Ray: 16 pieces, ranging in weight from 35 to 85 tons, that attached to the top of the wreck like plates on the back of a stegosaurus and that the VB 10,000 would use to pick up each piece of the dismantled ship. But hurricane season arrived before the cutting could get underway. Next, 10 responders tested positive for Covid-19. The Coast Guard announced two delays, pushing the operation to late October. Observers started to get itchy: Then Senator David Perdue and Buddy Carter, who represents the coast in the U.S. House, sent a letter to the Coast Guard complaining of the postponements.
Others took it in stride. Local boat and trolley tour operator Cap Fendig—an amiable St. Simons lifer who serves on the Glynn County Commission—started offering a Golden Ray tour, which I joined one day along with about a half dozen others, including some visitors from Tennessee. Setting sail from Morningstar Marinas aboard a small craft called the Puddle Shuttle, we approached the wreck from the north. “You are now in the position of where the ship was coming out,” Fendig said as we floated in the sound, a few hundred yards off from where the actual wreck lay. He told of its capsizing, then described how a chain would cut through the ship’s hull to take it apart: “It’s like a necklace, ladies,” he said. “When you pick it up out of your jewelry box and bring it up to your neck and you clasp it? But they take that chain and start seesawing with it.” That’s what the VB 10,000 was for. Chain finally in place, cutting began just a few days after Election Day.
On a chilly morning in early January, I drove east across Jekyll Island causeway, toward rays of sunlight just beginning to appear over the low scrubby island trees. I met Sams, of the Altamaha Riverkeeper, in the parking lot of the Jekyll Island Pier, where we stood talking as a barge passed carrying the massive severed stern of the Golden Ray. It glowed in the light of dawn—blue and white up top, covered in algae and assorted marine gunk on the bottom, where it had sat in the water for the past 16 months. The stern was the second section to come off; the bow came first, as salvors work their way toward the ship’s interior. The first two sections were structurally stable enough to be lifted onto barges, which would transport each around the Florida peninsula to a recycling facility in Louisiana. The salvage becomes more delicate as it progresses, and it’s expected that the interior pieces of the ship won’t be as strong. They’ll be disturbed as little as possible, transferred to floating dry docks and then removed to Brunswick for further dismantling. At least, that’s the plan.
Sams was looking for oil released from the wreck as it was being dismantled. The ocean was receding and, as the day warmed, we walked the high-tide line, where, he explained, the water would have deposited new pollution among the usual seaweed and marsh wrack. Various other objects, too, washed up with the tide, among them cut flowers and pieces of broccoli—the sea harbors many mysteries. There were also tiny splotches of oil, which looked like mud until you smelled them. The night before, Sams had texted me photos he’d taken as he walked in the dark with an ultraviolet light, which causes oil to glow. “Horse shit will glow the same color,” he said. “That’s where the smell check gets dangerous.” We rounded the northern tip of Jekyll and made our way toward the ocean side of the island and its famous Driftwood Beach.
Sams and other environmentalists are pushing for a natural resources damage assessment, or NRDA, a comprehensive state and federal analysis of the environmental effects of the Golden Ray incident, which would also include a plan for their remediation. “There’s already been damage,” Sams said. “You need to get a grasp on what’s been impacted, how bad, and what needs to take place to fix it.”
That decision may wait until the salvage is complete. In December, Doug Haymans of the Georgia DNR told me: “We’re certainly not at the point of calling for a NRDA. We’re in the data-collection phase.” (The DNR, Haymans said, would be one of three “trustees” in the study, along with NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.) He continued, “You look around the estuary, and you have to ask yourself: Where’s that permanent, long-lasting damage? This isn’t an Exxon Valdez. This isn’t a BP”—referring to the Deepwater Horizon, where BP was a responsible party—“where there’s millions and millions of gallons.”
On our way back to the pier, Sams and I ran into a cleanup team from Unified Command—Sams told them he’d made marks in the sand where he’d found oil or debris. The crew were just one component of a multivalent environmental response on display that day, and just about every day last winter: Offshore, responders in boats fished objects out of the water, and spotters in a helicopter overhead looked for sheening. Sensitive ecological areas had been surrounded by boom—materials that can either absorb or deflect oil, while nearby vessels could be dispatched, singly or in formation, to collect it. Two shrimp boats had been retrofitted to trawl for debris. Teams combed the beaches looking for pollution that could be as small as a drop of oil or as big as the fender of a car that had fallen from the wreck.
The Golden Ray cleanup is shaping up to be potentially the most expensive maritime salvage operation in U.S. history—with costs projected by the ship’s insurer, in May 2020, to exceed $400 million. (The responsible party and its insurer are on the hook for cleanup costs thanks to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, passed following the Exxon Valdez spill. Regarded as a highly successful piece of modern environmental legislation, OPA 90 is also one of the last major pieces of federal environmental legislation on the books. Last year was its 30th anniversary.)
The environmental responders and scores of salvors—from technicians maintaining the cutting apparatus to divers checking the chains—have turned St. Simons Sound into a hive of activity. The first cut, completed in November, had originally been projected to take 24 hours but ended up taking three weeks; the second cut began on Christmas and took nine days; the third cut commenced in late January. The work progresses slowly.
After the summer Covid-19 outbreak, Unified Command decided to quarantine the operation’s most critical workers. Since September, more than 100 salvors have been living in isolation at Epworth by the Sea, a serene St. Simons retreat center. So far, the operation has extended its lease twice—most recently through May.
One of its residents this past winter—and one of the youngest workers on the project—was Catherine Teige, who graduated in 2019 from SUNY Maritime College. The Golden Ray is her first major salvage project. She entered the bubble in early January. After 75 days, she’ll have the option to take some time off, but, when we spoke in early February, Teige thought she might stay on: “For most of last year, we were in the planning process. I want to see all the planning come to life, you know? We’ve already cut two sections of the wreck”—the third cut was then underway—“but being on the VB, it happening right in front of me, is just surreal. It’s awesome.”
Workers are on 12-hour shifts, round the clock. There is a weight room, a game room. It’s peaceful—after all, it’s a retreat center. The off-hours are mostly for sleeping. “Sometimes, I play ping pong with the guys after dinner,” Teige said, and laughed: “And I have my little ice cream.” Site work is overseen by two veteran salvage masters, who trade shifts. One of them, Jim Conroy, told me about the rhythms of life at Epworth, where members of his crew have now observed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. “The guys, you know—most of them shop,” Conroy said. “It’s amazing. I’ve never seen so many packages show up.”
“They do . . . online shopping?” I said. Well, it’s not like they can go out and see the sights. And many of us who are not quarantined at Epworth by the Sea also have spent these last long months in our little rooms, in our little apartments or our little houses, looking out the window, checking Twitter, eating our little ice cream, going for little walks, consoling ourselves with one-click ordering. Our bubbles may be bigger and more porous; but it’s often difficult to escape a sense of being inside, looking out.
Speaking for myself, anyway.
“Yeah,” Conroy said. “Some days, you can’t even get through the lobby with all the packages. To me, the unknowable thing is—you gotta shop that much? You need that much?” He laughed. “I guess as temperatures change, they’re buying clothes. And a few things to keep themselves entertained. There’s a lot of PlayStations on the site, that’s for sure.”
When did you know that there was something special about “Atlanta Influences Everything” as both a slogan and an ethos? When the world started thanking Atlanta for “saving democracy,” it made me realize that although Atlanta Influences Everything as a consultancy was established in 2015, never before have those words rang as true as they did after November 3, 2020, and January 5, 2021—where people from disparate sectors who may have never even met or collaborated before are saying the same, unifying rallying cry about this imperfect city they all find themselves living, working, and creating in.
I look often at how it came together in Austin. Austin is known for Tex-Mex and its live music scene but, most notably, South by Southwest. They have been able to leverage that “Keep Austin Weird” culture and draw major brands like Oracle and Tesla.
Atlanta is getting its fair share—Microsoft and Airbnb are setting roots here, for example. There’s even some recruiting communication happening between Atlanta and the UK in terms of where certain companies will land post-Brexit. It’s no coincidence that the UK’s music scene and urban culture—the world’s, really—mimics Atlanta’s to a T.
People and companies are moving here, but they have to be guided on how to connect with Atlanta authentically. And until now, no one has been having that discussion or doing that kind of intentional onboarding.
That’s what we’re trying to do on the other side of November 3 and January 5, where we sit with brands and discuss how they can connect the dots and both harness this newfound energy around Atlanta and honor the way Atlanta’s cultural, corporate, and civic sectors have been cultivated. Atlanta should be continuing to build infrastructure and capacity around those three pillars. The world has already thanked us in advance.
What would you say to someone looking to start a business in Atlanta? There’s nowhere in the country that has this ease of life coupled with the true metropolitan experience you can find in Atlanta. I can have a house in town and a farm 15 minutes outside of town, and I can enjoy both of those lifestyles intermittently throughout the week. The outdoor life here is incredible: We’ve got eight perfect months. Then, you blend in the culture of this melting pot that is Atlanta, mixed with an old-world, real culture, Southern culture.
If you’re a young entrepreneur, and you lay out the options of where you want to go build a company, there’s really no better place. No major city in America is a better place for all the cycles of your entrepreneurial life than Atlanta because this is a great place to be young, it’s a great place to have a young family, it’s a great place to raise your kids, it’s a great place to grow old. Whereas New York is a great place to be young. L.A. is a great place to be young. San Francisco is . . . not great for much.
How do you get professionals who could work in Silicon Valley to come here? I think it’s useful for people to have spent time on the West Coast; it’s almost like the rumspringa that the Amish have. You reach a certain age, get out, go experience the world, see what it’s like. We don’t have to try all that hard for them to come back to Atlanta. They like the work/life balance, the nature, the trees we have. The entrepreneurial scene is growing so much that they get the best of both worlds. I used to tell my recruiters, Go to the West Coast and just hang out at Babies R Us. As soon as anyone on the West Coast has a baby, they want to come to Atlanta.
How do you hope to see Atlanta evolve? I would love for it to be more walkable and rideable. I would love to see the BeltLine grow even more and have more bike lanes everywhere. But that’s a selfish thing. Or, really, a Mailchimp thing: Thirty percent of our people walk, ride, or use alternate transportation to work. When we moved to Ponce City Market, we loved the bike valet, bike racks everywhere. But our employees just swamped it. [PCM] told us, You’ve got to deal with this. We actually had to use 1,000 square feet or so of our space for bike storage.
What would you say to someone looking to start a business in Atlanta? I say don’t. Leave all the talent for me. Joking aside, the city is full of creative talent because of all the huge consumer brands that are here. The music, film, entertainment industry, and now the growth of the entrepreneurial and tech communities, are also adding to the talent pool.
When you first moved your company to Atlanta, you talked about connecting and listening. What has the city taught you? I’ve been here two years now, this April, and the city has certainly welcomed me, my family, my company with incredibly open arms. It feels like we’ve been here for a while.
So, I’m really getting a sense for what’s going on in the business community here, and I’m trying to learn this place as authentically and as slowly and enjoyably as possible. We never wanted to be the folks who come to the city and try to claim everything within it.
I’ve seen that movie before in high definition, out in the Bay Area around 2008, where a lot of folks moved there which increased real-estate and housing prices and pushed folks out. I’m hopeful that doesn’t happen here, but I think—because of Atlanta’s strong roots in activism and diversity that’s already entrenched here—there will be a formidable pushback against that.
In the past, a lot of the migrations have been to coastal cities, where job opportunities and industry trends were thought to be. Now, I think people are going to realize how important community is to that equation.
Atlanta is everything we thought it would be: the richness of diversity here, the celebration of Blackness and culture and the feeling of inclusion in that culture, the fact that my son gets to go to a school that is wonderfully diverse. Coalescing family and Blackness and the density of genius is the advantage. What a great place to live—capital L.
You’ve launched restaurants in neighborhoods without a lot of dining options. How do you decide where to open new spots? I don’t move by money—money don’t move me. Every decision I make, I move because I know that it’s going to have a long-term effect on the people who consume it. Slutty Vegan is a community-based business, right? We sell burgers and fries, but the community piece is really more important to me.
I decided to put Slutty Vegan in underserved communities where there’s a lack of resources—food insecurity, food deserts, places where developers aren’t really attracted. People want to eat better. They just need access to resources, even if it starts as vegan comfort food. I’ve been purchasing the land in which I put the Slutty Vegans, so now I’m developing communities and revitalizing communities while selling burgers and fries and helping people reimagine food. It’s a win-win across the board.
I don’t have to go into an area where it costs me $200 a square foot just to be beside a Chipotle. I can go into a space where it may not be as attractive, but I can make it beautiful.
Since 1961, Atlanta magazine, the city’s premier general interest publication, has served as the authority on Atlanta, providing its readers with a mix of long-form nonfiction, lively lifestyle coverage, in-depth service journalism, and literary essays, columns, and profiles.