ai3 brings a fresh design eye to restaurants


ATL Food Chatter: August 10, 2009
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The days of the gilded palace, big-box restaurant with menus replete with international ingredients are on the wane in Atlanta. A new era of smaller, locally focused restaurants is emerging in its place, and local design firm ai3 is at the vanguard of this movement. Their visionary and award-winning work has become the new gold standard for the hip, neighborhood-based restaurants popping up around town.

From upscale burger joints to sophisticated chef-driven hot spots, five-year-old ai3 has designed projects such as Flip, Holeman & Finch, 4th & Swift, and the forthcoming Miller Union. According to Lucy Aiken-Johnson, ai3’s managing principal, some of their success can be attributed to the fact they are entrepreneurs themselves and can empathize with an owner operator’s perspective. (The name reflects the three families who formed the firm.) Another factor that she noted was that they take their clients through a conceptual process called a “vision sharing session” at the beginning of the relationship. This hands-on interaction helps to clearly establish what it is the client wants to achieve and how the firm and client can best achieve it together—whether it is going to New York to experience culinary ideas as they did with the 4th & Swift team, or identifying design preferences (the Flip team loved Philippe Starck) and incorporating them into the project’s final design.

As the restaurants they designed gain national recognition, the firm’s projects are starting to take their brand beyond Atlanta. Flip is slated to open their second store in Birmingham this fall, with projects in Washington D.C., Nashville, and Buckhead to follow. The new owner of The Grape wine bar franchise has hired them to reengineer the concept for a regional roll-out. The firm also has some new Atlanta projects in the works, including a restaurant for Birmingham-based restaurateur Brian Lewis, whose contemporary American spot, Table, was one of that city’s top ten. Lewis has hired them to design his first Atlanta project, the Westside small plate and sandwich concept, Bocado, slated to open this fall.


Ansley Park. The original Cook’s Warehouse location in Amsterdam Walk will relocate to the 6,500 square foot former Piccadilly’s space in Ansley Mall this fall. The move will allow a significant expansion of their program space.

Buckhead. The Hungry Peach Cafe, a private gourmet cafe operated by certified chef Susan Vizathann, owner of The Hungry Peach personal chef service, has opened in the Atlanta Decorator’s Arts Center (ADAC),  offering breakfast and lunch five days a week.

. Chef Dave Roberts, formerly of Sam & Dave’s BBQ1 and BBQ2, is slated to open his own barbecue spot in the former Epicurean space on Clairmont Avenue in September.

Aaron Russell, one of the opening chefs, has left The Chocolate Bar.

Midtown. According to sources and his Facebook postings, Drew Van Leuvan will be the opening chef for the Concentrics’ restaurant replacing Trois, which is scheduled opening date is the week after Labor Day.

Omnivore is reporting that Lenny Robinson of Anise will be the opening chef at Amuse, the restaurant in the former Allegro space developed by the owners of Anise and Carpe Diem.

Vinings. Chef Andreas Montobbio has left Taverna Fiorentina.
Westside. West Egg Cafe, the popular breakfast/sandwich/bake goods spot will be moving to the White Provisions residential building in October.

Question of the Week: What long-time Atlanta fine dining chef is opening an almost-OTP burger spot this fall?

PS.  The answer to last week’s QOTW—What classic Atlanta speakeasy will be celebrating its fifty-third anniversary in August?—is Manuel’s Tavern. It opened on August 8. Happy birthday, old timer! (And kudos to Jimmy for correctly identifying it the answer on last week’s post.)