Atlanta’s restaurant community is just that: a real, caring community

Dining writers who have lived here reflect on the city’s unique spirit
No. 246 sous chef Jason Fisher and his family

Photograph courtesy of Jason Fisher and Ford Fry Restaurants.

Never in ten years of writing about food in New York City did I receive a restaurant press release that began like this:

“Longtime No. 246 sous chef, Jason Fisher, will begin his second battle in just two years with a very rare form of cancer at 29 years old. As you can imagine, the diagnosis has been devastating for the Ford Fry Restaurants family as he is one of its most respected leaders with a very promising future in the restaurant world.”

The release, which came my way last week, went on to explain that Fry and company have teamed up with other heavy-hitting chefs and restaurateurs—Anne Quatrano, Billy Allin, Linton Hopkins, and Todd Richards among them—to throw a pot-luck style, backyard feast that will benefit Fisher and the Giving Kitchen, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping restaurant workers in need. Entry to the party, which will be held at No. 246 on Sunday, March 26, from 5-8 p.m., is complimentary and open to the public, but donations are suggested ($40 per person) and can be made on Go Fund Me.

Then yesterday, I received word that longtime Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q employee Cynthia Montoya, 43, passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. “Cyndi started as a server with Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q more than eight years ago and worked her way up to floor manager before becoming General Manager,” read that press release. “In late 2015, Cyndi was diagnosed with Stage II pancreatic cancer. The Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q team and their pitmaster friends from around the nation rallied together to host ‘Que and Brew for a Cause at Sweetwater Brewery last March, which helped raise funds for Cyndi’s medical treatment.” Now—today, in fact—both the both the Dekalb Avenue and the Ottley Drive Que’osk locations of Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q will donate 40% of sales to help Montoya’s family offset her medical and funeral expenses. Any additional funds raised will be donated to the Giving Kitchen in her name.

I had heard, before moving here last fall, that Atlanta’s restaurant community was particularly supportive of one another. Kitchen staff members take care of each other in New York, too—every night they go to battle together, and that bonds people tight and fast—but across restaurant groups? That’s uncommon.

“There is something unusual going on in Atlanta—a spirit of being your brother’s keeper—that you don’t see elsewhere,” former Atlanta Journal-Constitution restaurant critic John Kessler, who now lives in Chicago, told me. “I feel like a lot is owed to the Giving Kitchen, and maybe a little is in the DNA of Atlanta, a city where people with diverse interests work together.”

Kate Barney, who was born and raised in Atlanta and worked in restaurants here before moving to New York to do the same, clarified that these kinds of fundraising events were happening so frequently here that the Giving Kitchen had to be created. “It’s not only at the center of all this, it was was created out of that and now is at the center of it.” And, I find, the nonprofit is a major point of pride for chefs here.

“Atlanta, and the South in general, has a more supportive chef community than LA or NY,” says Besha Rodell, who was the restaurant critic for Creative Loafing for six years and has now been with LA Weekly for almost five. “That’s changing a bit here [in Los Angeles], and I’ve talked to chefs here about how much they’d like to see more community in the industry, but it’s a struggle to make it happen here, whereas it’s a more natural part of the industry there. I think it’s partly because it’s a smaller scene—everybody has worked for everybody else at some point.”

Stephen Satterfield, an Atlantan who now works as a food writer based in Oakland, California (so, no, not that Steven Satterfield), echoes Rodell’s statement: “It’s a tight restaurant community. People in Atlanta take things very personally in general. I find that to be an endearing trait of the city. It’s why we are absolutely not here for people trying to clown the South, and if harm arrives to someone in our community, it arrives on everyone. It is felt and feels personal.”

It does feel personal. Even press releases, perhaps the most impersonal of communication forms, feel personal here.

See you tomorrow, and on the 26th.