Ed Seiber on the state of Atlanta’s dining scene

Atlanta restaurant architect Ed Seiber of Seiber Design has been a fixture on Atlanta’s dining scene since 1987. His firm has worked on restos like Spice, Restaurant Eugene, Ray’s On The River, and YEAH Burger. In addition to his practice, Seiber is a gourmand who travels extensively throughout the country and abroad in the interest of fine food. He shares his views on the current state of Atlanta’s restaurant landscape below:

Q: At the beginning of 2011, what is your assessment of Atlanta’s restaurant scene from a business standpoint?
ES: My assessment begins with a question. Have we lost more than we’ve gained over the last two to three years? It’s been a rough two-and-a-half years for the restaurant sector—including for firms like mine that provide goods and services to restaurants and bars. It will continue to be challenging. Many of us have been doing what’s necessary to survive: cutting costs, reducing hours of operation, offering value in creative ways, sometimes discounting. This approach alone is not going to work as an ongoing strategy. For restaurants to thrive again they have to be confident in the value they’re providing customers and continuously reinforce that value through service, food quality, ambiance, and communications. This is as true for the fast-casual segment as it is for full-service, more expensive restaurants.

Q: What are the greatest opportunities the restaurant operators can take advantage of?
ES: 1. Converting closed restaurants into their new concepts and saving some build-out costs. But be aware renovations may require more than putting up a new sign and printing menus. For example, current code upgrades may require additional funds. Existing layouts may not fit with your new concept. And sometimes it’s simply mandatory to change the public’s perception of an existing location.
2. Leverage the resources available to you. Work with experienced people who can resourcefully and creatively assist you with realizing your new project—or refreshing your existing restaurant.
3. Currently, it’s difficult for me to come up with four or five great places to relax with friends over a drink and a bite, that speaks to my own pent-up demand. I imagine it’s the same for many others. We yearn for the new as well as the comfortably familiar. Let’s get beyond this damn recession, call it frugality fatigue or whatever. People want to go out more than ever. Give them a reason to.

Q: What are some of the hottest dining ‘hoods in town.
ES: I don’t pretend to know all the neighborhoods by personal experience, but restaurant entrepreneurs will always be drawn to areas with building energy: West Midtown, Decatur, Virginia Highland. I believe every neighborhood deserves its own unique watering hole, its drop-in casual restaurant, its social gathering spot.

Q: What are some the projects you are working on?
ES: Lately we’ve been working on a couple of restaurant projects: Verde Taqueria y Cantina on Collier Road, and we’re doing some Mellow Mushrooms in South Carolina. We’re also doing planning and feasibility studies, working on restaurant franchise design standards packages, even residential renovation projects. We’ve spoken with many chefs and restaurateurs over the last several months about new projects, but financing continues to be a challenge.

Meat Week, an eight-day feast featuring events at seven barbecue spots, began yesterday and will continue through this Sunday, February 6.

Alton Brown will be the guest speaker at a fundraiser for the Walker School in Marietta, where his daughter is a student, on Saturday, February 12.

According to What Now Atlanta, Delia Champion is embroiled in a (seemingly silly) trademark infringement disagreement.

Buckhead. Souper Jenny’s Jenny Levison will open a coffee shop and cafe (mostly sandwiches and salads, with a strict no-soup policy) called Cafe Jonah and Magical Attic—named for her seven-year-old son. The cafe opens at 3188 Paces Ferry Place on February 8.

What Now Atlanta is reporting that the former Aqua Knox space is being converted to an upscale kitchen appliance showroom.

Rumor has it that the second location of Tomo is finally slated to open at 3630 Peachtree Road by April.

Duluth. Yogurt Mountain, an Alabama-based self serve chain, has opened its first metro Atlanta store at 11720 Medlock Bridge Road.

Druid Hills. Sprouts Green Cafe in Emory Village has closed.

Midtown. Symbolic food, fortune cookies opening to restaurant discounts, free dumplings, and Strawberry Firecracker cocktails crackling with Pop Rocks are just some of the treats that Spice Market is offering at its Chinese New Year celebration on Thursday, February 3. [Editor’s note: Know of any other cool CNY celebrations? I’m doing some research on the subject: Leave a comment below—B.A.]

Old Fourth Ward. 4th & Swift will offer Sunday Brunch beginning Sunday, March 6.

Smyrna. Thrillist reports that Lucky 13 Pizzeria, featuring a New York–style walk-up pizza counter, has opened at 2517 Spring Road.

Westside. Atlanta’s second annual Sunday Supper South will be held at Westside Provisions District on October 23.

Question of the Week: What former intown hotspot’s space is reportedly being leased by the owners of Apres Diem?

PS. The answer to last week’s QOTW—What Atlanta restaurant celebrated its sixty-third year in business last month?—is The White House.