Former One Flew South chef Duane Nutter and restaurateur Reggie Washington departed the award-winning airport restaurant in 2016 after nearly 20 years. One year later, they opened Southern National in Mobile, Ala., earning Nutter a 2020 James Beard Award finalist title. This summer, the famed duo will bring Southern National to Atlanta, opening in Summerhill in July or August.
Serving lunch and dinner, as well as Sunday brunch, the restaurant will be a “more sophisticated and cosmopolitan” version of the Mobile location, playing to Atlanta diners’ palate with dishes inspired by Nutter’s heritage and travels.
“The restaurant will play homage to my greatest hits at culinary workplaces,” Nutter says.
He and Washington chose Summerhill for the 80-seat restaurant in part for its historically Black roots—the area was founded by former enslaved people in 1865. They want to give back to the community by hiring Summerhill residents to work at the restaurant and creating a community garden to provide fresh produce for those experiencing food insecurity.
“My family has been in the horticulture business for four generations,” Washington says. “We want to get the community involved and grow some items for our restaurant but give back to the schools and the Summerhill area.”
We spoke to Nutter and Washington to learn more about their plans for the restaurant—and what’s in store for the future.
Why’d you decide open Southern National in Atlanta?
Washington: It has been in our plan since we left One Flew South. We wanted to go somewhere we felt we could separate ourselves and create our own brand. It was inevitable that we’d come back—we have deep, serious roots here. We created our following, our base, in the Atlanta area for 19 years with One Flew South.
How did you choose Summerhill?
Washington: We looked at historic African American neighborhoods: West Midtown, Decatur, and Buckhead. When we saw the space and the vision for Summerhill, it seemed like a perfect fit for Southern National, which brings businesspeople, visitors, and neighborhood people, and is very accessible.
What can we expect from the menu?
Nutter: The menu is my cooking—back home and celebrating all the places I’ve traveled. There will be some items I was known for at airport, like the pork belly slider, but I’ll make it smoked because we’ll have a smoker. We’ll do a coffee-rubbed pork chop, collard greens and mussels, and Cherry Coke-braised short ribs since Atlanta is home to Coca-Cola. My Creole-cured salmon is about my two coasts coming together. (I was born in Louisiana and raised in Seattle.) I’ll do Kentuckyaki salmon because I worked in Kentucky. I’m good friends with Kevin Ouzts [of the Spotted Trotter], so I’ll do something crazy with his lamb sausage. We’ll be making pastas in house, like short rib ravioli. I’m working on snack ideas for happy hour like bulgogi tacos. It’s all about my travels.
What will the beverage program be like?
Nutter: It’ll be a strong bar program with a little bit of everything, including signature cocktails from Mobile. We’ll have an extensive wine list with a little of everything. Reggie is a fan of the New World. I’m a fan of the Old World, so we’ll mix it up.
How would you describe the space?
Nutter: Smith Hanes Studio is designing it to be very comfortable and open with beautiful, warm pecan or walnut wood and two garage doors that open in the bar area to provide views of the sunset. We’re commissioning art from a local African American artist—paintings that pay homage to the neighborhood. Music will be an intricate part of the restaurant. We’ll have a playlist that keeps the energy high and everyone in a good mood. I don’t want it to be too fussy and scare away the neighborhood folks.
What are your plans for the future?
Washington: We’re looking to expand in the Atlanta market with a barbecue concept called Steel Smokin, and a market with the products we produce at Southern National (like pimento cheese and pastries) called SoNat Market. We’ll start it with a small location in Summerhill. We also started Pizza Box as a ghost restaurant in the pandemic in Mobile and we’re scouting for locations for it.