Here to Serve founder Tom Catherall reveals new restaurant plans

Tom Tom Tapas & Tequilas opens in February in Virginia-Highland
Design inspiration for Tom Tom Tapas & Tequilas

Courtesy of Dillard PIerce

When all 11 Here to Serve restaurants abruptly shut down in October (including Twist, Noche, Smash, and Strip), eyes turned to the group’s founder, Tom Catherall, who, last year, gave his stake in the company to his ex-wife, Leigh Catherall, as part of the divorce settlement. With hundreds of employees out of work and empty storefronts left scattered throughout the city, people wondered whether Catherall would come out of retirement in Florida to salvage the operation. Well, now we know—he’s coming back and hopes to reopen at least one restaurant in time for Valentine’s Day. “All I ever wanted was one restaurant ever and ended up with 14,” he says. “I don’t want the pressure of a million dollar payroll every month, but maybe four to six [restaurants].” Below, Catherall shares plans for his future restaurants.

When you first heard about H2SR closing, were you surprised? I was absolutely shocked–I couldn’t believe it.

Before all the restaurants closed, had you heard that the situation wasn’t looking good? Not at all. My wife [Leigh] and I were getting divorced. She wanted millions in the divorce, and I said I’ll take that, and you can have the restaurants. She had the restaurants since last November and down they went.

At what point did you decide that it was time to come out of retirement and get back in business? When my checks stopped coming. I was at the beach getting a check every month and then she stopped paying.

Are you relocating back to Atlanta permanently? Yes. I have a home here, and I’ll [also] keep my home in Florida.

How many of your old employees do you think you’ll be able to hire back? All my employees want to come back with me. Trust me on that one. 1,008 people have contacted me. I run my place like a family, not like a corporate entity. They are all family, so I’ll take back key employees.

With your arrival, what does that mean for your ex-wife? Will she be involved in your upcoming projects in any way? No. She’s never worked one day in the restaurants in her life.

But legally speaking, the restaurants won’t be tied to her at all? She didn’t pay me the money she was going to pay me so it’s null and void.

Why did you decide to re-name Noche as Tom Tom? That was my original restaurant from 1993 to 2003. My father called me Tom Tom when I was a kid. He was close to dying when I opened Tom Tom and that’s why I named it that. People ask me about Tom Tom all the time.

How did you choose the old Noche space in Virginia-Highland as the first space to reopen? I’m on the hook for the rent there. I signed it 17 years ago with a personal guarantee. There are three more years on the lease, so I figured why not go forth [all] into it?

What other spots do you plan to revive? I’m talking to the landlords in Vinings and Brookhaven. Brookhaven is tied up in [my ex-wife’s] bankruptcy, so it might take a while, but I want the Smash location for Tom Tom Kitchen & Bar, a refined Southern bourbon bar, and the old Noche location for Tom Tom Tapas & Tequilas. It’ll be Noche, reborn and refined.

What kind of menu items are you thinking about for Tom Tom Kitchen & Bar? Pork skins, pimento cheese, the best fried chicken in town. I want to get back into charcuterie and use every part of the pig.

What’s the timeline for Tom Tom Tapas & Tequilas opening? Before Valentine’s Day. It’ll have a fresh new look. I’m spending a lot of money on the re-launch. No more orange and purples. It’ll be more female friendly with nice light colors and materials.

What’s on the menu? It’ll be a little more Spanish with wood-grilled octopus, grilled sardines, and great olives. I will have tacos because Atlanta is not ready for all Spanish yet. We’ll have some really cool stuff Atlanta’s never seen before. I want to keep some surprises. At Noche, we always offer the best margarita in town with fresh lime and lemon juice. We’ll do more innovative margaritas with whiskey and bourbon. I’m really into juicing.  I like ginger juice and carrot juice, so we’ll do some juice-infused drinks.

Who will be in the kitchen and behind the bar? The Noche Brookhaven chef. He’s still working somewhere else so I don’t want to tell you his name. I want to rehire a lot of the staff that got put in the street. The bartender, same thing—all these people worked for me before. I’ve had commitments from so many people it’s overwhelming. It’s really warms my heart.

Will you be in the kitchen at all? Yes! I bought a new chef jacket for myself. I’m excited. I’ll be in the Highlands probably three to four days a week.