Family has typically been a theme in Kevin Gillespie’s restaurants. His flagship restaurant, Gunshow, was named for his favorite father-son activity as a child. His Decatur restaurant, Revival, serves Southern fare inspired by family traditions. Even while finessing fine dining fare at Woodfire Grill, he worried about how to repurpose excess food for hungry children. Now, the recent James Beard Award finalist is relaunching his BeltLine-adjacent Old Fourth Ward restaurant, Cold Beer, as Slabtown Public House—a more down-to-earth, neighborhood eatery with familiar bar dishes and favorites from his past work. Equally important, the 670 DeKalb Avenue space will continue to function as home to Red Beard Restaurants’ Defend Southern Food Foundation, which aims to address food insecurity by providing filling and nutritious meals to families associated with nearby schools.
When it opens April 22, Slabtown will serve dinner Thursday through Sunday as well as weekend brunch. This will allow restaurant staff time to focus on themselves and their families—and at the same time, Red Beard Restaurants can dedicate nearly half of each week to Defend Southern Food.
“We wanted the charity to be front and center and the for-profit side [Slabtown] to be built around the needs of the charity,” he says. “We buy the excess food from farmers and purveyors—the same ones we use for food in our restaurants. We prepare, cook, package, and deliver it to eight schools so the families who need it get [meals like] meatloaf, catfish etouffee, or roasted chicken.”
Furthermore, Gillespie says much of the world has changed since he came up with the idea for Cold Beer in 2016. The pandemic changed the way people work, and Gillespie’s own cancer diagnosis necessitated a change in the way he worked.
“The demands of modern life are hard. People need more places to unwind and relax,” he says. “[Slabtown] is a nice balancing act for everyone, including our own team members.”
As founding chef, Gillespie directs the brand of his restaurants, especially the culinary aspects, but Red Beard president and chef Marco Shaw now handles the daily operations. Gillespie says Shaw helped him see the barrier to entry that Cold Beer’s complex menu items unknowingly provided to passersby. With Slabtown, Gillespie hopes to take the opposite approach, making common pub favorites using high-quality ingredients. Menu items may include a New Mexican green chili cheeseburger, steak nachos, cottage pie, crispy beef tortas, cast iron chicken, seasonal tomato salad, a grain bowl, and Gillespie’s popular Closed on Sundays chicken sandwich. For dessert, peach cobbler, old-fashioned warm banana pudding, and monkey bread with whiskey sauce are under consideration.
“Pre-cancer, I had an iron stomach. I could eat nachos at any bar in the city,” he says. “If I do that now, I will suffer for 24-48 hours—but I still love that stuff.”
Slabtown will maintain the same bar team as Cold Beer (led by Brendan Keefe Town), so those who miss the complex craft cocktails from the restaurant’s previous iteration will still be able to order them. In addition, the menu will feature traditional beverages like margaritas and gin and tonics, as well as expanded beer offerings.
“The goal is to identify the beers people really like and make sure we have them on tap regardless of where they were made,” Gillespie says, noting that there will be 12 on tap and 12 sold by the bottle or can.
At the Beer Garden, Red Beard’s shipping container bar next door, the drink list will concentrate on batched cocktails and beer. No food is permitted, per BeltLine rules.
Other changes to the restaurant include a 20 percent reduction in price point, and a coffee program offered during weekend brunch service only. The rooftop and ground level patios remain. Inside, Gillespie says the team has added more cushions and fabrics to “make it easier to lounge around longer.” Expect new art related to Atlanta, too.
Wondering about the name? It’s a throwback to 1844 Atlanta when mill owner Jonathan Norcross gave slabs of wood to neighbors who used them to build homes for their families. An art installation on the BeltLine reminded Gillespie of the historical importance of it, and he saw parallels between that and his foundation.