In November 2019, I attended my first Stolen Goods pop-up dinner, led by chef Maximilian Hines at the Old Fourth Ward restaurant A Mano. The meal—called Traptoria, Vol. 2—was advertised as a tribute to the carryout foods Hines grew up eating at mom-and-pop Italian restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area, but with a “Dirty South twist.” From a menu sprinkled with references to legendary musical acts, I ordered the Prince Scampi (Royal Red head-on shrimp in garlic and chili sauce, served with white bread), the fancied-up Cup-o-Ramone chicken noodles, and a rapturous Little Debbie tiramisu. It all lived up to the description Hines wrote to promote the event: “Basically if an Italian immigrant moved here and opened an Olive Garden in Bankhead.”
When I asked Hines to explain the Stolen Goods concept a few days later, he had a similarly pithy answer: “It’s basically pulling the people I respect, who are dope, and doing pop-ups with them. It’s kinda like Wu-Tang Clan.”
Like the legendary New York rap consortium, Stolen Goods has included some of Atlanta’s most talented young culinary stars among its ranks since its inception, almost all of whom identify as people of color. There’s Isiah “Izzy” Grier, who currently runs the kitchen at recently opened Virginia-Highland restaurant Dad’s, and Jason McClure, chef and owner of closed Smyrna restaurant Wade’s, who also consulted (as did Hines) on Dad’s opening menu. Justin Dixon’s heralded sandwich operation Humble Mumble went from a Stolen Goods–supported pop-up to a residency at Midtown food hall the Collective. Cleophus Hethington—a 2022 James Beard Emerging Chef finalist, and proprietor of the pop-up Ebí Chop Bar—left Atlanta for Asheville but returns sometimes for Stolen Goods events. Hell’s Kitchen alum Scotley Innis, now chef and co-owner of Continent Restaurant & Cigar Lounge, counts himself a Stolen Goods member, as does Briana Riddock, who hustled her way from overseeing pastry at the trendy Caribbean restaurant Rock Steady to becoming its executive chef.
Part of Stolen Goods’ magic is putting collaboration over competition. Members are leaders in their field, but they share the spotlight: Instead of seeing opportunities through a lens of scarcity, the crew works together to support one another. “It creates community, connection, and inspiration between all the chefs involved,” says Miller Union executive pastry chef Claudia Martínez, another member (and another 2022 James Beard finalist). “We need less events that are for profit and more for our community that are bringing us closer as a chef family in Atlanta.”
Hines, who’s worked in restaurants since high school, developed an early love for the culture of carryout. After earning a psychology degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, he realized he’d rather work in food than in rehab facilities: “No matter what, I always went back to restaurants. I always felt like something else outside the kitchen.” He got a gig at the Inn at Little Washington, a renowned Virginia restaurant with three Michelin stars; the job was tough but gave him serious chef chops that impressed Atlanta restaurants when he moved here in 2005. Working his way up, Hines opened Minero at Ponce City Market and served as executive chef at the East Cobb steakhouse Chicago’s.
Yet he felt there were barriers to bringing the casually delightful eats of his youth into places he worked. “These kinds of foods I grew up eating and loving, I couldn’t introduce them to kitchens. But with Stolen Goods, now that I’m on the inside looking out, it’s like: This is my food. And it’s delicious,” Hines says.
In 2016, Hines invited the lauded pitmaster Bryan Furman, who’d recently moved to Atlanta, to try his food. Furman drove to Chicago’s and soon the two became friends, with Hines working off-days at Furman’s B’s Cracklin’ Barbecue. Hines’s friendship with Furman was the inception of what would become Stolen Goods; he soon begin inviting other chefs and creatives to join. At a 2018 event called Bodega, diners enjoyed street foods from the crew, ranging from jackfruit Frito pies to Polish Boys, a sandwich from Cleveland stuffed with kielbasa and French fries. At the Last Rangoon, a 2022 pop-up—a takeoff on the 1985 martial arts comedy The Last Dragon, whose poster inspired the social media marketing for the event—chefs married Chinese takeout with soul food staples, on a menu including dishes like Sichuan wings and jollof rice.
The group also pays homage to chefs of color who blazed trails for them, such as a 2022 tribute dinner to the late, iconic chef and author Edna Lewis at the Lawrence, where Hines served as executive chef from 2019 until its closure earlier this year. The menu featured appetizers like pan-roasted quail with bacon drippings and watercress salad, and entrees such as smoked vegan hash with rice. Born and raised in rural Freetown, Virginia, Lewis has experienced a kind of renaissance in recent years, as an example of a Black chef doing “farm-to-table” cooking long before it was trendy; the tribute dinner, which Hines and Martínez both described as a standout event, was a way of stealing back the spotlight for her. “That was a chef that had such an impact on us, even without us in Atlanta always knowing we have such a direct lineage to her,” Hines says. “We got a standing ovation and had people asking us to sign the menu, and hopefully educated some people who had never heard of her.”
Rather than committing actual culinary theft, Hines says, Stolen Goods is a vehicle for chefs to express themselves, while reclaiming and explaining their own cultural narratives. The name is “a reference to Black and brown people; we were stolen goods,” he says. “We were taken from our land. We were architects, scientists, mathematicians. We were a lot more than slaves.”
He says food belongs in the discussion of what has been pirated from historically disadvantaged people, and ultimately believes no one has complete control over any kind of cuisine, despite how certain dishes are more celebrated when they come from white hands: “Here in the South, as a Black chef, it feels like if I cook hoppin’ John, I’m doing ‘soul food.’ But this other chef, if he puts micro greens on it, he’s doing ‘fine dining’ and gets a James Beard Award.”
Stolen Goods members are looking outward, too, participating in events with other top chefs of color around the U.S.—like chef Kwame Onwuachi’s Family Reunion, a four-day culinary celebration in Virginia that Furman and Martínez both cooked for last year. They’re creating a thread of connectivity, telling a story about Atlanta that won’t easily be stolen as the city’s future culinary community begins to take shape. “A lot of American food is made off our backs. Now America sees the history,” Hines says, “and that we’re the backbone to American cuisine.”
This article appears in our March 2023 issue.