Q&A with Pano Karatassos

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ATL Food Chatter: October 12, 2009
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Last week, I sat down with Pano Karatassos, whom I consider the Renaissance man of Atlanta’s dining scene. We discussed his views on the current state of Buckhead’s dining scene and the ways his company, Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, is coping with the economic climate. It seemed particularly appropriate to check in with Karatassos this year, when he’s celebrating his company’s thirtieth year in business.

Q: Given the challenges of the economy, and the recent closings of Buckhead restaurants both at the highest and lowest levels, how would you describe the current state of Buckhead dining?

PK: Right now, it is at a stand still. And we are anticipating a very slow holiday season this year. We have to get projects like The Streets of Buckhead moving in order to regain the momentum here in Buckhead. But I still wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Q: In what ways is the challenging economy impacting decisions you’re making about the two new restaurants, Bistro Niko and Pano’s, you’ll soon be opening? 

PK: If we had opened Bistro Niko a year and a half ago, we would have failed by now. We feel that the timing is now right for a casual French bistro where all of our entrees are under $20 and the wine list prices for bottles are all under $35. With Pano’s, we felt that we have to take the time to do it right because of our relationship with the St. Regis Hotel. They have established a standard of excellence that we must adhere to. We are expecting to open mid-2010, instead of this fall as originally planned.

Q:
Because Buckhead is a more expensive demographic, do you expect it to return to its culinary glory as the economy recovers?

PK: Yes. When major projects come on line in the next few years, Buckhead will take off again.

Q: Tell us about the inspiration behind Bistro Niko—specifically, what inspired the French theme?

PK: We felt that there was a void in our restaurant group’s lineup and we felt that a regional French bistro would fill that void. We researched restaurants from New York to Paris and Lyon in order to get the concept we wanted. Our team—including [sons] Pano Jr. and Niko and executive chef Gary Donlick—ate four to five meals a day in several cities to get the look, menu, and feel of an authentic bistro.

When we looked around Buckhead we saw brasseries like Au Pied Cochon but no bistros which offer our brand’s level of quality and service. We think that Bistro Niko will be a great addition to Atlanta’s dining scene.

Q: Finally, can you give us some idea of the ways Pano’s will be different from Pano’s and Paul’s? And some of the ways in which it will be the same?

PK: First, we had outgrown the location of Pano’s and Paul’s in terms of how we could modernize the style because of its location in a strip shopping center. The St. Regis location allows us to add more cachet to the look and feel of our flagship restaurant.

My son, Pano, will be the executive chef at Pano’s and he is very excited to run a restaurant that will allow him to better incorporate some the experiences and skills he gained working at Le Bernardin and The French Laundry.

Pano’s will still be a “neighborhood restaurant” like Pano’s and Paul’s. We want to retain our long time loyal customers as well as attract new ones. Pano’s will be more sophisticated but not more expensive than Pano’s and Paul’s.

NEWS AND NOTES:

Congratulations to Creative Loafing’s Besha Rodell, who won the Association of Food Journalists’ first place award for Newspaper Food Features (publications under 250,000 in circulation) for her 2008 Food Issue, “My week on an all-Georgia diet.”

Buckhead.
Esquire magazine named Paces 88 among its “20 Best New Restaurants” for 2009.

Santé, a hospitality industry trade magazine, has named Kyma one of their regional 2009 Culinary Hospitality Award winners for their outstanding achievement in culinary service and hospitality.

Doraville. Blissful Glutton is reporting at Delicious Kabob, which made a splash earlier this year for its Northern Chinese specialties, has already closed.

Downtown. Downtown Gourmet Pita, Subs, Salads and Wraps has opened inside the Candler Building at 123 Peachtree Street.

My Potato Factory
, featuring a wide variety of baked potato dishes with toppings like shrimp gumbo, sausage and smoked pulled barbequed pork, has opened at 235 Mitchell Street.

Midtown
. Pacci was also named one of Esquire magazine’s “20 Best New Restaurants “for 2009.

Roswell. Andy Badgett, owner of Relish, is opening a gourmet market next store to the restaurant called Y’alls Wine and Gourmet Market.

Westside
. Elisa Gambino announced last Wednesday that she is closing her retail store, Via Elisa, and will discontinue her line of pastas effective October 17th. She will, however, continue to produce her wholesale pasta sauces.

Question of the Week: What intown restaurateurs have formed a restaurant industry-based Internet site designed to assist restaurants with their online marketing and public relations?

PS.  The answer to last week’s QOTW—What famous bar chain known for its frozen drinks is slated to open their first Atlanta location this December in Lindbergh City Center?—is Wet Willies. (And from the comments answering that question last week, y’all seem mighty excited—B.A.)

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