Compared to other cities in roughly the same genre (youthful, sprawling, diverse), Atlanta doesn’t offer much of a platform for would-be indie food entrepreneurs with small budgets. I hear the same complaints constantly: “Why do we need twenty parking spaces or a grease trap as big as a Volkswagen to start putting out good food?” One major culprit seems to be a real estate landscape that favors cookie-cutter developments with oversized storefronts anathema to creative types.
There are historic precedents for scrappy entrepreneurial success. If all goes well for them, Alex Brounstein of Grindhouse Killer Burgers, Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee of barbecue joint Heirloom Market, Jahan Ostad of Southwestern-Persian fusion spot Sheik Burritos n Kabobs, and Tomas Lee of Hankook Taqueria will join the ranks of those who started a business on a shoestring—the Flying Biscuit Cafe, Fellini’s Pizza, Taqueria del Sol, Top Flr—and became household names.
My most recent coup de foudre is the idiosyncratic Victory Sandwich Bar in Inman Park, home of the itsy-bitsy $4 gourmet sandwich—along with inexpensive slushies made of Jack Daniel’s and Coke, cult movies, loud music, and Ping-Pong games for relieving frustration. Co-owner Ian Jones, a graduate of Georgia State, thought that by now he would be “a New York architect who drives a Ferrari.” Instead he decided to start a business in a concrete block of a space (formerly Johnny’s New York Style Pizza) with partner Caleb Wheelus. Both agree that the world doesn’t need another bar or a place pushing salmon and fingerling potatoes, as do I while wolfing down a Victory at Sea (white anchovies, frisée, and lemon mayo on fresh ciabatta) or a Hambo (prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, thinly sliced apple, and reduced balsamic). Their creations are barely bigger than sliders but twice as exciting.
Tracy Mitchell, owner of tiny, global-minded Bad Dog Taqueria in the Emory Village, worked for start-up tech companies and built homes before wading into the culinary ocean. She brainstormed ideas for a restaurant serving modern, mostly organic food, finally settling on international tacos using local ingredients and recipes sourced from family secrets. The We’ve Got Seoul Taco, for example, uses pork belly from Thompson Farms, salsa verde, and a kimchi slaw based on a recipe mailed to her by an eighty-year-old Korean woman Mitchell drove as a volunteer for I Care. Her tiny menu explodes many cliches, cramming a taco with a slow-simmered “hot ’n’ spicy tomato ground beef ragu” from her home state of New Jersey next to others stuffed with slow-roasted brisket and marinated grilled onions, Vietnamese-style shaking filet mignon, or curried potato samosa filling with tamarind coriander chutney.
Collaboration is the foundation for two new casual food stands. LeRoy’s Fried Chicken, a partnership between Fellini’s Pizza owners Clay Harper and Mike Nelson and chef Julia LeRoy (formerly of the Bookhouse Pub), is takeout-only. A gleaming stainless-steel kitchen and a sleek overhang that shields the ordering area gloss up the premises. In the first weeks of business, LeRoy’s gourmet birds (bought locally from Springer Mountain Farms) tasted better at room temperature rather than hot, served alongside her smooth macaroni and cheese and an ice-cold can of Cheerwine. Without Harper and Nelson and their expertise, LeRoy says she would “probably still be six months away from opening and wondering how I was going to get my permits, let alone finance the place.”
Delia Champion, the original creator of the Flying Biscuit Cafe, is banking on another single-food sensation at Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand, a joint effort with Molly Gunn of the Porter Beer Bar. Late weekend hours at this former fast-food hut, jazzed with colorful art, draw the East Atlanta Village neighbors for the terrific “slingers”—sausage (dark meat is one secret to its sublime texture) stuffed into hoagie rolls and topped with ingredients like chili and cheese sauce made with Decatur’s Wild Heaven beer.
The next wave of entrepreneurs is readying to take its chances. I am already anticipating buttery, fresh fruit galettes at the Little Tart Bakeshop forthcoming in Grant Park and the imminent Kirkwood brick-and-mortar location for charcuterie maker the Spotted Trotter, a favorite of local farmers markets. They give me great hope for the commando brand of gastronomy I champion.
Victory Sandwich Bar
280 Elizabeth Street
Bad Dog Taqueria
1579 North Decatur Road
LeRoy’s Fried Chicken
1021 Howell Mill Road
Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand
489 Moreland Avenue
From left: Delia Champion of Delia’s Chicken Sausage Stand, Ian Jones of Victory Sandwich Bar, Julia LeRoy of LeRoy’s Fried Chicken, and Tracy Mitchell of Bad Dog Taqueria share lunch on Victory Sandwich’s patio; Photograph by Joe Martinez