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Chef/Owner Kevin Gillespie on Gunshow's First Year

Kevin Gillespie planning at Gunshow.
Kevin Gillespie planning at Gunshow.
Photo: Matthew Wong

In May 2013, author, chef, and Top Chef finalist Kevin Gillespie opened Gunshow in Glenwood Park. When he left Woodfire Grill, Gillespie brought with him a team to share his vision of a modern Southern meal with a truly open format. A year later, the restaurant has expanded twice to accommodate around 120 guests a night. Here, Gillespie talks about how the year went, what the future looks like, and the progress on the much-hyped Terminus City Barbecue.

How did the idea for Gunshow originate?
Myself and Joey Ward, the chef de cuisine, and Andreas Muller, the sous chef, all came from Woodfire Grill. When I decided I wanted to branch out, we catalogued what was and was not successful at Woodfire. Initially, we tried to improve everything individually, but then something else would drop. Instead, we eliminated what we weren't doing well and went straight for what was successful to build from the ground up.

Our cornerstone is the ability for the chefs to connect directly with the diners and tell the dish's story themselves. If we ever wanted to do that and serve more than five people a night then we needed to have chefs circulating the dining room.

This idea is pretty unique for Atlanta.
Right. This interaction is typically found at sushi bars where you might have a little conversation with the sushi chef. We wanted it to feel more like you're eating in someone's home, but a restaurant will never feel like someone's home if it is operating like a restaurant.

How does the planning process work?
Every Saturday, everyone sits as a group and we collaborate on a menu. Some people already have solid plans, but we all influence each other. I only want the chefs to serve what they are excited about. The second they aren't excited about what we are serving, we don't serve it anymore. Our menu forms organically through this open dialogue and conversation. We go through a big menu change every Saturday, but we make changes and omissions every single day.

Do you ever see any problems with this format?
Of course. Financially, it's wildly irresponsible to do things this way. We create everything and live with the imperfections. We would probably save ourselves money and headache with a stagnant plan, but we wouldn't have the same passion that we love. Our main consistency is our inconsistency, but we thrive on that environment.

Looking back, is Gunshow currently what you envisioned from the start?
We're pretty close, shockingly. I wasn't sure if it would transform into a more traditional-style restaurant at first. The biggest difference is the interaction with the diners. I thought they would come in, eat a dish or two, and leave. Instead, they want the same level of precision from Woodfire in a different format.

Overall, the format is what we hoped for. Each dish is done cooking when it's done, and our chefs are able to talk about what they made. We have a reduced volume, but higher quality. We have expanded to accommodate more people, but we constantly have a higher demand than we can seat.

What does the future of Gunshow look like?
From the beginning, we knew that this restaurant would organically change as it needed to. There isn't a traditional model where there's an executive chef that dictates the recipes. My guide as the owner is to guide the overall experience. So as time goes on, Gunshow will change and I hope that it does change. I don't know what that future looks like exactly, but our precise quality will always be constant. No matter who is cooking on any given night, the experience will need to be constantly high.

What has the Cocktail Cart been like?
Why hadn't we done this earlier? Once we were able to serve liquor, we decided we couldn't just add a cocktail list or a bar menu. We talked about it for months, but it wasn't truly possible until we found [bartender] Mercedes O'Brien. She is excited about making her drinks and talking to people at their tables while she's making them— just like the way we serve the food here. She makes the drinks she wants to make that day. It's not from a snobby perspective, but it's so that she's jazzed about what she's making.

Any word on Terminus City Barbecue?
Absolutely. This is what I will say to you: We are doing a full Terminus City takeover of Gunshow the fourth and fifth of July this year. We will open at noon each day with first come, first serve walk-in and go until the food is out. On those days, we have a big announcement about what the future of Terminus City Barbecue is. The name comes from Atlanta's original name, and the style is focused on traditional, open-pit, whole-hog style barbecue. Terminus City Barbecue Takeover at Gunshow: Friday, July 4, and Saturday, July 5, from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. or until the food runs out. Counter service with no reservations.
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