ATTENTION: Illegal Food fans we regret to inform you that we have been given our parole papers and are due to leave joystick in 60 days and counting. We will keep you posted on what's to come for Illegal Food. Come get your hank fix soon.
Illegal Food has become popular thanks to its burger menu, which features Brasstown Beef. Steven Lingenfelter and Didier Stahl, partners along with Laurie Dominguez, detailed the split in a phone conversation with Eater Atlanta.
"We're being evicted by the owners of Joystick," said Lingenfelter. "Basically, they're eliminating the partnership between us two, and we have 60 days to leave. So we're trying to put all of our feelers out there, find our own place in two months, hopefully. We woke up to a voicemail. It was sort of unplanned and news to us, as well."
While the decision was sudden, the Illegal Food team felt it had been in the making for some time.
"Did it come out of nowhere? No, but there's been a tension between the front of house and back of house," Stahl said. "We've done our best to try to resolve things, but it just didn't seem to work out, and I think at the end of the day they decided they didn't want to move in the direction that we wanted to move in.
"I came home from my shift last night at 1:45 ... and I listened to a voicemail from Joystick telling me, essentially, that they're giving us 60 days to get out of the building. They just don't feel like they can continue with the partnership the way it is right now. So they've decided to say, 'Hey, let's part ways, and you've got 60 days to get out of here.'"
The kitchen felt it wasn't getting adequate service to match the product. Stahl said he and his partners tried to resolve their issues, to no avail.
"When we came in here, we had expectations of having quality food and quality service. We had challenges with the front of the house, we kept trying to deal with things. It was a challenging space, so we needed their help with stuff. We started bumping heads on what they wanted to do and the vibe they wanted to have in the space.
"When we started getting popular, it was important for us to have good service. If people are driving four hours to get here to get a burger, I want to make sure they're getting the right burger, they're getting service, someone's not losing their burger. So, we tried to confront that kind of stuff and create a team, and it didn't seem like it was clicking. ... To boil it all down, we've both outgrown it and couldn't come to terms on a way to move forward that would be beneficial to us and beneficial to them."
As for the future, Illegal food hopes to find a new home quickly.
"Now we're just focused on trying to let the best burger in Georgia live on, so we're trying to find a new place, a new kitchen, anything that will help us continue the journey we're on."
In a statement emailed to Eater Atlanta, Joystick Gamebar owners Johnny Martinez and Brandon Ley expressed that the partnership was never meant to be permanent, and that it was time for both sides to move on.
"From the inception of Joystick's Kitchen Incubation program, the situation was always meant to be temporary. What we want to offer is an environment that allows passionate chefs to focus on their craft while being able to create their brand, build capital, and fine tune their menu. The process of starting a business, especially a restaurant, can be overwhelming. Our Incubation program is designed to give them a head start.
"Illegal Food has done enormously well with this and exceeded even the high expectations we had for them. But as with all incubations, the eggs hatch and outgrow the nest. Although it will be difficult to lose the Best Burger in Georgia, we are confident that Illegal Food will continue to grow into something even more amazing than they are now. Joystick is ready to offer this small opportunity to another as-of-yet undiscovered culinary talent in Atlanta."
Martinez and Ley downplayed any tension between Joystick and Illegal Food.
"Despite any possible reported tension we are happy to have given them this opportunity. We have always striven to have a good, healthy working relationship with Illegal Food. More so, we believe that everyone should be happy where they are and should take steps to find where they are their happiest, truest self."