For those looking for something a little more unique in their dining experience, My Parents' Basement is coming with food, beer, and comic books. Lots of them. Once the James Joyce Pub, the space has been transformed into a nerdy paradise of locally sourced cuisine, a wide variety of brews from a talented beer manager, and a full-functioning comic book store in the restaurant. Dave DeFeo and Tim Ensor, both Leon's Full Service and Brick Store Pub alums, partnered with Lawson Wright on the venture, and Tim Hastings is in as executive chef. With opening day around the corner, Ensor, DeFeo, and Hastings discuss the project's background, extensive beer selection, and the story of how a comic book yard sale became a full restaurant.
You started as a pop-up comic shop in Wild Heaven's brewery. How did that evolve into this full standalone establishment?
Dave DeFeo: We [pointing to Ensor] worked together for years now. We [pointing to Hastings] have just known each other for a really long time. Lawson and [Ensor] worked together at Milton's [Cuisine & Cocktails] for a long time.
Tim Ensor: Ten years. I guess it all came together through Brick Store. That's where we all worked. I opened up Leon's and was the beer buyer there, then eventually took over the beer buying for the Brick Store. I guess the whole idea came up one night in a dream that I had. I was working at a comic book store that had beer and Dave was there working with me. I came into work the next day like, "Holy crap, you'll never imagine this dream I had last night. We were working at this comic book store that had beer and it was called 'My Parents' Basement.'"
DeFeo: I said, "We should do this." Then a couple of hours later I said, "We should really do this."
Ensor: We never thought it would actually happen until a few years later when a friend I went to high school with had a brother who owned a comic book store in Kennesaw that went out of business in the mid-2000s. He called us and said we could pick up his inventory, which was in his parents' basement.
DeFeo: Just coincidentally.
Ensor: [laughs] Yeah, so we rented a U-Haul and loaded it up with 25,000 comics. And that's when this idea we had became a reality.
DeFeo: It was the best Wednesday ever.
Ensor: We started off doing comic book yard sales at Lawson's house, then a pop-up at Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, and that led Nick Purdy, owner of Wild Heaven Brewery, inviting us to do one at the brewery.
So the name came to you in a dream?
Ensor: Yep, it was just that dream.
DeFeo: At the time, we both worked at Leon's. I worked the grill and [Ensor] worked the bar, which are right next to each other. In the center was Lawson's wife, the pastry chef there at Leon's, and she said Lawson always wanted to open his own comic book store.
Do each of you helm one area of the business, or is it a mix between all of you?
Ensor: I'm more the bar side, especially beer since [I was] beer buyer for the Brick Store. Lawson has all sorts of experience in everything from front of house to back of house, so he kind of wears all the house. Most of his experience has been back of house.
DeFeo: I've bartended and waited tables, and I prefer to be in the kitchen. I've been in the kitchen for over 20 years. I was the kitchen manager for Brick Store for many years and at Leon's for a little while too.
So you will manage the kitchen here?
DeFeo: With Tim [Hastings]. Honestly, he has all the knowledge that is going to make things exceptional here. I'm more the grunt. He pulls it together and I just do it.
Tim Hastings: I was the sous chef at Cafe Alsace. I've worked at many other restaurants all of these years all over Georgia. Athens for a few years, Decatur for a while. My culinary knowledge is self-taught. I had a lot of friends who went to Cordon Bleu and actually advised me against the monetary investment. I've also found a lot of books that they actually use at the Cordon Bleu and used those to teach myself.
The menu seems focused on small plates and sandwiches. What's the inspiration?
DeFeo: Tim, Lawson, Timmy, Lawson's wife, my wife, me — we all sat down and hashed out what is on the menu now. We have a ton of room [in the kitchen]. It's the entire length of the building. We have a ton of room to grow, but we wanted to start out with giving people our best shot. Once we see the business expand, we will expand the menu. We have a lot of ideas.
Ensor: We also thought, "How do you open a comic book store and survive?" And that's with beer. Beer and the restaurant. There are lots of restaurants opening up so it's hard to distinguish yourself. Does Atlanta need just another craft beer bar?
It's hard to set yourself apart without seeming gimmicky.
Ensor: Yeah, and we don't want to be seen as a niche or like a themed bar. We are taking every aspect of this restaurant with the utmost respect. Our menu isn't going to be themed with funny names like "the Iron Man burger" and weird stuff like that. We want it to be nice and simple so if someone comes in unfamiliar with comics they aren't bludgeoned over the head with nerd culture.
Any hints on what is to come on the menu?
Hastings: We definitely want to take advantage of the fact that Pine Street Market is right next door to us. I was one of the first to take advantage of the classes when they first started doing them four years ago. I've always had a good relationship with them. They put out a good product and it's local. We immediately knew they were going to have their bacon as anything we need bacon for. They will have a new chicken breakfast sandwich and saucisson sec salami, which is going to be amazing. Plus, since it's a butcher shop, all the bones we need for stock will be right next door.
How did you come across the building? Why Avondale specifically?
DeFeo: We just got real lucky. We looked at a lot of different spaces, and the idea changed every time we looked at a new place. We looked here a year ago and it just wasn't the time. We put a bid in for a space in Oakhurst, and when that fell through, this came back and we jumped on it. It was better circumstances. This building has been closed three years, and it waited a long time for us.
Ensor: The building just fits us. It looks like it was built for a classy-ass nerd bar.
You've acquired a beautiful patio area as well.
Ensor: Absolutely. With that patio came a brunch menu, which we have to do. Between the neighborhood and that patio, we needed a brunch menu. It will be a killer brunch spot.
The space has figurines and posters up everywhere; is this a personal collection?
DeFeo: It is. We want this to be about us, and how we fit and our design. We don't want people to come in and think of what the space used to be.
Which brings up the bar top. Was that here before, or is it new?
DeFeo: It was a wood bar in a massive "Z" shape.
Ensor: It was all hard edges and dark wood. We wanted something more durable and unique, so we poured this ginormous concrete bar. It's a shiny epoxy finish.
How often will you rotate the beer and food?
Ensor: The beer will rotate a lot. There are 32 draft lines; two are going to be dedicated to craft sodas from Georgia. We will start with Monday Night Ginger Beer and Red Hare Root Beer. There will be a cold brew iced coffee from Nitro. We're going with Wonderlust. Other than that, we will have Guinness and Weheinstephaner as the staple choices. Then there are 27 other beers that will constantly rotate. There will probably be two Wild Heaven taps at all times too, just because of our relationship with them and being invited to start there. Those will rotate as well.
DeFeo: It was nice that we ended up right next to them, too, after all they did for us.
Will you have partnerships with the local breweries in the area? Any unique one-off beers here?
Ensor: Potentially. I have ideas. I've talked to a few breweries about doing some one-off house beers for the restaurant here.
Obviously, you have plenty of beer. Any cocktails here?
Ensor: We will have a full bar, so we will have basics, but that's not our focus. We will have a small list of specials. I worked with Miles [Macquarrie] at Kimball House so I know how to make a proper cocktail, but we want to stick mostly to beer. We want to do a few things and do them well. Come for beer, food, and comics.
When is the targeted opening date?
Ensor: August 12 is the target. We are shooting for it.