Opening a new restaurant always has its challenges. Revival, located at 129 Church St. in Decatur, opened in July 2015 with the goal of serving family-style Sunday dinner. Now, after one year in business, owner Kevin Gillespie and executive chef Andreas Müller share the inside view on the first 12 months’ challenges, accomplishments, and even extensions of the Revival brand.
So thinking back, what was the biggest challenge in getting Revival open?
Kevin Gillespie: The biggest challenge in opening any restaurant is that they’re expensive to build. Revival was a second-generation restaurant, so we ended up having to fix things that we didn’t anticipate, which ultimately cost us more money than budgeted.
Andreas Müller: The biggest challenge for me was staffing. There is definitely a shortage of culinary professionals in Atlanta.
What do you remember about the first week of opening?
KG: Not much really. It was such a blur! During the first few days, we seemed to be hit with every disaster possible. First the water went out in Decatur, followed by a neighborhood power outage. We were hit with crisis after crisis and managed to overcome and stay open.
AM: The first week was a test for sure. We had a fire in one of the walls, the parking lot became flooded from a big rain storm, we had the power go out on the fourth night so we had to close early, and we had a water-boil advisory for three days. Oh, and somebody covered the front yard with manure instead of mulch. I'd rather not say who did it …
What menu items have customers really responded to?
AM: I think 98 percent of our guests would say our cornbread is the best. Our permanent menu items like Revival fried chicken and our bacon-wrapped meatloaf are both fan favorites. Seasonal sides like our fried corn and lemon-glazed sweet potatoes have both gotten great reviews.
What was the biggest challenge overall for Year 1?
KG: The first year’s biggest challenge was trying to grow and become the restaurant that our diners wanted us to be. We expected Revival to be a faster dining experience where people stopped by for a quick meal. What our guests have really responded to is more of a complete dining experience. We are listening to our customers and are growing to make that happen.
AM: Any new restaurant needs a little time to find their rhythm. It took Revival a little bit longer to find ours. We’ve worked on building a solid team, and I'm very excited to be going into year two with such professionals.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment or something that you are most proud of from year one?
KG: Making it in the Eater 38 was a huge thing for us. Revival is meant to be a classic, southern dining experience and a true representation of what I grew up eating. To make it alongside restaurants that have a strong and diverse pedigree made it awesome.
AM: Hands down I am the most proud of my crew, who’ve been with me from day one! These are the folks who come in every day with a smile on their face and make Revival happen every shift. I think that with the help of my sous chefs, we now have a super-solid kitchen team and a professional, yet fun work environment.
What are some of the adjustments you've made since you opened?
KG: We certainly increased the size of tableside service. We’ve also tweaked our beverage menus and added more vegetarian dishes to keep up with the demand. It’s a challenge since vegetarian cuisine doesn’t have a huge place in traditional Southern cooking. We have to be creative in what we’re doing and stay true to our vision of the restaurant.
AM: Portion sizes. [Laughs]
With the new concept of the beer garden, Communion, do you think this has helped or even progressed Revival?
KG: Communion was always meant to be an extension of Revival because we wanted people to feel like they had a place to hang out before or after dinner. We never want to rush guests or make them go home until they’re ready. This stood in opposition to how restaurants work, but we wanted to make sure that we provided that level of hospitality. Communion gives us the opportunity to provide a leisurely experience and stands to help Revival.
AM: Kevin has been talking about wanting to open a beer garden since the first day I met him nine years ago. When he told me he was opening Communion in the backyard of Revival, I was thrilled. I think it’s a great addition!
What's your goal for Year 2 at Revival?
KG: 1. We want to increase the quality of our diner’s experience. We found out what works and what doesn’t. We want to take the second year to focus on the things that work and make them more polished.
2. We want to find a way to serve more guests. Our demand has drastically been more than what we thought we could serve. We’ve been working on this and we’re getting better and better. In year two, we want to make sure that if you call us, we can accommodate.
3. We want Communion to find an identity on its own and serve what that community needs. We see Communion taking better shape in the fall. We want Communion to be a really strong complement to what we’re doing at Revival.
AM: Year two is going to be fine-tuning everything we’ve put in place during year one. We will continue to train and educate our young cooks and grow and get better as a team. “Team Revival” all the way!
If you were to tell guests one thing about Revival that they may not know, what would it be?
KG: We didn’t hire a designer to decorate our walls. My wife and I filled them with our own family heirlooms to make it feel authentic and real.
AM: If you like spicy food, ask for Revival hot chicken. Don't look for it on the menu. It's available by requests only.
— Eater Atlanta contributor Jasmine Crockett