Ryan Gravel, the man who conceived of the 22-mile pedestrian and transit loop around Atlanta known as the Beltline, is opening a restaurant called Aftercar. The Beltline-facing restaurant opens next spring in the basement level of the Telephone Factory Lofts on Ralph McGill in Poncey-Highland. The philanthropub will help fund Gravel’s nonprofit organization, Generator — a civic-based, public think tank for improving cities and communities through workshops and programming.
Aftercar provides a physical space for Generator and acts as its sustainable revenue source — much like Staplehouse does for the restaurant nonprofit Giving Kitchen. Gravel says approximately 60 percent of the budget for the nonprofit is to be covered by the restaurant. He envisions Aftercar’s design as “retro-futurism”, partially inspired by the rooftop bar in the radioactive city from the 2017 film Blade Runner 2049.
The menu for Aftercar isn’t worked out yet, but Gravel plans to focus on foods grown locally. He also hopes to secure space on the building’s roof for a small restaurant garden.
“We’re designing Aftercar to hit all price points, because we want people to come in and feel comfortable eating here. You don’t have to purchase an expensive meal,” Gravel says. “If you just want a cup of coffee in the morning or a beer in the evenings, that’s fine, too.”
At its core, Gravel sees Aftercar as a space for people to eat together, commune over ideas, and talk about the future of their communities. Generator events will be held at the restaurant to engage city residents in conversations ranging from affordable housing on the Beltline to finding solutions to Atlanta’s transit problems. Gravel says some of the world’s most successful social and cultural movements were born in restaurants and bars, so it’s natural Generator would cohabitate with a restaurant.
A free, all-ages after party at the Telephone Factory Lofts space, following the Beltline Lantern Parade on Saturday, September 22, will launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise additional funds needed to get Aftercar and Generator off the ground. People must RSVP in order to attend the party. He also has a few investors for the restaurant and Generator, along with grant support from the Kendeda Fund.
Gravel realizes people may question his decision to open a restaurant in the neighborhoods at the center of the Beltline gentrification debate — the Old Fourth Ward and Poncey-Highland.
“People were trying to get me to put the restaurant somewhere else on the Westside,” he says. “First off, it needs to be successful and we need the flow of people coming off the Beltline to help subsidize the nonprofit.”
Gravel calls Aftercar a means to an end, the end being funds for Generator. He’s concerned people are too focused on what’s happening right now, and not on addressing the significant changes he feels are coming to Atlanta. His hope is that Generator and Aftercar will act as a “future of our lives-oriented idea studio and social house” where everyday people can gather to discuss their ideas for improving the communities where they live — while dining in a restaurant fully invested in that mission.
“The Beltline was an idea no one was asking for, but that people want overall,” says Gravel. “In order to address the significant changes coming to Atlanta, we need more ideas and to give people a voice who might not have a public platform. That’s part of where Aftercar comes into play. Both Aftercar and Generator will help cultivate this movement of ideas.”
Gravel first proposed the Beltline as his 1999 Georgia Tech master’s thesis. The unbroken loop would connect 45 of Atlanta’s far-flung neighborhoods via an old railroad corridor, through paved footpaths and transit such as a light rail. The egalitarian idea was meant to encourage equity and connectivity among the city’s residents and businesses and cut down on traffic, thus improving quality of life.
To date, only a few short stretches of the Beltline are complete, including the three-mile Eastside trail (along which Aftercar will eventually reside) from Piedmont Park in Midtown to Edgewood Avenue in the Old Fourth Ward. A new portion of the Eastside trail is currently under construction that would connect Edgewood to Memorial Drive in Reynoldstown.
Gravel resigned in 2016 from the Atlanta Beltline Partnership (ABP) board over his concerns in relation to housing affordability and inclusivity along the trail. ABP is the non-profit tasked with overseeing and fundraising for the Beltline.
“Gentrification hasn’t stopped on the Eastside,” says Gravel. “You see what you see right now, but you don’t see what’s coming. Generator and Aftercar are planning for the future. We have to look each other in the eye, support each other, and talk to each other. Breaking bread together will hopefully begin these conversations.”
828 Ralph McGill Boulevard NE, Atlanta. ryangravel.com/aftercar.