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A woman dressed in a red plaid sweater and red leggings with black flats sits at an orange metal table in front of Farm Burger in Decatur, Georgia, on a December 2020 afternoon talking on the phone and eating a burger and fries

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Dining Experts Talk Rebuilding Atlanta’s Battered Restaurant Industry

Where the Atlanta restaurant industry should head next as it rebuilds following the pandemic

Ryan Fleisher
Beth McKibben is the editor and staff reporter for Eater Atlanta and has been covering food and cocktails locally and regionally for 12 years.

As 2020 draws to a close, Eater continues discussing the dining scene and the tumultuous year for the restaurant industry with Atlanta food writers and authorities. The experts have already given their takeout standbys, named their favorite new Atlanta restaurants, offered insight into their best meals of the year, discussed the saddest restaurant closures, weighed in on the most exciting restaurants opening in 2021, and predicted next year’s headlines.

Now, the dining authorities talk rebuilding Atlanta’s battered restaurant industry and what it might take following the pandemic. Responses are cut, pasted, and lightly edited.

Jennifer Zyman — Atlanta food writer and dining critic Atlanta magazine, Thrillist, Eater Atlanta, AJC; founder of “The Blissful Glutton

I’d like to see curbside continue because I believe it is useful even when we are not in a pandemic. It matches the tempo of our American lives. We should continue to digitize menus and make dining experiences more touch-free. I’m hoping the pandemic also resets hygiene standards across the industry overall since it is a matter of life and death, not just gastric distress.

Mike Jordan — Atlanta food and beverage writer Eater Atlanta, Playboy, Rolling Stone, the Wall Street Journal, Atlanta magazine; editor-in-chief of Butter ATL

I’d love to see restaurants stop trying to be different in ways besides just being really good at cooking and service. I’m not sure enough people will have the kind of money it takes to support a bunch of excessive creativity over utility. Not to pretend like I don’t love it: Georgia Boy to come back ASAP. But, we’ve probably got another tough year, not only for restaurants and employees, but also customers. Figure out how to make classics better than your competitors, I’d say. I’d also love it if they could sneak healthier things into our carryout plates. Seriously, you don’t have to reinvent food just because we’re living in the Upside-Down. But we are going to need to check our cholesterol and general health with all this sugar/salt/fat comfort food we’ve all survived on for the past nine months.

Deborah VanTrece — chef and owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours

I think stronger alliances amongst restaurateurs must become even stronger. We collectively share the same vision of success. Now is the time to work together to ensure the success of the many, and not just the few.

A man in a green shirt and khaki shorts picking up to-go food at Little Bird takeout window at Whiskey Bird in Morningside
Little Bird takeout window at Whiskey Bird in Morningside
Ryan Fleisher

Sarah Kimpartner Our Bar ATL

As the industry underwent a stress test this year unlike any other in recent memory, we’ve seen just how important people are to not only surviving, but even thriving in difficult times. We’ve seen it at Our Bar ATL — not only with our staff doing whatever they can to help the business function, but also with our loyal regulars, some of whom would actually come by every other day to order from our kitchen pop-ups. To build resilience, the restaurant industry should look harder to the staff and the community, as they are the most important and sustainable assets and partners to weather the future storms.

Federico Castellucci — President and CEO of Castellucci Hospitality Group (Cooks and Soldiers, the Iberian Pig, Double Zero, Sugo)

I don’t think we will fully go back to the way things were, however, that is only natural and part of the evolutionary process. There’s an opportunity here to do things differently and better. Finding more sustainable models for our businesses and being open-minded about opportunities we once scoffed at (like takeout and delivery) should take priority.

Beth McKibben editor of Eater Atlanta

Takeout should absolutely continue. It’s added a valuable service to a lot of restaurants I could see expanding businesses in the future. I would consider somehow bringing delivery service in-house. Offering this service via the restaurant allows for better quality control over food delivered and fees to circulate back into the business. The pandemic has also made it clear that it’s time to get serious about providing restaurant industry employees a living wage and basic healthcare. If that means diners pay a bit more to eat out, so be it. Building up healthy and equitable restaurant and bar staffs will ensure a stronger industry over time. Let’s also stop placing so much weight on real estate developers dictating which restaurants should and shouldn’t open in neighborhoods. Provide more people with the necessary funding and resources to open smaller footprint restaurants with less overhead and in buildings they actually own. Create true neighborhood restaurants in Atlanta and make these establishments accessible and fit the neighborhoods each serves.

The newly opened Staplehouse market on Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta with two people ordering meats and cheese at the counter from a masked employee during the pandemic of 2020
Earlier this fall, Staplehouse transformed into a neighborhood market offering takeout on Edgewood Avenue
Ryan Fleisher

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