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Chef Maricela Vega in the outdoor kitchen at Sidepiece in Atlanta

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The Restaurant Innovations That Got Atlanta’s Dining Experts Talking

Innovation and outside-the-box thinking were key to the survival for many Atlanta restaurants during the pandemic

Chef Maricela Vega in the outdoor kitchen at Sidepiece in the parking lot of 8ARM
| 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, discussed the saddest restaurant closures, weighed in on the most exciting restaurants opening in 2021, predicted next year’s headlines, and talked rebuilding the industry.

Now, the dining authorities discuss how Atlanta restaurants innovated and created new businesses during 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 loved watching chefs that had only worked for other chefs pivot and hang their shingle. From Mercedes O’Brien and her cocktail kits to eating in the middle of the forest to [chef] Nick Melvin’s burritos. For better or worse, it made people feel pushed to go out on their own.

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

Outdoor alcohol consumption and takeout cocktails. Seriously, ATL; Savannah is laughing at us.

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

I think the old adage “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” was the BIG innovative idea! We learned we had to be flexible to survive. Many of us had become rigid in our thinking and our concepts. We adapted and in the process learned a lot about our businesses and our supporters.

The to-go window at Brick Store Pub in Decatur
The to-go window at Brick Store Pub in Decatur
Ryan Fleisher

Sarah Kimpartner Our Bar ATL

Not necessarily a new trend, but through our kitchen pop-up platform at Our Bar ATL, we’ve seen so many black- and minority-owned and operated pop-ups come through with their delicious food and their own enthusiastic followings. I would love to see more culinary hopefuls enter the entrepreneurial world to provide their communities with food cooked straight from the heart.

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

The pivot that Ali did at Rumi’s Kitchen was very deft. Not only were the takeout options exceptional, but the delivery of pristine raw ingredients not easily found at any local supermarket was something that had us consistently coming back for more.

Beth McKibben editor of Eater Atlanta

For me, innovation at Atlanta restaurants came from people who were willing to step outside the box and rethink and challenge traditional dining standards. New side businesses were launched, like the Little Bird to-go window at Whiskey Bird in Morningside. Takeout doesn’t have to come from a restaurant kitchen, it could happen from inside a tiny house built in a retail shopping complex, such is the case with Cubanos ATL. Building an outdoor kitchen in the parking lot of a restaurant to serve diners safely outside, like with Sidepiece at 8ARM. Former Cold Beer beverage director Mercedes O’Brien started hosting virtual cocktail-making classes on Instagram early in the pandemic, which quickly grew into a successful cocktail kit business. The Window at the Met in West End hosts a number of food pop-ups now each week, giving diners the opportunity to discover emerging restaurants, and entrepreneurs a chance to grow their businesses. These are just a handful of examples that come to mind.

A woman worker in a mask holding up a drink in a clear plastic to-go cup at the to-go window at the Met in West End
The Window at the Met in West End hosts a number of pop-up restaurants throughout the week
Ryan Fleisher


541 Edgewood Avenue Southeast, , GA 30312 (404) 524-5005 Visit Website

Whiskey Bird

1409 North Highland Avenue Northeast, , GA 30306 (404) 600-5797 Visit Website


710 Ponce De Leon Avenue Northeast, , GA 30306 Visit Website

Cold Beer

670 DeKalb Avenue Northeast, , GA 30312 (404) 254-1032 Visit Website

Local Three

3290 Northside Pkwy NW, Atlanta, GA 30327 404-968-2700

Rumi's Kitchen

6112 Roswell Road, , GA 30328 (404) 477-2100 Visit Website

Cubanos ATL

6450 Roswell Road, , GA 30328 (404) 889-8948 Visit Website
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