As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb in Georgia, chef and restaurateur Ford Fry made the decision Thursday to immediately close his 12 Atlanta area restaurants. In a message posted to Fry’s Instagram account, the chef calls the decision “difficult,” and says the closures include restaurants still operating as takeout and delivery only.
As of Wednesday evening, all four Superica locations, no. 246 in Decatur, and Little Rey in Piedmont Heights were the only Rocket Farm group restaurants still open and offering takeout. JCT Kitchen, the Optimist, BeetleCat, King and Duke, St. Cecilia, and Marcel temporarily closed last week.
Fry mentions in the post he’s having all employees of Rocket Farm Restaurant group “quarantine” for the next 14 days. A representative for the group tells Eater Atlanta there are currently no “confirmed [COVID-19] cases” within the restaurant group, and Fry hopes to reopen the restaurants as soon as April 13.
“Rocket Farm Restaurants has made the very difficult decision to shut down its operations, including to-go & delivery, effective today, March 26,” an official statement reads. “We have decided to temporarily close to proactively help prevent the spread of the virus as the safety of our employees, guests & surrounding communities remains our top priority.”
Last week, the group placed 1,242 Rocket Farm employees across Atlanta, Houston, Charlotte, and Nashville, on “protected, unpaid leave.” These latest closures increases that total. The group employs 1,391 people.
Rocket Farm is filing for unemployment benefits on behalf of its furloughed staff and providing “full medical benefits” to eligible employees. Staff members who qualify can also use their paid time off and up to 80 hours of “negative paid time off” while the restaurants are closed. The latter allows Rocket Farm the option to advance an employee who has not accrued PTO with paid time off during an unexpected or emergency closure.
Earlier on Thursday, Junior’s Pizza in Summerhill announced the immediate closure of the pizzeria on Georgia Avenue, following what owners Alex and Jennifer Aton describe as threatening behavior from customers towards their staff over the last week. This includes people intentionally coughing on money and proclaiming it “corona free” and using profane and threatening language in person and on the phone in response to the restaurant’s social distancing and COVID-19 safety measures.
In an update to the original Instagram post, the Aton’s say they have since received a positive “unexpected, overwhelming response” from people. “We’re down but not out, we came from weird beginnings and we may just have to go back to the old ways or a wild new way.”
Junior’s Pizza began as pizza delivery pop-up run out of the Aton’s home. After working as a pizza maker and general manager for Atlanta-based Fellini’s for years, Alex Aton began developing his own pizza recipes two years ago, using only a Kitchen Aid stand mixer and baking the pies in his home oven.
The couple opened Junior’s last summer, across from Wood’s Chapel BBQ. The Summerhill pizzeria serves New York- and Sicilian-style pizzas.
NOTE: The novel coronavirus situation in Georgia is fluid and ongoing. Follow Eater Atlanta for continuing coverage on COVID-19’s impact on Atlanta’s restaurant industry. Additional stories are forthcoming.
Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and twice-daily updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases.