In an announcement posted to the restaurant’s website and on Instagram Thursday, chef Andre Gomez announced the closing of Porch Light Latin Kitchen after nearly six years in Smyrna. However, the chef isn’t closing the door on the possibility of reopening in the future and plans to focus on building his new burrito, salsa, and chimichurri brand, José Sucio.
A former Kevin Rathbun Steak chef de cuisine, at Porch Light Gomez showcased traditional meat-smoking techniques from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central America, Spain, and Argentina in the dishes served at the restaurant. This included the citrus-brined beer-can chicken, cumin-spiced St. Louis ribs with guava-chipotle barbecue sauce, and a 12-hour coriander beef brisket.
Speaking with Gomez by phone, the chef tells Eater the decision to close his popular restaurant came down to looking out for the well-being of his family and himself.
During the early days of the pandemic last year, Gomez closed the dining room, offering takeout a few nights a week. He briefly reopened the patio for dine-in service, and then the dining room, while also hosting private parties over the last year. He likened the experience of constantly shifting operations between takeout, dine-in, and private events and trying to remain profitable as meat prices continue rising to putting a “Band-Aid on a broken ankle.”
“Owning a restaurant, I was the first one in and the last one out every day. But, I’ve been working the line by myself since January,” Gomez says, “I put everything I had into this. It’s not just the money, it’s also the sacrifice, the time, the energy. I wasn’t happy, emotionally, physically.” he adds. “I need to refocus myself and on my family, which is more important to me than the restaurant.”
For the highly personable Gomez, the chef admits he will miss interacting with his staff and building relationships with customers most of all.
“Much like your family, you build relationships at the restaurant, and you don’t want to let them down, but this is the best decision for me, my wife, and my family,” says Gomez, who also serves on the board for Atlanta-based restaurant non-profit Giving Kitchen. Even while dealing with his own personal stressors and the closing of his first restaurant, Gomez continues to advocate for Atlanta restaurant industry workers in crisis, urging them to seek help through the non-profit, including anyone battling mental health issues made worse by the pandemic.
Gomez now plans to focus his energy on catering events, something he did frequently prior to opening Porch Light Latin Kitchen in 2015, and building his new burrito and chimichurri brand, José Sucio. His burritos, salsas, and chimichurri sauces are often found in the cold cases at both Smyrna Beer Market and Woodstock Beer Market, this includes a version of Porch Light’s popular beer-can chicken stuffed inside a burrito.
“The food service industry has been hit hard by the pandemic and we’re not over the pandemic,” says Gomez. “It’s going to have a long-term effect on the industry going forward, not just on the business, but the people, too.”
“You go into any restaurant right now and you can see everyone’s doing their own thing and trying to hang on and be creative,” he continues. “But the creativity can only do so much, and for me, it’s time to sit back and do it on my own terms.”
Follow José Sucio on Instagram for menu and location updates.
Updated, October 7, 3:15 p.m.: This story has been updated with comments and new details from chef Andre Gomez.