Nakato and Daddy D’z are two of 25 restaurants from across the country selected to receive grant money meant to preserve historic and culturally significant minority-owned businesses disproportionally impacted by the pandemic.
Funded by American Express and distributed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the money can be used to upgrade a restaurant’s website and point of sales system and make cosmetic and other necessary improvements, including kitchen enhancements, redesigning the interior, or adding outdoor seating.
“Historic small restaurants are cultural treasures that strengthen their communities and carry their legacies and traditions forward in deeply meaningful ways,” Katherine Malone-France, National Trust chief preservation officer says in a press release. “These restaurants have demonstrated their resiliency for decades, and even while dealing with the financial impacts of the pandemic, they have continued to support their communities in many ways.”
Ron Newman opened Daddy D’z in 1993 between Hill and Fort streets on the edge of Grant Park near historic Oakland Cemetery. Christianah Coker-Jackson purchased the restaurant from Newman three years ago. With no outdoor seating area and meat prices soaring as a result of the health crisis, Coker-Jackson closed the tiny dining room at Daddy D’z last spring, relying on takeout to keep the business afloat. People have taken to setting up chairs or sitting on their cars in the parking lot once they receive their orders.
In a February 2020 interview with Atlanta magazine, Coker-Jackson said the barbecue restaurant had seen a 30 percent dip in sales after the departure of the Braves from Turner Field in 2017. Rising rents in the area only increased the financial pressure on the restaurant with developers swooping in to build a series of pricy mixed-use complexes up and down Memorial Drive as part of the Beltline overlay district.
Daddy D’z remains closed for indoor dining, but continues to offer online ordering for takeout and delivery.
Testuko Nakato opened her eponymous Japanese restaurant nearly 50 years ago in Atlanta, now located on Cheshire Bridge Road. For granddaughter Sachi Nakato Takahara and her family, 2020 began with the death of the family patriarch and one of the restaurant’s proprietors Kiyoshi Takahara “Kiyo” Nakato on New Year’s Day at age 69. Three months later, Takahara announced the temporarily closure of Nakato as COVID-19 cases and virus-related deaths rose sharply in Georgia.
The restaurant closed for dine-in service in late March last year, sustaining business through takeout and offering family meals. A GoFundMe campaign was set up on behalf of Nakato’s employees, many of whom were eventually furloughed. Later, the restaurant began selling custom-made face masks sporting a geometric print reminiscent of overlapping hemp leaves believed to ward off harm. Funds from the sale of the masks also went to assist Nakato employees.
“We are still trying to figure out the best way to utilize this amazing grant and opportunity, but we know that we want to enhance our outdoor space and the curb appeal of Nakato,” Takahara tells Eater, who says architectural plans are in the works for exterior improvements. “The fact that the National Trust for Historic Preservation considers Nakato Japanese Restaurant a historic and culturally significant restaurant, is a true testament to my grandmother’s vision of Nakato, and is such a wonderful tribute to her legacy.”
Nakato has since reopened for dine-in service, but continues to offer online ordering for takeout and delivery.
Atlanta chef and cookbook author Deborah VanTrece, owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours, was part of the chef advisory committee which helped select the restaurants for the “Backing Historic Small Restaurants” grant program.
“I am so proud to be a part of this initiative and very inspired by AMEX for their support of these historical restaurants,” VanTrece says of being part of the grant committee. “Amex has shown itself as a company in the forefront of providing opportunities to underserved communities. I wish Nakato and Daddy D’z much continued success and blessings.”