A month prior to the May 2 closure of his Reynoldstown diner club and cocktail bar Golden Eagle, Electric Hospitality founder Michael Lennox reflected upon how the pandemic had brought attention to inefficiencies in the service at his Old Fourth Ward restaurant Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall and the complications of running taco and coffee bar Muchacho and Golden Eagle from the same building.
Lennox says a recalibration and expansion plans were already in the works prior to the health crisis in 2019. Those projects were put on hold during the pandemic.
Thanks to some “external capital relationships” secured before the global health crisis, it appears that reset is finally about to take place over the next year, including a new catering business, expanding Muchacho into the former Golden Eagle space, a second Muchacho location in Decatur, and the opening of a new restaurant and adding more outdoor space to Ladybird in Old Fourth Ward.
“The growth spurt we are going through right now is largely pent up projects that we had in motion pre-COVID that got derailed and have taken a long time to get back on track,” Lennox tells Eater. “...so they all are starting to happen around the same time, which wasn’t the plan originally, but we are very excited about the growth nonetheless.”
According to Atlanta magazine, the second Muchacho opens next March inside a two-story house behind Leon’s Full Service in downtown Decatur. Seating 150 people between the dining room and patio, like the expansion plans for Muchacho in Reynoldstown, the Decatur restaurant will also add dinner and cocktails and include dishes on the menu like carne asada and other platters, tortas, and more tacos and burritos. The outdoor space, accessible via the beer garden at Brick Store Pub, will feature a stage and a satellite bar.
As for the Reynoldtown expansion, it should be completed this fall. While construction continues there, Lennox added a food trailer called the Burrito Bus on the patio serving much of Muchacho’s current menu. Once indoor dining resumes at Muchacho and the expanded dining room opens, the trailer could rotate between locations in Midtown, Westside, and downtown Atlanta.
Over in the Old Fourth Ward, more outdoor space is being added to the Grove at Ladybird, which will soon include a stage, a second and much larger airstream bar, and a “seltzer zone for customizable drinks.” The bar and seltzer zone should open in August.
Just south of Ladybird, Lennox is opening Seabird Oyster Bar next spring. Seating 45 people inside and 30 on the patio, the menu will center around raw bar selections and other seafood dishes paired with cocktails and sparkling wine.
Lennox tells Atlanta magazine that at one point last summer, Electric Hospitality had just $30,000 in the bank. He says the group paid its 100-plus employees $150,000 out of pocket for two months to provide people time to get on unemployment during the early days of the pandemic and the indoor dining shutdown. Lennox helped found charitable endeavor #ATLFAMILYMEAL last spring, too. The organization delivered free meals and helped employ out-of-work restaurant staffers, beyond his own group, throughout the health crisis.
According to recently released records by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Lady Bird Atlanta LLC has been approved for $2,099,989.48 in grant money from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion federal COVID-19 relief fund backed by the SBA. Golden Eagle Atlanta LLC, which includes Muchacho, has been approved for $623,356 in grant money.
Under the terms of the grant program, restaurant owners can use this money for operating expenses, expanding outdoor seating, settling pandemic-related debts, and for payroll and benefits costs. Unlike the Paycheck Protection Program, these grants do not have to be paid back if the money is used by March 2023.
“The RRF funds are the difference between us being able to bring the majority of our teams back to work, as well as have the ability to hire more staff, increase wages and benefits, and continue to operate,” Lennox says. “We are still working our way back out of the hole in terms of catching up on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and accounts payable, over and above the losses we had last year.”
He hopes Congress and the Biden administration can come up with additional funding to replenish the grant program and assist more restaurants still struggling financially.
Starting May 3, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund was meant to prioritize applications during the first three weeks from businesses owned by women, veterans, and people from economically and socially disadvantaged groups. Many of these groups had lost out to big chains, corporations, and larger restaurant groups in previous rounds of COVID relief funding.
This changed when a group of white business owners and right-wing advocacy groups sued the SBA days after the program launched, calling the application prioritization process discriminatory. Close to 3,000 grants already approved were eventually rescinded, and the SBA ceased prioritizing applications.
Nearly 280,000 restaurants and food businesses from across the country submitted applications for grants from the revitalization fund. The money ran out on June 30, with less than half of those applications receiving final approval.
Of the 7,681 Georgia restaurants that applied for grants totaling $1,612,846,488, only 2,674 applications were approved, totaling $619,754,636 in overall funding. Atlanta-based catering company Legendary Events, Inc. received the largest grant in the state at $10 million.
Updated, July 19, 6:45 p.m.: This story has been updated with comments from Michael Lennox.