Lawrence’s Cafe closed earlier this summer after more than 30 years serving Lebanese dishes from owner Tony Chebib, first on Buford Highway, then from West College Avenue in Oakhurst. The owner of Edgewood neighborhood Mexican restaurant El Tesoro plans to take over the space and open a new restaurant there by the end of the year.
An announcement made on Facebook in July cites the pandemic as the reason behind the closure of Lawrence’s Cafe, but indicates Chebib may be looking to reopen the restaurant elsewhere in Atlanta.
“After 32 years in business and 10 years at our current Decatur location, it is with sadness that we announce we got bought by another company and are closing on July 30th, 2021,” the post reads. “The last 16 months have been some of the hardest for Lawrence’s Cafe (and everyone) and despite our best efforts, the pandemic won. During our closing, we will be searching for a new location.”
Chebib first opened Lawrence’s Cafe in 1990 on Buford Highway, before relocating the restaurant nearly a decade ago to West College Avenue, next door to Revolution Doughnuts. Chebib, who grew up in Falougha Mount-Liban, Lebanon, wanted to be closer to the majority of his customer base, most of whom live in the Decatur area and the east side neighborhoods of Atlanta. His restaurant became known for its homey Lebanese dishes based on family recipes.
Family food traditions will continue at the West College Avenue space when Alan Raines and his partner in the venture, Sam Eaves, open a yet-named restaurant centered around mezcal drinks and coastal dishes from the family of El Tesoro kitchen manager chef Hugo Suastegui and his hometown of Acapulco, Mexico.
“We love the casual and outdoor vibes that come with our homestyle, Guerrero Mexican food conceptualized by the Soto family at El Tesoro,” Raines tells Eater of dishes Cristina Lugo Soto churns out daily at the popular Edgewood neighborhood restaurant. “But we have also come to love the community that has developed around our quasi-monthly mezcal tasting dinners, which feature coastal foods from chef Hugo Suastegui’s family and hometown of Acapulco, paired with handcrafted mezcal beverages from the region.”
Food and drinks from these dinners now serve as inspiration for the new Oakhurst restaurant, which Raines says should be a much more intimate experience than that of El Tesoro.
While an opening ETA or the name have yet to be settled, Raines hopes to open by the end of the year and will also utilize the kitchen in Oakhurst to supplement El Tesoro and for outside catering needs.
“This will be a full-service, evening-only restaurant, led by Hugo and a beverage specialist,” he says. “We hope to get things solidified very soon.”
Raines first opened El Tesoro at the corner of Arkwright Place and Whitefoord Avenue in 2019. What started as a small, counter-service cantina with limited indoor seating has since expanded into a popular neighborhood gathering spot that now includes an expansive open-air patio, complete with fire pits. Here, Soto serves up tacos, tamales, mulitas, and burritos based on flavors and ingredients found in her home state of Guerrero, Mexico. Typically run as a Thursday special, the birria tacos here are not to be missed.
Update, September 10, 12:30 p.m.: A previous version of this story listed Darryl Howard as one of the current owners of El Tesoro. Howard is no longer affiliated with the restaurant and Alan Raines is now sole owner.