Critically acclaimed restaurant 8ARM is closing October 8 after six years along what is now a hot dining stretch of Ponce de Leon Avenue bordering Virginia-Highland, Poncey-Highland, and the Old Fourth Ward. But its closure doesn’t come without one last menu reinvention.
On July 2, 8ARM will cease serving its current dinner menu and open the kitchen to some of the restaurant’s past chefs, including Maricela Vega (Chico Mexican provisions) and Duy Huynh, and pop-ups such as the Plate Sale, So So Fed, and Ebi Chop Bar. Dinner service also shifts to Thursday through Saturday, with Sundays open for events, like the summer cocktail and dance party Chaka Khan Hacienda. No changes are expected to the cocktail and wine menus ahead of the closure in October.
According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Buckhead real estate developer Cartel Properties recently purchased the property on which 8ARM resides for $3 million. The company already owns the land and building behind the restaurant, once home to vintage and local goods market Paris on Ponce. Cartel plans to redevelop the entire site located just off of the Eastside Beltline trail near Ponce City Market.
Cartel president Matt Rohrig wouldn’t comment on the company’s plans for the property, instead telling the Chronicle 8ARM would remain on site for now. But 8ARM owners Skip Englebrecht and Nhan Le (Fishmonger, Octopus Bar) faced a tough decision: stay put until told to leave or close on their own terms.
“This is a passion project, an emotional restaurant, a community restaurant, and we can’t compete with that kind of big money in order to purchase the property,” Englebrecht tells Eater. “I understand progress in cities, but there’s something to be said when you’re on the forefront of a really great idea and space. The big guys are going to eventually take advantage of that foresight.”
Englebrecht also owned Paris on Ponce, along with Three Hearts Coffee Roasters with Le, before both were destroyed by a fire in the building behind 8ARM in 2019. The owner of the building declined to repair the damage after the blaze and listed the building for sale.
Le first opened 8ARM in August 2016 with the late chef Angus Brown. Brown died suddenly five months later, leaving the fledgling restaurant without a leader in the kitchen. His death, Englebrecht says, caused Le to reevaluate how 8ARM would operate in the future, ultimately leading to the current ethos behind the restaurant, one that allows for an ever-evolving menu and regular reinvention. These reinventions include a natural wine bar taking over 8ARM’s former coffee shop and chef Maricela Vega transforming the restaurant’s menu into an homage to Meso-American cuisine, something that garnered her a semifinalist nod from the James Beard Foundation in 2020.
After Vega’s departure in 2021, 8ARM morphed once again into a Japanese izakaya and sushi bar. The parking lot even saw change, becoming an open-air kitchen with outdoor seating during the first year of the pandemic.
“We’ve always tried to give back to the community, like with Chaka Khan being an LGBTQ-forward event, the Black Lives Matter concerts for charities, and giving different chefs and pop-ups opportunities here,” says Englebrecht. “So giving back at the end like this just feels right.”
As to whether 8ARM might reopen elsewhere, general manager and beverage director Joshua Fryer says it’s highly unlikely. “We’ve put so much of ourselves into this. It just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else.”
Englebrecht is certain that, if asked, Cartel would have offered 8ARM space at the redeveloped property, but says he and Le feel it’s simply time to move forward and end the restaurant on a high note.
Later this year, he and Le will open Small Fry at the Atlanta Dairies in Reynoldstown, a counter-service restaurant serving fried chicken and fried fish sandwiches and shrimp baskets. There are other projects in the works, too, according to Fryer.
“Right now, we’re just doing our best to try and take care of everyone before 8ARM closes, and that includes our staff and finding them places at our other restaurants when the time comes,” Englebrecht says.