Rumors of the imminent closure of Empire State South are greatly exaggerated, and Five and Ten in Athens is not for sale, according to chef Hugh Acheson.
While yes, Empire State South is on the market, as first reported by the Atlanta Business Chronicle in July, Acheson says there’s currently no active deal on the table and the midtown Atlanta restaurant remains open and under his direction, along with chef Sam Herndon. Acheson and Herndon are co-leading the kitchen at Empire State South, following the departure of chef Daniel Porubiansky, who left the restaurant in September to return to Bacchanalia.
“It sells when it sells,” he says.
Acheson has made it no secret that he’s spending more time in Canada these days to be closer to his daughters, both of whom are in university there, and to care for his father, who has late-stage Alzheimer’s.
“Restaurants take a long time to sell. I’m not shutting the doors on Empire. It’s still in a good place. There’s no drama about this,” he says. “People sell their successful small businesses all the time and walk away, but for a chef, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ Sometimes lives change, and priorities change, and that’s not a bad thing for some people to move on and do other things.”
The optimal scenario, he says, is to sell Empire State South and its name to someone willing to make it their own and continue its legacy in Atlanta. But until the restaurant sells, or he makes a deal with the landlords, Acheson is bouncing back and forth between Canada, his home in Athens, and his duties at Empire State South and event obligations in Atlanta.
As for the menu at Empire State South, Acheson and Herndon plan to keep the tasting menu in place, which will eventually feature four to five courses and change more frequently. The snack menu that includes the popular In Jars trio of spreads (pimento cheese, baba ganoush, smoked fish mousse) is now served from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., rather than stopping when dinner service begins in the evening.
Acheson is also working on fleshing out a home economics curriculum with a production company for schools across the country to use, along with doing private catering gigs and events, like cooking for an October 20 fundraiser in Ormewood Park on behalf of Georgia Secretary of State candidate Bee Nguyen.
This past spring, Acheson made two trips to Romania and Poland to assist in coordinating food distributions with World Central Kitchen to help feed refugees fleeing from the Russian invasion in neighboring Ukraine. Herndon joined him on the first trip. After opening Montreal-style steakhouse Mount Royal and rooftop lounge Spaceman at the Hyatt Centric hotel in Buckhead last December, Acheson departed the restaurants in April citing “creative differences” with hotel management. Three Arches, a Mediterranean restaurant led by chef Josh Hopkins, just opened in the former Mount Royal space.
“It pulls at the heartstrings to realize the impact the restaurants and my crew have had in Athens and Atlanta. But at the end of the day, I need to make decisions that are best for my family,” Acheson says. “I’m very proud of my 25-year legacy of cooking in Georgia. Empire is in phenomenally talented hands with Sam and Five and Ten is in a really good place right now.”
“So, we’re definitely not done yet.”