Redbird, the restaurant from chef Zeb Stevenson where vegetables often take center stage on the menu, closes February 19 after three years at Westside Provisions District. Stevenson co-owns Redbird with former Watershed owner Ross Jones.
A post on Instagram cites the decision to close comes down to the rising costs of running a full-service restaurant and the “uncertain future” the industry faces — a future made more unstable as pandemic-related financial, supply chain, and labor shortage issues continue.
“It’s a business and it has to work. It’s not a fantasy, and it has to be profitable, and it’s getting harder and harder to do that these days,” Stevenson tells Eater of the decision to close. “We didn’t cut corners. We use great products and ingredients, train and treat people well here, and we operate with integrity. I’m proud of it all and of my people at Redbird.”
Comments left on the Instagram post range from sadness and shock by Redbird regulars lamenting the closure of their favorite restaurant, to tributes and thanks to Stevenson by present and former employees, to fellow Atlanta chefs praising Stevenson for his positivity and staying true to his original vision for the restaurant.
“People seem to be gravitating toward highly-conceptualized restaurants now, and that’s just not me,” he says of the restaurant he describes as “free-spirited”. “Redbird is not concept driven, but an ingredient-driven restaurant, and that’s what it will be until the day we close.”
For those who’ve been following Stevenson since his time as executive chef at the Livingston — where he once threw a five course “blood dinner” and an epic 12-course “last supper” — and then at critically acclaimed Southern restaurant Watershed, they happily found his refreshing and creative approach to food, especially with vegetables, on full display at Redbird. Following the sale of Watershed to chef Matt Marcus in 2018, Stevenson spent 15 months away from professional kitchens, allowing him time to focus on his cooking and developing recipes. Redbird opened in the summer of 2019, taking over the former Bacchanalia space at Westside Provisions District.
“Our goal at Redbird is to take every single ingredient and try to coax the best flavors out of them and let them be the best versions of themselves. It’s all about technique,” Stevenson said at the time of Redbird’s opening. “Redbird and this menu is methodical and not flashy.”
The family-style menu at Redbird is broken out into cold plates and snacks, appetizers comprising of several in-season vegetables dishes and salads, a small selection of fish and meat entrees, and dessert. The sugar cream pie — Stevenson’s homage to his home state of Indiana and his mother — has been a mainstay on the menu since 2019.
At the height of the pandemic, when many restaurants were still closed for indoor dining, Stevenson launched a weekend biscuit brunch from a walk-up window on the patio at Redbird. Still in operation, the tight menu for Birdy Biscuits features a traditional BEC, along with clever riffs like the Japanese Cowboy (a tamago sando-style egg salad biscuit sandwich with house kewpie mayo and seasoned nori flakes.)
When asked what’s next, Stevenson says he’s unsure. For now, he’s focused on running Redbird as he always has ahead of the February 19 closure and helping his employees find new jobs.
“I am so proud of the team at Redbird and their accomplishments. As their leader, I take responsibility for where we fell short. Losing the camaraderie and the connections made with this team, that’s the hardest part for me.”
Redbird is one of three restaurants to close at Westside Provisions District in the last two years. Ford Fry closed JCT Kitchen and Bar across from Redbird at the end of 2021 after 15 years at the complex. Last spring, Fry revealed plans to replace JCT Kitchen with a bistro-style restaurant called Little Sparrow and cocktail lounge Bar Blanc. Yeah Burger closed last summer after 12 years at the Howell Mill Road retail and dining district. Shake Shack took over the space at the end of 2022.
A development boom along this stretch of Howell Mill Road in recent years has seen the emergence of two new dining and retail complexes joining Westside Provisions District. Star Metals and the Interlock should reach completion by the end of 2025. Both include new restaurants like Velvet Taco, Sweetgreen, sushi bar Kinjo Room, Wagamama, rooftop bar and restaurant L.O.A, and mini golf restaurant Puttshack. Omakase restaurant Hayakawa (formerly Sushi Hayakawa on Buford Highway) just opened at Star Metals, while Humble Pie, backed by Lazy Betty chefs Ron Hsu and Aaron Phillips, recently opened at the Interlock next door. Rooftop bar and lounge Patina, from the team behind the Painted Pin and the Painted Duck, should open by the end of 2023 at Star Metals.
The Howell Mill Road location of La Fonda Latina closed this past December, ahead of its relocation to East Lake. The property on which La Fonda occupied on Howell Mill Road for nearly 13 years will eventually become an apartment tower called Stella at Star Metals, part of a new phase of the neighboring complex. The restaurant building currently stands in the shadow of the first phase of the sprawling Star Metals at the corner of 11th Street and Howell Mill Road.
With highly concentrated development continuing to push forward on Howell Mill Road between 14th and 8th streets, Atlanta public transit advocates are calling on the city to install dedicated bus rapid transit lanes and increase bus service to help ease traffic congestion and make the area more pedestrian friendly.