In December, news broke that Tom Colicchio would close his Craft and Craftbar restaurants after dinner service on Valentine's Day. (Amazingly with neither restaurant listed on the Craft website nor OpenTable, a hotel representative informed me the restaurant decided to close this past weekend.) When the closure was announced, the official story was that he was unable to work out a new agreement with the new property owners after the Mansion went into foreclosure. In reality, it was the restaurant's poor performance that led to the closure. The restaurant was popular with some locals and many tourists, but did not attract enough of an overall following to remain profitable. If any talks did go on, they were most likely for significantly reduced rent, which likely was not offered. For the record, Atlanta is not alone in not taking to Craft, as I'm told his signature restaurant in Dallas is also struggling.
So, with the restaurant due to close in less than two weeks, I've been inundated with questions and theories about what will open once the space becomes available. As I do with all stories and tips, they were investigated and sadly, nothing is on the books as of yet.
One rumored replacement was Rathbun's. One possibility floated was that Kevin Rathbun (formerly of the beloved Buckhead Diner) would relocate his eponymous Kevin Rathbun Steak from Inman Park to the building, this was a far cry from the truth. Another untrue rumor was that it would be a second location for his steakhouse. Having previously spoken to Kevin Rathbun and his business partner Cliff Bramble, I know that they are happy where they are, and if any expansion were to occur, it would be on or around Krog Street.
Another interesting lead was that Pano Karatassos would take over the space and finally open his long delayed Pano's. Pano closed Pano's & Paul's in March 2009 after a number of "last seating" engagements. Shortly thereafter, Pano announced his intentions to reopen Pano's sans former partner Paul [Albrecht] at the then upcoming St. Regis Hotel & Residences. Pano seemed to focus on opening his French style Brasserie now known as the wildly popular Bistro Niko at 3344 Peachtree in Buckhead. It would appear that it was during this time that Pano's at the St. Regis got the back burner.
With Bistro Niko now open for over a year and having carved out a nice niche in the market, one would think that he was ready to restart Pano's. I'm told that virtually no work has been done on the space at the St. Regis, leading many to believe he is seeking to open elsewhere. If and when it opens, the restaurant will surely define the man who has defined fine dining in Atlanta. Perhaps Pano is just taking his time and (re) assessing his options? No doubt sales are down at his restaurants like most others in the country. Given that he would walk into a built-out restaurant and a large space upstairs suitable for private dining, the idea seemed possible. I thought that it could very well be true, but alas, a call to Jennifer Franklin, Director of Marketing for Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, provided the sad news. While Pano had considered the space, he had decided against it.
Interestingly, when Pano signed on to open at the St. Regis, Streets of Buckhead was still on the immediate horizon and opening there (at the St. Regis) seemed to be a good move. Now, given the issues and delays with Streets of Buckhead, the Mansion would seem to have the upper hand location-wise. Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza are across the street and continue to attract plenty of people from Atlanta and abroad.
With both hotels in the luxury segment of the industry and with both seeing decreases in RevPAR (revenue per available room) amidst the sluggish economy, occupancy-wise they are probably comparable. The one variable here: name recognition. The St. Regis and its parent company Starwood Hotels are far better known and recognized that The Mansion and its owner, Rosewood Hotels.
So, the question is this: given the demographics of the area and the surplus of similar concepts, steakhouses in particular, what should open in the space? National chain? Local chef? Chick-Fil-A or Waffle House flagship locations? Share your thoughts and weigh in, you never know who might be reading...