Friday, June 24, 2011

Local Chefs Opening New Restaurants...

I've been meaning to publish this story for a few days now, and the news that Richard Blais will be opening in Midtown makes this post even more relevant.

Richard Blais, through his business Trail Blais, will partner with Atlanta-based Concentrics Restaurants in opening an as-yet-unnamed eatery at 75 Fifth Street in Midtown. Interestingly, Blais previously operated his own restaurant, BLAIS, on East Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead in 2004, but it closed after less than a year. (Preceded by, and followed by, a number of failures, the space has been Buckhead Bottle Bar for about a year now.) Blais's failure was, of course, before he became a household name, as a result of his his multiple appearances on Top Chef. This new concept comes on the heels of his Top Chef All-Stars win earlier this year, and word that his new Hot Dog concept, HD - Haute Doggery will open later this year in Poncey-Highland.

Blais worked as Executive Chef at ONE Midtown Kitchen in 2005, helping the restaurant earn a rare Four Star review in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. ONE Midtown Kitchen is one of Concentrics Restaurants most popular concepts, and was surely a good time for Blais. In 2006,he competed on Iron Chef America and in 2008, on the 4th season of Top Chef. After gaining popularity and returning to Atlanta, Blais was hired by Tom Catherall of Atlanta-based Here-to-Serve Restaurants as Executive Chef at Home. Home was Catherall's southern themed restaurant in what had been Posh and before that, Seeger's, from famed chef Gunter Seeger. Home opened in early 2008, and was wildly popular, so much so, it was said that reservations had to be requested weeks in advance. It was clear Blais's presence at the restaurant was a large part of its success. By August, he seemed to be in the restaurant less and less, and resigned the post in September, with the restaurant re-concepted not long afterward.

I may not be a fan of Blais, but there is no denying he is talented and is a draw. He single- handedly made Home the success that it was, and has a national fan base with over 108,000 followers on Twitter. But I have a simple question: with so many options in Atlanta, so many opportunities, why opt to take over a space notorious for restaurant failure? Why not open in Atlantic Station or Buckhead Atlanta?

If Mark Toro of North American Properies and Den Oliver of OliverMcMcmillan are serious about this local crap they are pitching, why is Blais not opening in one of those projects? He opted to take over what I and many others would consider a problematic, if not cursed, restaurant space that has seen both The Globe, and more recently, Waterhaven close. While the Globe is clearly missed more than Waterhaven, they both had better than average food, but had to deal with a largely college (Georgia Tech) clientele and dreadful deck parking.

Streets of Buckhead, or Atlanta Buckhead, as it's now known, is banking on getting local restaurateurs and retailers to open in the project. Mark Toro of North American Properties has the same hope... a pipe dream if you ask me. Kevin Rathbun, Scott Serpas, Ann Quatrano and countless others have all left Buckhead to develop their concepts in their own 'hoods. Kevin Rathbun, a Buckhead Life alum, left the Buckhead Diner in 2003 and recently celebrated his 7th anniversary in Inman Park where he now operates three concepts: Rathbun's, Kevin Rathbun Steak, and Krog Bar. It was his first restaurant that laid the foundation for the dining destination that the area has become.

Likewise, Ann left her original Bacchanalia location on Piedmont to open in West Midtown. At that point, there were far fewer restaurants and far less interest around Huff and Howell Mill Roads. Today Ford Fry's JCT, Miller Union and many others call West Midtown home. Ford Fry, for that matter, IS opening a second restaurant, No. 246, in Decatur, the polar opposite of Atlantic Station. To think that these chefs would be willing or eager to return to Buckhead, or heaven forbid, open in Atlantic Station, is almost laughable. Atlantic Station, for one, represents everything these chefs have left. It's generic, bland and un-neighborhood like in look and feel.

Atlantic Station is currently home to one non-chain eatery, that being STRIP, part of Here-to- Serve Restaurants, which some may still consider a chain. Other restaurants such as Rosa Mexicana and FOX Sports Grill are original and have thus far managed to keep the doors open. Recently LA-based Geisha House closed, and talk is that its sibling concepts Dolce and Ten Pin Alley may soon follow.

Of course, as I've said before, many, if not all, of these restaurants were given, and in some cases are still getting, rent concessions to keep them in the development. If this were to continue at Atlantic Station or be done in Buckhead Atlanta, what is and who gets charged "market rent?" Similar to the way I feel about a lot of deal sites out there, if you give a guy a deal, he'll take it and it will become the expectation going forward. How can these developers think they will be able to successfully woo local talent but charge others full price? Better yet, if the rent is so darn appealing and if these developers are bending over backwards to entice restauratuers, why have none been announced?

This is just my observation and my take on the situation but heck, I'm no pro. I'm very interested to hear what others have to say on this issue. Feel free to leave comments, ask questions or make observations in the comment section.

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Jenna S. said...

Interesting viewpoint on the new Blais concept. To play devil's advocate, I still think it's possible that this restaurant could be a success and don't think that the fact there 2 others failed in that location means it will definitely fail. It is true that there are just certain spaces that never succeed, but sometimes "3rd time is the charm" and it just takes the right place. I dont think that a cool/nice restaurant in Tech Square is a bad idea -- presumably people in the area, including -- but not limited to -- college students want to eat a nicer meal out, not to mention all of the parents who come to that area to visit their kids. And it is still Midtown. But I also see the negative/drawbacks. Certainly not a very easy location to get to, unless you're on foot.

The last point is just that Blais -- nor any of us -- know the fate of Buckhead Atlanta or the "new & improved" Atlantic Station, so those 2 locations are just as much a gamble, if not more, than the Tech Square. And he is Richard Blais, after all -- which speaks volumes after his big win, or at least he thinks it does. We shall see...

Anonymous said...

If you think that the new owners at Atlantic Station are just full of BS then you've obviously never worked with or know anything about Mark Toro or Tom Miles. Look at what Tom Miles did for The Grove for crying out loud.

Do the changes happen over night? Of course not but you have to have the security, ambience,and parking changes in place FIRST before you bring in the new restaurants and retail which is what they are doing. I hated Atlantic Station before and I've already seen many positive changes in just a few months.

With that I said, I will say that I love your blog and agree with you most of the time. Location is a always a major factor in whether or not a restaurant will be successful and it amazes me when so many people dismiss that fact.

Amy said...

Too many comments to write on here and some confidential information. lets talk offline. In addition, I share many thoughts on both Buckhead Atlanta and Atlantic Station. I think Atlantic Station has much farther to go to "reinvent" itself from its curent state and it will take 12-24 months to even see a difference if it happens. Buckhead Atlanta has an infrastructure, massive daytime population, dense residential and many years of people that know and love it and want to go back to that place. it will be 2 years till it comes together but it will happen.

Anonymous said...

Sure, it would be better right on the corner of Spring, or better on Peachtree St. But this is a good space in general with a good outdoor dining area. There are thousands of condo units within walking distance occupied by residents with disposable income. Valet parking for the rest. Concentrics knows how to attract customers and Blais knows food. But they are going to need tall hedges at the curb to block the view of the Wawful House across the street.

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