Thursday, July 26, 2012

True Buckhead Story : Nava Closing Next Month; Ford Fry Taking its Place

While I learned of Ford Fry's intentions to open a new concept in Buckhead many months ago, I have had to wait until now to release those details.  Not wanting to interfere in the real estate process, I kept mum as countless other media ran with rumors of how, what and when Ford Fry would open a Buckhead restaurant.  With Nava staff now aware of their restaurant's imminent closure, please see the full story  after the jump.

Ford Fry, the chef who brought Atlanta JCT Kitchen on the westside, No. 246 in Decatur and most recently, The Optimist and The Oyster Bar at the Optimist on the westside,  is planning another new eatery for early next year.  Having done so well on the westside and in Decatur, Fry (with help from private investors via Rocket Farm Restaurants LLC) is now taking the leap to Buckhead with his latest venture, an as yet unnamed eatery described as an "early American tavern" featuring  "open oven cooking."  Though not official, it's likely that Joe Schafer, formerly of Parish and currently chef de cuisine at JCT Kitchen will get the  executive chef job at the new restaurant.  

Nava restaurant from Buckhead Life Restaurant Group will close (no later than) August 31, with Fry and company planning to begin the permitting process by the middle of the month. (August)  Sources tell me that the conceptual design of the restaurant is already complete and that the new eatery will likely open next March.  

Chef Fry's plans include a complete renovation of the inside of the restaurant in addition to changing the outdoor patio.  I'm told that the patio that is already one of the best, if not the best, patio in Buckhead will be made better by a number of enhancements that may be made clearer in an upcoming press release.  Set at the corner of West Paces Ferry and Peachtree Roads in the heart of Buckhead, the new concept will also inherit one of most trafficked intersections in metro Atlanta.  

I predicted Nava's troubles months ago, and learned of Fry's intentions earlier this year.  Nava opened in 1996 and was helmed by Kevin Rathbun, who like many Buckhead Life alums, later moved on to open his his own restaurants.  (Until now, all of his concepts were concentrated on Krog Street, but his latest concept, KR Steakbar, will open near ADAC in Peachtree Hills.)

Back in the day, before Serpas, before JCT Kitchen, before even Here to Serve, Pano Karatassos, and then partner Paul Albrecht all but monopolized the Buckhead market with their early restaurants like Pano's & Paul's and Buckhead Diner.  These days, Buckhead and Atlanta as a city are far more competitive and offer a more robust selection of restaurants.  This area has not only seen more local chefs open their own restaurants, but it has also seen numerous regional and national chains open and, as is too often the case, close. 

Craft, Wolfgang Puck Express, Morton's, Emeril's, The Clubhouse, Aquaknox, MF Sushi, and countless others have opened and closed in the Buckhead area.  Some concepts have lasted longer than others, but as was the case with the recent closure of Latitude at Phipps Plaza, some don't last long at all.  Latitude closed only 4 months after opening.

For its part, Buckhead Life has curtailed growth [in Atlanta] for the moment and,  has opted to reopen Pano's in a building it already owns (103 West) rather than in a new, and presumably more expensive, building.  (St. Regis Atlanta).   Though it opened both a Atlanta City Market City Fish Market and Chop's Lobster Bar in Boca Raton, Florida, it has not gone further with previously planned (national) expansion of either concept.  Instead, as was evidenced by the closure of Bluepointe last year and now Nava, Buckhead Life looks to be making the right decisions in trimming their concepts to to only their best, most productive ones. That is not to say that Nava did not do well, but sources say their 16 year lease expires this summer and was not optioned to BLRG for renewal by the landlord.

Buckhead Life is expanding, with a more casual concept, outside of Atlanta.  Lobster Bar Sea-Grille, a more casual version of the group's popular Lobster Bar, will open in Fort Lauderdale, Florida early next year and if successful could be brought to other markets like Washington D.C.  I feel that this is the right move in an area that has a surplus of high-end restaurants.  As a former resident of south Florida, I anticipate this concept will do well and be priced similarly to a Legal Seafood.

Buckhead Diner, Chops Lobster Bar, the Atlanta Fish Market and Bistro Niko are easily the most productive of the group, but I would not be surprised to see at least one additional concept either close, not renew their lease and/or sell the concept in the coming months. (Veni Vidi Vici is the most likely, given it's not in the Buckhead cluster and it's in an increasingly difficult to find/navigate location.)

Kyma remains both a favorite of mine in the city, and unchallenged in the area, in terms of quality and cuisine so I doubt anything will happen to it.

Ford Fry seems to have the magic touch when it comes to restaurants in Atlanta with his No. 246 almost instantaneously becoming a favorite in Decatur and The Optimist, barely three months old, already a celebrity hotspot.  His latest venture should be no different.  

Will you miss Nava or was it past its prime in your eyes?  Do you think Ford Fry will find the same success in Buckhead that he had experienced with his other eateries?  What should this new "early American tavern" be called?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.  

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The Anti-Gnostic said...

No more Nava?! Who is doing high-end American SW these days?

What killed Nava?

Jim said...

Good reporting, Eli!

Anonymous said...

I've eaten at Nava twice and thought it was just ok. Other Buckhead Life restaurants are better. I'm excited about the new Ford Fry concept.

What I don't understand is why Kyma is so popular with everyone. I have eaten there several times and always found the food to be good (not great), salty and overpriced. I sum it up by saying, "I've had much better food for much less money." (And, no, I 'm not someone that considers Applebees to be fine dining. Gross.) I really like the interior of the restaurant and the service is always great - so perhaps that plays into it.

Anonymous said...

they were close to a million dollars behind in rent

Anonymous said...

Agave is a great SW option

Anonymous said...

i agree with the previous commenter, Agave is appreciably better than Nava. i've been to Nava twice, both times were fine, but Agave better executes in all areas of the business.ptedfre72

Atlantan99 said...

I contacted the Director of Marketing for Buckhead Life and was informed that the Nava restaurant at Philips Arena will remain in place but that there are no current plans to reopen a full service Nava at this point.

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