Tuesday, May 11, 2021

[EXCLUSIVE] Chick-fil-A-Backed Kefi is Closing in Buckhead

After nearly two years in business, Kefi is closing in Buckhead.  Backed by Chick-fil-A and described as a "modern family club," Kefi opened at the landmark Buckhead Triangle shopping center in August 2019.  The concept - toy store, coffee shop, co-working and daycare - all in one roughly 29,000 square foot "playtainment" space, was created by Red Wagon Ventures, an incubator funded by Chick-fil-A. Like Chick-fil-A, Kefi was closed on Sundays.  The concept seemed far-fetched from the start, and perhaps tried to be too much.   

Management was optimistic however that Kefi would find immediate success.  Even before unit one had opened, plans were hatched for additional outposts in Los Angeles (Summer 2020), Chicago and Dallas (Summer 2021).  It's unclear if leases were signed for any of the additional locations but none ever opened.  

Drew Panayiotou, a veteran advertising and marketing executive with Disney, BBDO, Best Buy and Coca-Cola, among others, was the concept's co-creator and served as CEO of Kefi and also President & Managing Partner of Red Wagon Ventures.  According to his LinkedIn profile, Panayiotou departed the business this past October to become Chief Marketing Officer at Verily Life Sciences, an Alphabet Company.  

Panayiotou's departure followed the departure of David Williams, VP, Marketing and Commercialization, who after helping to get the concept off the ground, left Kefi and returned to Chick-fil-A in October 2019 according to his LinkedIn profile.   

Corey Wardell, who had been hired away from Atlanta-based co-working business Roam where he served as Director of Finance, was originally hired as VP, Finance & Operations at Kefi.  This past January, Wardell was promoted to Co-founder and CEO while  Nathan McFarland, originally VP, Head of Technology, was also  promoted to Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer this past January, according to their respective LinkedIn profiles.  

Xander Coffee, named for Panayiotou's son, was perhaps the most popular element of the concept.  Featuring not only Counter Culture Coffee, but also Emerald City Bagels and a mini Lucky Lotus smoothie and a├žai bowl counter, Xander attracted the neighborhood and became a gathering spot in ways that Kefi could not.  

In a message posted to the Kefi website that announces the May 22 closure, the company stops short of blaming COVID-19 for the closure but seems to suggest its timing - so soon after Kefi first opened - was a contributing factor.

"Like everyone, we never could have predicted that a global pandemic would force us to temporarily close after 6 months of operation. When we cautiously reopened after several months of lockdown, we weren’t sure anyone would show up again. But we were overwhelmed with the support of our families and will never forget how our community showed up for us."

Kefi's closure brings a significant vacancy to Buckhead.  Buckhead Triangle owner Selig Enterprises has in years past backfilled the former two-level Borders Books & Music space with a relocated The Container Store and an Xfinity store, as well as leasing to Nova Sushi in a portion of the downsized FedEx Office, adjacent to Kefi.  

When Kefi opened, it brought life to the sprawling space that had been sitting vacant since May 2017 when electronics retailer hhgregg shuttered all stores after filing for bankruptcy.  hhgregg had itself replaced bankrupt electronics retailer Circuit City when it opened in 2012. 

At least one grocer had in the past looked at the current Kefi space but was reportedly turned off by the high rent and inferior visibility of the Wieuca Road facing building.  

Are you surprised to see Kefi close?  Did you ever visit Kefi?  What would you like to see open in place of Kefi in Buckhead?

Please share your thoughts below  

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kefi was a magical place that had a HUGE following and member base. In a world of uncertainty, Kefi provided a clean and safe space for children to connect and parents to relax. There is NOTHING else like this space! The fact that they are closing their doors will leave a huge hole in the community... very disappointing.

Ham said...

I miss Borders Buckhead.

Unknown said...

Huge hole in the community? There wasn't anything like this before and people were fine - and apparently they were still fine after it opened since it is closing. It's likely leaving a hole to the anonymous poster that had a vested interest in this place - but that's about it.

Anonymous said...

During the time of quarantine we parents did everything we could to keep our children stimulated and entertained. And just as we see light at the end of this terrifying tunnel, to have Kefi taken away from our children is heartbreaking. They have already lost so much this past year. Missed concerts, puppet shows, mystery parent readers, plays. Every time I brought a guest, they signed up to be members, proof that this innovative and modern concept has community support and barely had a chance to reach its full potential.

Anonymous said...

Everyone who has visited Kefi knows how special it is and how talented the people that work there are. I am devastated about its closing but not as devastated as my children. I'm surprised the stakeholders would walk away from such an incredible concept and not do more to try to keep it going and to support the many families and kids that need this place.

Laurie B said...

We are so sad to see Kefi go. My kids LOVE Kefi and as a parent I love the concept and the joy it brings our kids that have so much less to look forward to these days. I wish there was a way to keep it going.

Anonymous said...

These comments! Have never seen such heartfelt comments about a closure on this site, yet here are 3 in 1.5 hours. With such loyal customers, how did this place not thrive?

Anonymous said...

If they had sold Chick Fil A sandwiches there it would have been a success. Kids like the chicken sandwich and nuggets too. They missed an opportunity to do it. Kids don’t drink fancy coffees. And it looks like so many people loved going there. Maybe they just don’t want to keep it open anymore even though it was really successful and profitable. Sometimes owners and workers at places just get bored doing the same thing and want it to end.

SB said...

Bring back Circuit City!

Anonymous said...

Kefi could have been an awesome concept but it failed our children in many ways. We have twin 7 YOs who couldn't wait to visit Kefi but after the first few visits we realized it was simply another chance for them to stare at computer screens for most of their activity rooms. We did end up with some great educational toys at home that they first "tested" in the innovation area of Kefi so kudos to them for that idea - it was brilliant. Other than that, the times we visited we dealt with glitchy screens, games, and such. I will say again that the concept COULD have been much better with less screens and more interaction with the hosts - our kids loved that part, too.

NEZ3000 said...

Need a bouncy house indoor jump there to fill the space or turn it to a swag shop for all the local ATL teams in one.

Ashley G. said...

It really is unfortunate that Kefi is closing. As a member I can attest that it was a wonderful place for my 7 year old to safely interact with friends while I could focus on getting work done. If I had the money to invest personally, I wouldn't hesitate, and I hope anyone looking for a unique business opportunity will find a way to bring this one back to life. There is so much potential for what truly is a magical place.

Anonymous said...

They didnt value their employees or the financial cushion they were given to get concept off the ground. Within the first couple months thousands were wasted on various budget blowing projects. As the pandemic began, Kefi required employees to stay on site for mass events with hundreds of people and shamed or found ways to fire those that disagreed with their daunting visions. As they fired nearly their entire staff, the majority were left without access to unemployment because no mention of "due to COVID" was included on dismissal papers unless employees specifically bugged management to include the true reason for being fired. This was an amazing concept, that if not drowned by poor money and human capital management, could have survived the pandemic. I did not work here, but as someone who visited the space, I witnessed a deplorable lack of knowledge of financial and human resource management which inevitably resulted in the business being run into the ground. COVID negatively effected many businesses, but as they show in their attempt to avoid mentioning COVID as a reason for closing, they have a hard time admitting that they made poor judgement decisions. It's just unfortunate that so many employees had to be fired on incorrectly stated grounds and their lack of mention of COVID's influence prevented the majority of such employees from receiving any benefits during the pandemic. Too many people with too much money were put in charge of the livelihood of people for which they had no true regard or respect for their wellbeing. If The people who were on the ground doing the work were in charge instead of big shots who jumped ship at their first chance, this organization may have thrived instead of nose dived.

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great Co-op concept. Lease some space to Chick-fil-A to pay the rent and expenses.

Anonymous said...

Great concept terrible location and name. They should have thought this one out better.

Anonymous said...

I always thought it was some kind of new fad drink place. You know, kefir. And the R fell off the sign and they just didn’t bother to fix it. But now that you say what it is, Chick-fil-A running some kind of daycare sounds a little odd. Yes kids like it, but was it some kind of school that served chicken? Anyway, that space has been doomed for years and no idea what will be successful there, if anything.

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