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Southern Proper Hospitality Appoints New Leadership

Monday, January 29th, 2018

Southern Proper Hospitality (SPH) CEO Tory Bartlett announced four new chef appointments to the Atlanta restaurant group’s culinary team. New corporate chef hire Benjamin Meyer and Beni’s Cubano executive chef Cesar Velazquez are now overseeing culinary operations for the company while Gary Finzer and Q. Matisse’ Myers have been promoted to executive chefs at Gypsy Kitchen and The Southern Gentleman respectively.

Benjamin Meyer. Photo by Brandon Amato.

Benjamin Meyer serves as the overall corporate chef for Southern Proper Hospitality. Meyer comes to SPH from Barcelona Wine Bar, having worked as the restaurant’s executive chef at large in Boston and Washington, D.C., before opening Atlanta’s West Midtown location. Prior to his time with Barcelona, Meyer ran Iridescence Restaurant atop the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit and served as corporate chef at Michigan-based The Dali Group. He has also worked at such high-volume facilities as Michael Mina’s restaurants at MGM Grand Detroit and Paragon at Foxwood Resorts Casino in Connecticut.

As a corporate chef for SPH, Cesar Velazquez oversees Tin Lizzy’s Cantina and Beni’s Cubano as well as the forthcoming Street Taco scheduled to open at the Marietta Square Market this summer. Prior to this role, Velazquez paired robust, home-style Cuban cuisine with fast and friendly service as executive chef at Beni’s Cubano. He also previously managed culinary research and development for all of SPH’s restaurant concepts, developing recipes for both new and existing brands, working with vendors to procure products, overseeing new menu item rollouts and developing training programs.

Gary Finzer. Photo by Brandon Amato.

Velazquez earned his degree in culinary arts from the Art Institute of Atlanta in addition to a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Worcester State University in Massachusetts. Prior to joining the team at SPH, he was chef-partner at Chiringo Restaurant in Grayton Beach, Florida. He previously served as the executive chef at Peachtree Golf Club in Atlanta for nearly 11 years. His culinary career began as a chef-partner at Quattro Pizza Bar, also in Atlanta.

At Gypsy Kitchen, Gary Finzer is working to create just the right balance of European ambiance, uncommon spices and delicious, innovative dishes. Before joining the SPH team in 2014, Finzer worked at Bacchanalia and Star Provisions, eventually overseeing ordering for all five of James Beard Award-winning chefs Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison’s restaurants.

Q. Matisse’ Myers. Photo by Brandon Amato.

A graduate of New York’s prestigious French Culinary Institute, the Michigan native began honing his skills in New York working under such respected chefs as Guastavino’s Daniel Orr, Craft’s Tom Colicchio and Marco Canora, and Picholine’s Terrance Brennan and Craig Hopson. “Each helped me understand the importance of using fresh ingredients and preparing them properly,” says Finzer.

Bringing Southern charm by way of Brooklyn, Q. Matisse’ Myers joined SPH in 2014. His rise through the company’s ranks has been well-regarded: in 2015, Zagat Atlanta selected him as one of eight secret weapons behind Atlanta’s top restaurants.

Myers is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University and served as sous chef for True Food Kitchen in Atlanta and gained fine cuisine and kosher cooking experience in multiple high-end hotels in New York City.


Chef Mihoko Obunai opens NEXTO

Monday, November 28th, 2016

obunaiChef Mihoko Obunai, in conjunction with Concentrics Restaurants, is pleased to announce NEXTO, an Old Fourth Ward Japanese-centric eatery.

Obunai offers ramen, hot and cold plates and robatayaki. Signature dishes include the Chrysanthemum gomaae with pecan, tahini, dashi, katsuobushi ($6), Charred avocado with umami dashi, quail egg, bourbon togarashi ($8), JFC wings with caramelized garlic, ginger, soy, togarashi, yuzu ranch ($8), Unagi and chips buns with crispy unagi, shoestrings potato, wasabi tobiko, sansho ($10), Wagyu ribeye with ginger, charred onion, yuzu kosho ($14), Buta kimchi mini don with pork belly, kimchi, soft egg, scallions rice ($8), Curry vegetable with seasonal vegetables, tofu, veggie broth ($14) and the Late night ramen burger offered after 10:00pm with fried egg, kimchi, kaiware, sriracha kwechap for $12.00.

The small focused wine program features wines from classic and adventurous producers, regions and grape varieties. Japanese inspired cocktails, sakes, shochu and craft beers are also offered.

Obunai has been in the Atlanta culinary scene for quite some time, including her time at the restaurant Repast that she co-opened with Joe Truex. In 2010 she was selected as a StarChef “Rising Star Chef” and later competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped”. In 2012, Obunai trained with Chef Jack Nakamura (her ramen mentor) at Ramen Lab in New York City. Obunai won the “First Annual Ramen Battle” at The 10th Annual StarChefs International Chefs Congress in Brooklyn, NY. She was the only woman Ramen Master and beat fierce chef competitors Jamison Blankenship (Chuko), Harold Jurado (Google, Richie Nakano (Hapa Ramen), and Youji Iwakura (Snappy Ramen).

Obunai later launched her own ramen pop-up “Mibo Ramen” nationwide. In 2014, she launched another ramen pop-up at Atlanta’s Soundtable called “Ramen Freak” which was met with great acclaim.

Located in a funky and industrial corrugated metal shed, surrounded by a bamboo hedge, NEXTO boasts modern minimalistic design. Front and center is a bustling open kitchen flanked by a unique Todd Murphy piece that was commissioned specifically for NEXTO.


10th Annual GRACE Awards Finalists Announced

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

The Georgia Restaurant Association (GRA) announced the finalists for the 2016 Georgia Restaurant Association Crystal of Excellence (GRACE) Awards.


Restaurateur of the Year: Small/Independent
Federico Castellucci, Castellucci Hospitality Group
Jamie Durrence, Daniel-Reed Hospitality
Jeff Landau, Metrotainment Cafes

Restaurateur of the Year: Franchisee
Shawn Hooks, Firehouse Subs
Donnell Thompson, RWDT Foods DBA Denny’s
Mack Wilbourn, Mack II, Inc.

Restaurateur of the Year: Large/Corporate
Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc.
Waffle House

Industry Partner of the Year
US Foods

Distinguished Service Award
Willy Bitter, Willy’s Mexicana Grill
Van Jakes, Jake 22 Management
Regynald Washington, Hojeij Branded Foods

ProStart Student of the Year
To be determined by the Hospitality Education Foundation of Georgia (HEFG)

Manager of the Year
Yvette Pearson, The Public Kitchen and Bar

Restaurant Employee of the Year
Valita Drayton, Krystal

Lifetime Achievement Award
Bob Amick, Concentrics Restaurants

The GRACE Awards Gala will take place November 13 at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta. At the event, winners will be announced from each of the categories of finalists. The GRA will also honor the Restaurant Employee of the Year, Manager of the Year, ProStart Student of the Year and this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Bob Amick of Concentrics Restaurants.

All finalists are peer nominated, which ensures that we honor the most deserving in our industry. The winners are then decided by the GRACE Academy, which consists of all past GRACE nominees and current GRA Board Members.

“This is a very special year, as we celebrate the 10th Annual GRACE Awards Gala. Through this event we remember and recognize the last decade of GRACE Awards winners and their achievements as well as look to the bright future we face in the restaurant industry in Georgia,” said Karen Bremer, CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association.

A portion of the proceeds from this event will go to benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank, whose mission is to fight hunger by engaging, educating, and empowering the community.
For more information, ticket reservations, and/or sponsorship opportunities, visit GRACE Awards Gala.


TAP Announces New Chef Tyler Williams

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

Tyler WilliamsTAP named Tyler Williams as the gastropub’s new chef.

After graduating from the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon, Williams returned to the Midwest where he worked at Homaru Cantu’s Moto, Graham Elliot, and Gemini Bistro.  He was later brought on as Anne Quatrano’s Sous Chef at Bacchanalia which soon to led to his appointment as Executive Chef at Abattoir. It was there that he was applauded as Atlanta’s 2012 Rising Star Chef and Eater’s Chef of the Year – an accolade he was awarded for two consecutive years, the second during his time at Woodfire Grill. Following Woodfire, Williams became known for a unique series of pop ups and avant garde dinners throughout Atlanta. More recently, he created Byhand, a neopolitan pizza concept coupled with an organic farm in Lake Burton.

Williams has big plans for Tap and his menu will debut later this Summer.


Doug Turbush Assembles Top-Shelf Team for Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Doug TurbushThe Management

Doug Turbush did not have to look far to find the staff he wanted for his newest restaurant, Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar. The chef/restaurateur has stocked his forthcoming East Cobb seafood concept with longtime team members Brendan Keenan, Jason Raymond and Jose Pereiro, who all previously contributed to his other Marietta restaurants, Seed Kitchen & Bar and Stem Wine Bar. Although they have very different backgrounds within the hospitality industry, this management staff shares a very important trait with their respected leader: a passion for providing impeccable service and introducing guests to new culinary experiences.

Brendan Keenan has been serving as chef de cuisine at Turbush’s Marietta restaurants since 2011. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York, his formative years were spent out West learning from some of the industry’s top talents, like James Beard Award-winning chefs Michael Mina at Aqua and Julian Serrano at Masa’s in San Francisco. A move to Atlanta brought Keenan to Woodfire Grill, The Sound Table and Bluepointe, which is where he first met Turbush and later reconnected for the opening of Seed.

“I have known Brendan for many years, and I trust him implicitly not only for his ability to create dishes that are both approachable and exciting, but also for his commitment to trying new techniques and flavors,” says Turbush. “From the very start, Brendan has been a major component of the high-quality dining experience that has made Seed and Stem successful.”

Turbush and Keenan plan to showcase the best seafood species that the East and Gulf Coasts have to offer at Drift. The menu of creative seafood dishes includes shareable plates and raw bar items as well as larger-format entrées. Offerings range from oven-roasted clams, chilled seafood platters and a selection of crudos to a variety of po’ boys and lobster rolls and entrées such as wood-grilled whole fish and rib-eye. Keenan also plans to put a new twist on classic seafood dishes like oysters Rockefeller and will use his extensive travels as inspiration for creating exotic flavor profiles and playful nightly specials at the new restaurant.

Joining Keenan in executing Turbush’s vision of a chef-driven restaurant with an approachable menu, modern cocktails and craft beer and wine are director of operations Jason Raymond and bar manager Jose Pereiro.

Raymond was born into hospitality management – his parents were restaurant owners – and also gets to indulge in his passion for wine as Drift’s sommelier. Raymond says, “Training staff in the ways of genuine hospitality is very rewarding. I also love the entertainment value of wine; the way it brings people together.”

Raymond’s formal hospitality career began in 2002 after he earned a bachelor’s degree in hotel management and a master’s degree from Switzerland’s Centre International de Glion. He spent three years as a private dining and restaurant manager at the Boca Raton Resort & Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, before moving to The Breakers, where he discovered his passion for wine under the tutelage of master sommelier Virginia Philip. “That’s really where I fell in love with wine,” he says.

In 2008, Raymond opened the City Fish Market in Boca Raton for the Buckhead Life Group before relocating to Atlanta to become the beverage manager for Bluepointe. A year later, he was hired by Turbush and finally got the opportunity to combine his management experience with his knowledge of wine as general manager and sommelier for Seed Kitchen & Bar and Stem Wine Bar.

At Drift, Raymond plans to focus on whites and lighter reds to complement the seafood, along with “some really cool sparkling wines by the glass,” he says.

Complementing Raymond’s passion for wine is bar manager Jose Pereiro’s fervor for the art of mixology. He became acquainted with the hospitality industry while bartending in Venezuela. In 2006, he moved to the United States and began working at Rosa Mexicano in Atlanta, where his manager soon recognized Pereiro’s strong knowledge of and passion for spirits and placed him in a head bartender role at the restaurant’s new Miami location. Once in Miami, Pereiro became an active member of the craft cocktail scene, joining the U.S. Bartender’s Guild and participating in bartending competitions.

He continued to hone his craft cocktail knowledge and soon joined the bartending staff at Seed Kitchen & Bar.  The cocktails he crafted for the Marietta restaurant won first place at the 2012 Remy V cocktail competition and the 2014 Fernet-Branca cocktail competition in Miami as well as the 2015 Ketel One Master of the Mule competition in Atlanta.

Pereiro is now bringing his talents to Drift, developing a complex craft cocktail program built around top-notch spirits and ingredients of the same superb quality as those found in the restaurant’s cuisine.

The Menu

Drift’s menu, which Turbush crafted with executive chef Brendan Keenan, is an mix of shareable plates, raw bar favorites and a variety of seafood inspired entrées. There is an array of eight varieties of raw oysters, including Kumamoto from Washington, Beausoleil from Canada, Island Creek from Massachusetts, and Murder Point from Alabama. Dinner offerings range from Portuguese fish stew and Carolina trout with bánh mì flavors to seafood po’ boys and lobster rolls. Guests will want to start with crab beignets or Blue Hill Bay mussels and end with a French silk pie or pineapple upside down cake with homemade rum raisin ice cream from pastry chef Addison Dudek.

Drift Fish House & Oyster Bar opens at The Avenue East Cobb on Sunday, Feb. 28.


2016 GRA Chairman of the Board Announcement

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

Paul BaldasarThe Georgia Restaurant Association has announced the 2016 Chairman of the Board for the association, Paul Baldasaro, current executive committee member for the GRA and Chief Operating Officer of Home Grown Industries of Georgia – Mellow Mushroom, a 40 year-old Atlanta icon brand featuring craft pizza, hoagies, salads and munchies.

Prior to Home Grown Industries of Georgia, Baldasaro was at the helm of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group team as Chief Operating Officer. This allowed him to lead the Zero Waste Zone initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of Atlanta restaurants. He oversaw the marketing, human resources, operations and purchasing departments and helped expand the company, opening several high profile locations.

Previously, Baldasaro spent ten years as Vice President of the Specialty Restaurant Division of the Landry’s Restaurant Group in Houston, Texas. During that time, he was responsible for overseeing the company’s expansion into mixed use entertainment properties. He has also served as Regional Director of Operations for Levy Restaurants, heading up their Disney operations and restaurants throughout the Midwest and East Coast.

As Chairman of the Board, Baldasaro will serve as the chief spokesperson for the industry as well as for the association and will lead the GRA Board of Directors, protecting industry operators and their interests. The Chairman of the Board also partakes in several GRA functions throughout the year including the Taste of Georgia Legislative Reception in February, the GRA Golf Tournament in June, the Chairman’s Reception in September, and the GRACE Awards gala in November.


Chef David Connolly Takes the Reigns at TAP

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

Chef David Connolly

Recognized as “Atlanta’s Best” by Atlanta magazine, TAP proudly welcomes Chef David Connolly and his seasonally-driven, innovative comfort food.

“I am very excited to land in Atlanta and to cook for its diners. TAP already has a great regular base and its Midtown location offers the best patio in town. We are having a lot of fun, “explains Chef David Connolly

David Connolly, a graduate of The Institute of Culinary Education (NY), offers a varied and experienced background in fine and casual dining.

Connolly’s first high profile position was Sous Chef at the nationally acclaimed MK the restaurant (Chicago) where he worked closely with award winning Chef Michael Kornick. Following a 2 year stint at MK, Connolly landed at Michelin starred Spiaggia (Chicago) as Sous Chef where he worked with acclaimed Chefs Missy Robbins and Tony Mantuano. After 3 years, Connolly was tapped as the Chef de Cuisine for the Wit hotel (Chicago) which received accolades including a James Beard nod. Heading East after a resume filling time in Chicago, Connolly settled in Maine where was most recently the Executive Chef of The Old Port Sea Grill and Falmouth Sea Grill.

Today, Connolly lives in Atlanta where he is the Executive Chef of TAP.


Gordon Food Service Opens Georgia Distribution Center

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Gordon Food Service celebrated the grand opening of its 445,000-square-foot distribution center in Douglasville, Georgia.

Gordon Food ServiceAttending the event were Deputy Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development Tom Croteau, Douglasville Mayor Harvey Persons, Gordon Food Service Southeast Division General Manager Doug McBrayer, and Gordon Food Service Executive Vice President of Emerging Markets Scott Nicholson. In addition, several state and local officials and Gordon Food Service employees were present. The distribution center began shipping in the spring and now employs 241 people. The company projects to employ 330 people within three years.

“Georgia’s central location to the Southeast market, coupled with a strong logistics framework, make it the ideal spot for Gordon Food Service to better provide for its customers in this fast-growing market,” Croteau said. “The skilled workers in this community and overall thriving business climate will continue to support Gordon Food Service’s growth in the South.”

Mayor Persons said he is pleased to welcome a new neighbor to the business community.

“We are truly excited about this grand opening that is the culmination of a collaborative effort between the state, local community leaders and businesses,” Persons said. “All of these entities working together have helped bring us to this day. We are blessed to have a company such as Gordon Food Service select our community as they continue to grow and strive to achieve their goals of providing heart-felt service and uncompromising value to their customers. We are proud they chose Douglasville to expand their business, and we wish them much success.”

Nicholson said “Douglasville is a great fit for the company.” “We would like to thank the Douglasville community and the state of Georgia—the warm reception ever since the first announcement of this project has been outstanding,” Nicholson said. “We’re looking forward to being a part of this vibrant and growing area and to serve our current and future customers throughout the Southeast region.”

Gordon Food Service continues to expand its distribution network to serve a growing customer base. The company has 24 distribution centers in North America. There are 16 distribution centers in the U.S. Another distribution center is under construction in Kannapolis, North Carolina.


Arby’s Reaches 11 Percent Energy Reduction Since 2011

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Arby's Restaurant InteriorArby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. announced that it has reached 11 percent total energy reduction per company-owned restaurant since 2011, paving the way to a goal of 15 percent energy reduction by the end of 2015. The announcement comes following a 2014 reported reduction of 3.3 percent in average year-over-year energy consumption per company-owned restaurant.

The savings are a result of Arby’s Efficiency Matters program, launched by the brand in 2012 to improve efficiencies in restaurants and reduce energy consumption and associated environmental and community impacts. Efficiency Matters recently received a Top Project of the Year Award in the Environmental Leader Product & Project Awards.

“Last year, we exhibited our commitment to energy efficiency with savings across the board,” said Paul Brown, CEO of Arby’s Restaurant Group, Inc. “But there’s still room for improvement in both company-owned and franchise restaurants. We will continue to work with our energy efficiency partners to find more ways to reduce consumption to meet and surpass the goals set when we launched the Arby’s Efficiency Matters program.”

The energy consumption savings realized by ARG in 2014 included a 5.5 percent year-over-year reduction in electricity consumption per company-owned restaurant and a 0.6 percent year-over-year drop in natural gas consumption. In addition to energy savings, costs have also been impacted. Since 2011, ARG has recorded a 10 percent reduction in total energy costs per company-owned restaurant as a result of electricity and natural gas savings.

ARG’s energy efficiency partners, including Ecova and Powerhouse Dynamics, have been instrumental in helping the Arby’s brand realize these cost and energy savings. The sustainability efforts are a key component in Arby’s Corporate Social Responsibility strategy to be a “ResourceFULL™” corporate citizen.

In an effort to further showcase good stewardship in the energy efficiency space and extend the company’s savings goal, Arby’s recently joined the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge, a commitment to make the entire company-owned portfolio of buildings (2.7 million square feet) 20 percent more efficient by 2020. As part of the program, Arby’s will work with the Department of Energy to share successful efficiency models and help pave the way for other organizations to follow.Arby’s Reaches 11 Percent Energy Reduction Since 2011

The company’s flagship hometown restaurant at 1751 Howell Mill Rd. NW in Atlanta was recently declared the Better Buildings Challenge “showcase project,” as it is a model of energy savings and demonstrates what is possible for energy efficiency in Arby’s sector of the marketplace. The restaurant was recently remodeled to feature Arby’s new “Inspire” design. More than 250 organizations are partnering with the Department of Energy to achieve 20 percent portfolio-wide energy savings and share successful strategies that maximize efficiency over the next decade.


Revival Restaurant to Offer Traditional Southern Family-Style Dining

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015
Kevin Gillespie

Kevin Gillespie

Kevin Gillespie, Atlanta-based chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and owner of Glenwood Park restaurant Gunshow, is bringing his next dining creation, Revival, to Decatur in July. The restaurant will be a nod to Gillespie’s formative years, offering a version of the traditional Sunday dinner served family-style. Following Gillespie’s allegiance to Southern cuisine, Revival will focus on farm-fresh ingredients and a dining experience that reflects the traditions his own family follows.

“I always come back to the types of meals I ate as a child and the significant role that gathering together for family suppers played in my life as I was growing up,” says Gillespie of his inspiration for Revival. “The culinary traditions of the South have always influenced my cooking, but I sense the family-style way of dining is slipping away from us. I want to resurrect the importance of sitting down and truly sharing a meal with loved ones by bringing the graciousness of this experience to Atlanta diners.”

Gillespie’s menus at Revival will mimic what one would find at his grandmother’s house – a classic, Southern spread featuring seasonal options that change daily – but will feature more refined techniques and the highest quality ingredients. “Atlanta is the hub of the Appalachian and the high plantation South. We have a unique version of Southern cuisine here because of the blending of those two influences. My family is half plantation and half mountain people, so the food I grew up with was really both. And that’s what we will have at Revival,” Gillespie said.

Andreas Muller

Andreas Muller

Andreas Müller has been named executive chef of Revival. He previously served alongside Gillespie as “kitchen dude” at Gunshow.

Dinner service at Revival, dubbed “full supper”, will include entrées like the following:

  • Pastured Georgia chicken based in sweet onions and golden raisins
  • Smoke-roasted mountain trout stuffed with cornbread and green onions
  • Georgia white shrimp and Terminus City sausage in roasted tomato gravy
  • Country fried grass-fed beef round steak with skillet pan gravy

These entrées will be served with the Gillespie family puffy cornbread and four to six sides such as fatback-fried silver queen corn, roasted heirloom baby tomatoes with spicy pepper relish, old-fashioned creamed potatoes, fresh field peas and baby carrots in sweet cream butter and dill.

Lunch at Revival will offer dishes similar to those in the dinner selection but will be served à la carte and will include sandwiches and salads.

“The classic Southern dishes themselves are still relevant to me, but I want to pay homage to my past by executing these dishes at the highest possible level,” says Gillespie of how he will reinterpret the food from his childhood at Revival.

Gillespie likens his restaurants to the different facets of his personality. “Gunshow is the modern, brash side of me, while Revival is the more genteel, introspective side,” he says.

The restaurant’s patio space will eventually house an outdoor bar called Communion that is slated to open by early fall. It will be Gillespie’s take on a Viennese wine garden.

Revival is located at 129 Church Street in the former Harbour House Pub site in Decatur, which was once a house and will be restored as closely as possible to its original condition for a “homey” atmosphere. The revitalized space will feature trey ceilings, crown molding, fireplaces, mixed metal and wood accents and an antique blue and white color palette reminiscent of grandmother’s china. The restaurant, which seats 100, will also have a garden in the front and a spacious back yard.


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