Atlanta has always been one of America’s major metropolitan hubs — but up until a few years ago, people seemed to care way more about its sports teams than its restaurant scene. While those die-hard sports fans aren’t going anywhere, nowadays Atlanta is constantly in the dining news, as the spot for the next new food trend, up-and-coming chef talent, or boundary-breaking restaurant. The restaurant scene is booming in Atlanta, and residents only seem to be clamoring for more. Interested? Here’s how to best navigate this thriving dining town.
According to Ryan Turner, a partner in the Unsukay restaurant group, ever since the 1996 Olympics Atlanta has captured the world’s attention. And that’s evident in the numbers: the population has over doubled, the number of corporations moving to Atlanta has increased dramatically, and the city is becoming a center of industry — particularly in the automotive and airline realms.
The numbers have also grown on the restaurant side: Turner says that when he first moved to Atlanta, there were only six restaurants within a mile of his neighborhood — now there are more than thirty. He made a bet opening his first restaurant “in the middle of the recession, when no one was opening at the time,” but saw that the demand in Atlanta was only rising.
“There are so many pockets in Atlanta with concentrations of wealth, and some of the best zip codes for finding people with discretionary income who dine out in the country,” he says.
Stephanie Castellucci, co-owner of the Castellucci Hospitality Group, says that Atlanta is “one of the most diverse markets. There are so many guests from around the world, a lot of transplants, a lot of neighborhoods, each with different kinds of people.” And these are guests who know quality, and are willing to pay for it. “Diners are looking for food that is sourced with integrity and made with love,” Turner says. “They want to know where the food came from, they’re not just looking for transactional food.” Castellucci, whose first restaurant was primarily Mediterranean, recalls putting octopus on the menu in 2005, but getting little to no interest in the dish from diners. “Now, there’s been this cultural shift,” she says. “People know more about cuisines and restaurants and are opening up more to unique ingredients they haven’t tried before. Octopus is now ubiquitous on so many menus in this city.”
Atlanta, too, is a great hub for sourcing quality ingredients. Turner says there are tons of independent operators, great farms, and in general no shortage of “access to really great product — and no lack of talent who can take that product and turn it into something wonderful,” he says.
Finally, in a southern city like Atlanta, having a great hospitality industry comes naturally to the culture, Turner says. “Creating comfort is a big deal here,” he says. “There’s great food in this city, but also a great ability of restaurants to connect with guests. The people angle matters.” [Read more…]