Bringing a Local, Chef-Driven Concept to a Luxury Hotel
By Jim Stormont President, Stormont Hospitality Group, LLC | August 28, 2016
In the restaurant industry, good isn't good enough. People no longer seek out the best ingredients, menus and experiences; they expect them. There's a reason why Panera Bread has vowed to remove artificial ingredients from its food by the end of the year, and it's no surprise that Darden Restaurants – which owns Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and, until recently, Red Lobster – is floundering. People are asking: "Why overpay for a mass-produced pasta dinner with processed meats and cheeses that's also available at over 800 identical restaurants around the country?"
The so-called "foodie revolution" is in full swing, with burger lovers choosing Shake Shack over Big Macs and patrons going out of the way to try the latest restaurant from a local chef. And it's not just the oft-mentioned millennials who are placing a renewed importance on food. Gen X parents want to feed their kids wholesome meals and expand their palates at a young age, and baby boomers are making healthier choices by choosing to eat smarter. Whether through sharing calorie counts on menus, sourcing local goods or creating dishes that tell a story, restaurants must adapt to this generation-spanning paradigm shift or they will fail.
In Atlanta, a city of moderate size but with a rich culinary history, we're in the midst of a restaurant renaissance, where heavyweights like Linton Hopkins of Holeman & Finch, Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia, Ford Fry of the Optimist and Steve Simon of Fifth Group Restaurants are unveiling a bevy of new concepts all over the city, in both established, posh neighborhoods and newly emerging hotspots. One could argue that the foodie culture in Atlanta, fueled by both a native population known for BBQ and fried chicken and a collection of food-focused transplants from places like New York and California, is competitive with much larger cities. Atlanta chefs are constantly among the ranks of James Beard Award winners and many can be seen making the rounds on Top Chef and Food Network. Sean Brock, who owns and operates restaurants in both Atlanta and Charleston, even had his own season of Mind of a Chef.
Just in the past five years, not one, but two major food halls – Krog Street Market and Ponce City Market - have opened their doors in the city, with offerings rivaling that of New York's Chelsea Market or Boston's Faneuil Hall. Atlanta's West Midtown, formerly a blighted neighborhood with high crime and abandoned industrial sites, is now the city's food Mecca, with restaurants by Fry (three, in fact), Quatrano, hospitality legend Steve Palmer, Beard award finalist Steven Satterfield and rising star Guy Wong dotting the main artery.
And then there's Avalon, the vibrant, 86-acre mixed-use community that has attracted over a dozen first-to-market and chef-driven concepts to Alpharetta.
Much like Palo Alto, Plano and Jersey City, Alpharetta is Atlanta's major suburb, a tech hub with start-ups galore and an affluent population located 25 miles North from the city's core. So when North American Properties (NAP) – known for the turnaround of Atlantic Station, a landmark mixed-use community in the heart of Atlanta – decided to develop in the Alpharetta submarket, the NAP team knew it had to create something special. Alpharetta needed a "third place" – after home (first place) and work (second place) – where guests could dine, drink and commune without traveling into town. In 2014, Avalon opened to the public with a curated mix of best-in-class retailers like lululemon, Anthropologie, Drybar, Flywheel Sports and Whole Foods Market. In addition to shopping and entertainment, one of the biggest draws to Avalon is the restaurants: a stunning assembly of eateries from Atlanta's top chefs that were lured to the suburbs and the opportunity to serve a new, eager to eat market. Fry and Palmer have a presence at Avalon with three restaurants, Fry's The El Felix and Palmer's upscale sister restaurants, Oak Steakhouse and Colletta. Popular Midtown spots Farm to Ladle, Bantam + Biddy, Bocado, LottaFrutta and Antico Pizza have also made the trip up north to Avalon.