I was ready to write a more cheerful column, full of hope about turning the corner, but y’all won’t get vaccinated, so the virus is doing what viruses do and turning into something more dangerous than it was. I recommend that you continue to stick to outdoor dining and take-out as much as possible, at least until we’re back down in the “low” category for transmission, and be nice to the people who are still busy making you food. If they ask you to put on a mask, do it. This is not a post-pandemic column because we are not past this pandemic, although I’m planning on venturing back into biweekly reviews because it seems like we have at least, sort of, collectively figured out a way for restaurants to survive through a combination of responsible behavior and irresponsible behavior.
The list of restaurants that have closed since March 2020 includes a good number of chains: Steak ‘n Shake (soon to be a McAlister’s Deli), Cinnaholic downtown, di’lishi and the last Menchie’s in town (teens and tweens have moved on from froyo to bubble tea), Wings Over Athens, Zoe’s (turning into a Cava, another fast-casual healthyish franchise), JR Cricket’s and Diablo’s Southwest Grill. The Varsity sort of belongs in this category, along with Gyro Wrap, given that both are technically chains, but both are also on their way back—the former in Oconee County in the Epps Bridge area (in a location not associated with civil rights protests) and the latter on College Avenue downtown. The space that was Gyro Wrap is now Munch Hut, from the original owner of Lay-Z-Shopper, with a late-night-eats focus. The Danielsville location of Blazer’s, Hot Thomas BBQ, LRG Provisions, Homewood Social, Mama Jewel’s Kitchen, the La Michoacana at the Georgia Square Mall, Bill’s Bar-B-Que, Giana’s Mexican Grill, the original Inoko (soon to be a gusto! fast-casual bowl thingie restaurant), Latino’s Taqueria y Mariscos and Pub on Main in Watkinsville joined them in shutting their doors.
That sounds like a lot, but I don’t think it’s more than any other 16-month span, and many, many places opened as well: Los Primos Taqueria Express in the former Golden Chick on 441-S; Tamez Barbecue on Broad at Hancock; The Cafe on Lumpkin, The Local 706, another Butcher & Vine in Five Points; a second location of the Crab Hut (formerly Kajun Seafood) and Corner’s Edge Butcher Shoppe, both on the eastside; Joe and Sam’s (doing coffee and more in Watkinsville in the former Keba); The Lark (a wine project from Krista Slater of The Expat, in the former Avid Bookshop on Prince); Molly’s Coffee Company on Macon Highway; Mai Kai Kava Bar on Baxter as well as Stacked Sandwiches and More (which then closed); Ding Tea, El Azteca, a Jinya Ramen Bar, Tai Chi Bubble Tea and Cravings downtown; Rashe’s Cuisine’s brick and mortar on Vine; Tacos los Plebes #2 on Danielsville Road in the former Huddle House; Nedza’s just down from Five Points, doing waffles, ice cream, donuts and more; Oglethorpe Garage near the loop on Oglethorpe; Hook and Reel Cajun Seafood and Bar, where On the Border was on Atlanta Highway; and Athentic Brewing Company in Boulevard, which has beer and has been hosting pop-ups. Wing House Grill opened in the former Ike & Jane in Normaltown, with a Flying Biscuit and another Barberito’s down the street.
George’s Lowcountry Table built a brand-new space on Macon Highway that it recently moved into. Champy’s changed its name to Classic City Eats, then moved to Watkinsville but kept its name. Eddie’s Calzones downtown moved down the block into the former Zaxby’s on Clayton and became Eddie’s Calzones and Drafts, with self-service beer taps. Bubble Cafe moved out of its tiny space under Marvin’s into the former downtown Taco Stand. Agua Linda closed for renovations (which should be done soon!) and started a delicious food truck called La Carreta in the parking lot under a tent. Uncle Ernie’s is still working on reopening at the corner of Hawthorne and Oglethorpe, after selling its space to the new Paloma Park tapas bar opened by some bar owners from the other side of College Avenue.
Another Amici opened in the Falls shopping center in Oconee County in a fancy space, and Watkinsville added Mama Ning’s Thai, Oyishi Sushi and Hibachi and a Blind Pig (in what was Pub on Main). Andy’s Frozen Custard is getting ready to open at Broad and Alps. Athens Bagel Company closed for major renovations. Clarke’s Standard reinvented itself as just a bar renamed Clarke’s Collective. Donna Chang’s changed its name to Dinner Party, and the folks behind that restaurant announced a new pizza/gelato/cocktail place to be called ZZ & Simone’s, coming soon on Lumpkin as is a location of Bitty and Beau’s Coffee. Boulevard’s Bread Basket got new owners and a new sign that reads Biscuit Basket. Southern Culture Fish and Grits took the place of JR Cricket’s.
The Last Resort folks bought Cecilia Villaveces Cakes and renamed it Cecilia’s Cake Shop before selling it to head baker Heather Kool, not to be confused with Celia’s Bakery, out in Hull next to a gas station, which does pan dulces and more. Peter Dale stepped down as executive chef of the National to focus on other projects, like the upcoming Condor Chocolates/coffee place downtown. The folks behind the Side Hustle pop-up are working on their own brick-and-mortar, to be called Puma Yu’s, opening in the Southern Mill complex off Chase and described as “an intimate cocktail and wine-forward bar, accompanied by a food program.”
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