Gay couple shake things up in Atlanta restaurant takeover

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Sean Bishop and husband Reggie Stotts own the Atlantic Grill in Atlanta
Sean Bishop and husband Reggie Stotts (Photo: Supplied)

A gay, married couple in Atlanta says they are enjoying the challenge of taking over their favorite Atlanta restaurant and helping boost business again after the worst of the pandemic.

Atlantic Grill (264 19th Street Northwest, Atlanta, GA 30363) is an independent establishment within the Atlantic Station district: a big development of commercial, retail, entertainment, and residential properties opened in 2005. The Grill was originally owned by veteran restaurateur Paul Sachetti. It seats 80 indoors and 40 outside on its patio.

Husbands Sean Bishop and Reggie Stotts were among the first residents to move into Atlantic Station and Atlantic Grill became a regular haunt for them.

Bishop, who was born and raised in Chicago, met Stotts, originally from Washington DC, 23 years ago in Indianapolis. They moved to Atlanta 21 years ago to take up new jobs. They married four years ago.

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Corporate Beginnings

 

Stotts is VP of sales for a large biotech company. Bishop worked in marketing for big, corporate companies. Then, a few weeks into the first quarantine in 2020, Bishop, along with many others at his company, got laid off.

“It was the second time I’d been laid off in my life, and I was like, ‘I’m not going to let that happen to me again’,” recalls Bishop in a call to GayCities. “I was pretty much at that point done with corporate America.”

Instead, he took some time to decide on what he wanted to next do with his career, and the possibility of running his own business: either opening a franchise or buying somewhere already trading.

“I wanted to be in control and take charge, and let the merits of the business rest on me. I didn’t want to be at anyone else’s mercy or the possibility of getting laid off again.”

The Atlantic Grill in the Atlantic Station development (Photo: Supplied)

Calls for Change

Around this time, a bar manager at Atlantic Grill called the men and told them the owner was wanting to sell.

At first, Bishop says they took the suggestion with a pinch of salt. He says the owner had been talking to staff about it for the previous three years, so we’re unsure how serious he was about it. However, they thought it was worth a meeting.

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They soon realized the impact of the pandemic had crystalized the former owner’s plans.

“We met in late January and talked and had subsequent conversations over the next few weeks, and he was really serious. He’s 78 years old and has been in the restaurant business for 50 years here in Atlanta, and owned many restaurants and bars.

“Covid and the quarantine had pretty much broken him. He was ready to sell. He was like, ‘I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.’ He turned over all the books and we started our due diligence in mid-February and purchased the place in mid-May.”

They say their ownership coincided with people beginning to come out again. Now, Bishop says they’re matching their 2019 sales. He runs the business on a day-to-day basis while husband Stotts continues with his corporate job.

Fresh Start

Once the men took over, they set about sprucing the place up, including a new sound system and ten new TVs, along with other cosmetic work. They’re planning more extensive renovations after the busy holiday period. They expect to be closed for several weeks from late January to install new flooring, new furniture, kitchen equipment, redo the bathrooms, and more.

Bishop says the biggest problem has been finding staff. When they took the place over in May, it was only open four days a week. Since it reopened last September following lockdown, the former owner had just been running it Thursdays to Sundays.

“We immediately added Wednesday to that, and about a month ago we added Tuesdays, and from next week we’ll be back to seven days a week. Restaurants across the US, it’s been very difficult to get people back to work,” he says.

“Lots of people have either not wanted to come back to the restaurant/hospitality industry or have gone on to other industries, so it has been a struggle to get people to apply for jobs and want to come back to work.”

As a first-time restaurateur, taking on the Atlantic Grill as the country comes out of a pandemic has been a challenge, but Bishop is loving it.

“A lot of our friends and family thought we were crazy, but honestly, it was the best time to do it. Firstly, the price was right. Paul was a willing seller. Secondly, this place has been here forever and has a huge following of regular customers, and three, this summer, almost immediately after we purchased the place, business took off. People started coming back out.”

He says the restaurant’s clientele is part of what makes it so special.

“The clientele crosses all age groups, all ethnicities, it’s so diverse in here, which makes it unique: It’s black, it’s white, it’s gay, it’s straight, it’s young and old…”

In fact, they have a 91-year-old regular who comes in three times a week, catching the train from the southside to do so.

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Since news of the couple taking over the business appeared in the local LGBTQ media outlet, Project Q, last month, they’ve also seen an upswing in customers from another section of the community.

“We’ve had a lot of gay customers, who said they’d read that article and wanted to come in and support us, so that’s been awesome.”

Lastly, for anyone who is visiting for the first time, what should they order?

“It’s a pub menu, but it’s always been known for its 10oz burgers: they are huge. And you can get them cooked any which way you want it. After that, our handmade and hand-battered fish and chips, along with our Corned Beef Reuben, are our top sellers.”