Atlanta restaurants assess damage, plan reopenings after weekend protests turn to violence

COVID-19, Atlanta Metro Area,

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Restaurants in downtown Atlanta and Buckhead are figuring out their next steps after suffering damage when protests over the death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd turned to violence over the weekend. Some of the restaurants had just reopened after being shuttered for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now they are figuring out how quickly they can repair damages so that they can open their doors again. 

Late Friday night and into the early hours of the morning the area around Centennial Olympic Park and the CNN Center, as well as Buckhead, became pockets of destruction as windows were smashed, police cars set on fire and buildings defaced. Demonstrations continued throughout the weekend, with peaceful demonstrations ending in fogs of tear gas, but without the looting and arson. 

Popular pregame hangout STATS Brewpub and McCormick and Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant, both on Marietta Street, were heavily hit. STATS, which had been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, was hit with graffiti, broken windows and lost product, according to a representative for Legacy Ventures hospitality group. 

“While we are saddened that our properties were damaged, we know there are important issues at hand right now,” said a statement provided by the restaurant group. “After assessing the damages (graffiti, broken windows, and lost product), we begin the process of picking up the pieces and rebuilding.

An reopening date for the restaurant was not provided.

McCormick and Schmick’s had reopened for dine-in service May 1 after weeks of closure. Photos from Friday night’s mayhem show a person running out of McCormick and Schmick’s with bottles of alcohol after glass windows had been smashed. 

Big Dave’s Cheesesteak’s was forced to close Saturday after being vandalized Friday night during protests. The restaurant, located on Forsyth Avenue blocks from Centennial Olympic Park, opened in August. 

In a video on the Big Dave’s Instagram account, Hayes expressed disappointment over the damages. 

“It’s a real sad day in Atlanta,” he said. “I’m black owned, I actually help the community…and then they come back and break all of my windows.” 

Hayes has made several deliveries of face masks and sandwiches to medical workers over the pat few weeks. 

A GoFundMe set up to help Hayes make repairs to the restaurant has so far raised nearly $5000 of its $15,000 goal. 

Hayes wasn’t immediately available for comment.

When violence moved north to Buckhead late Friday, restaurants along Peachtree Road between Lenox and Piedmont roads were also targets of destruction. At Del Frisco Grille, sister restaurant to the Landry’s restaurant group McCormick and Schmick’s concept, windows were broken and Atlanta Fire Rescue was called in to extinguish a fire there. 

Windows were smashed at Bistro Niko, Maggiano’s Little Italy and Corner Bakery. Bistro Niko had reopened for dine-in service only last week. A representative from that restaurant said Monday that the company is still assessing the damage and has not determined when it will reopen. 

Corner Bakery, located at 3368 Peachtree Road, was scheduled to reopen its dining room today. Those plans have been delayed due to destruction to the space. Vandals broke every window and stole iPads, computers and point of sale equipment. 

“We spent all week cleaning up the store, disinfecting everything, to get ready to open on Monday,” said CEO Frank Paci as he surveyed damage Saturday morning with a broom in his hand. “Now we have to clean up and do it all over again.” 

Donna Josephson, marketing manager for the chain said that it will not take long for the necessary repairs, though she did not know the exact opening date. 

Buckhead eateries that suffered minor damage include Starbuck’s, Caribou Coffee and St. Cecilia’s, whose floor-to-ceiling glass windows face Phipps Plaza across the street. 

Mac Angula, VP of revenue for Rocket Farms Restaurant group, arrived at the restaurant Saturday morning earlier than normal to check on things. 

“Just one table and one window” were damaged, he said. “We just reopened on Wednesday. We’re trying to get our feet under us,” Angula said. 

The vandalism is the latest setback for restaurants, who are among the businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some only recently reopened, while many are still struggling to figure out how to move forward. 

For bars and clubs, today marks the first day they’re allowed to reopen since mid-March under the latest executive orders that lifts restrictions on businesses during the pandemic.

Rocket Farms Restaurant group is one of the largest independent restaurant groups in Atlanta. Prior to the public health crisis, it employed nearly 1,400 people. Most if its concepts had been closed for much of the pandemic and had begun reopening last month, first for takeout only and then for on-premise dining. 

Saturday evening, the Georgia Restaurant Association released a statement from CEO Karen Bremer denouncing the vandalism.

“The Georgia Restaurant Association shares in the anger and frustration over the tragic death of George Floyd. We understand the need for people to express their outrage and sorrow over this and the seemingly endless number of such senseless deaths. And we wholeheartedly support the right to protest – peacefully, and as Dr. King so often and eloquently urged, non-violently. We join Mayor Keshia Lance Bottoms, Atlanta’s Black clergy and other leaders in denouncing the vandalism that occurred in Atlanta last night. 

“The restaurant industry has been devastated by the Covid-19 crisis. Many of our small businesses are owned by, employ and support minority families. Georgia has the most Black-owned restaurants in the United States; 29% of Georgia restaurants are Black-owned. The industry creates many pathways to success for Blacks, women, Hispanics and Asians. 

“The restaurants that were vandalized last night had recently re-opened, had put many back to work, and gave hope their employees could return to a more normal life. The acts of violence were senseless, counter-productive, and have created more obstacles to our recovery. We ask that our citizens respect and support the very businesses that are putting people back to work. 

On Friday, hip-hop artists Killer Mike and T.I. , who have entered the restaurant scene with plans to reopen Bankhead Seafood, joined Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms at a press conference in a plea to stop the violence.