Chef Ron Eyester is a busy guy. In addition to overseeing his three properties — Rosebud, The Family Dog and Timone’s — in Atlanta’s Morningside neighborhood, he recently added Diner to his tasty lineup in Midtown’s Atlantic Station (at 19th and Market streets). At Diner, Eyester’s goal — like at his other eateries — is to source quality products and offer the best in creative dishes.
In addition to comfort food, you also will savor the Soon To Be Classics portion of the menu, which includes a key lime pie cocktail (vodka, key lime syrup, limoncello, cream, lime and a cinnamon-sugar graham cracker rim) and the Diner Apple Martini (vodka, housemade apple liqueur, apple puree, calvados and sugar). A selection of reds, whites and classic cocktails (French 75, mai tai, Bloody Mary) are available, too.
Bouncing among restaurants and trying to find a balance is a priority for Eyester (also known as zing-slinging @TheAngryChef on Twitter). Luckily for us, we were able to catch him at Diner, where he shared his thoughts on everything from the importance of opening an American staple to his biggest lesson learned in the process.
Why open a diner and why Atlantic Station?
A diner is the perfect concept for Atlantic Station because the demographic here is so diverse and what we can offer is very approachable food. What we want to do is cultivate an environment where we don’t just simply have a restaurant here but a gathering space, and people feel comfortable just hanging out here throughout the day.
The diner itself was a personal ambition of mine. I grew up in New York, and I miss going to diners on a daily/weekly basis. The concept of a diner translates well to any individual because growing up in New York, you could stroll into any diner and pretty much usually get a version of what you’re craving because the menus are very universal. Our focus is going to be keeping it as creative as possible but also keeping in the philosophy of our other restaurants — sourcing superior quality products and executing in the most fundamental way so that when people come in, they’re like, “Wow. That was an incredible eggs Benedict. The eggs are poached perfectly. The English muffin is toasted just right with the right amount of butter. The hollandaise not only tastes good, it’s the right thickness.” You know, just small details like that.
Is this going to be a place where everybody knows your name?
I hope, eventually. This has definitely been a change of pace from Morningside, where I’ve been there 11 years so I pretty much do know everybody’s name. We’ve got a really interesting dynamic there with the trilogy of restaurants, and I think that was one of the reasons why Atlantic Station and myself were able to agree to build a restaurant here, because they want to impart that sense of neighborhood. But this doesn’t just include me. Todd Richards at The Pig & The Pearl is also a great example of that, and there’s strength in numbers. Bringing people in who share the same philosophy to a certain degree, it’s really important.
What’s been the favorite dish on the menu since the restaurant’s March opening?
People are really enthused with the idea of getting breakfast all day. Our Monte Cristo has been selling really well. It’s a slightly different version with a little bit of a Southern accent to it — the breakfast items are special. Obviously, a diner’s got to have a great burger. So we’re definitely doing our job on that level, too.
What are your top items on the menu?
That’s such a hard question. I’m a huge Deadhead so that’s like asking me what my favorite Grateful Dead song is. My tastes change daily. I’m definitely a breakfast-all-day kind of guy. I mean, that was another reason why I opened the place. I can eat breakfast three meals a day. We’re doing a really interesting diner hash with shredded potato, housemade sausage and everything just cooked together, topped with a runny egg. I think a dish like that is a really good example of what we’re going after.
Let’s talk about the artwork on the walls.
In terms of the whole design and the aesthetic, we didn’t want to just replicate a ’50s diner. That would belong in Epcot center. The whole idea of pursuing this concept was to pay tribute to the genre of a diner because it is a timeless tradition. The initial idea was to take the concept of a diner and have it retrofit to where people are today in the dining landscape.
In terms of the shots on the wall, those are actually all diners. I haven’t been to all of them. My sister-in-law, who lives in New York, is a photographer and a graphic designer. She took all the shots and then we had them blown up. One of the diners on the wall is the diner I grew up going to as a kid. And the one on the very far end of the wall, that’s a diner in Queens where my brother and my sister-in-law actually go to, and it’s called the Georgia Diner. We were like, “We’ve got to have that one.” I’ve got some other really cool art pieces that are getting ready to go in that are going to add a little more color.
How is the food scene changing in Atlanta?
We’ve had some really progressive changes in the past few years, and now I think we’re at a point where everybody is on the same sheet of music. And now, it’s just a matter of strengthening our foundation. The whole farm-to-table movement hopefully is no longer a movement. Hopefully, it’s becoming second nature. I laugh at it because it’s been something that I’ve been practicing for 15 years.
I think for a minute, the growth of food in Atlanta was going in a lot of different directions. So now hopefully, you’re just going to see this kind of momentum stabilized. Atlanta has been a very ever-changing dining landscape, so if we can get five to seven years of consistency and build our reputation, that will really benefit how people perceive Atlanta as a dining city.
How are you able to balance Diner with your other properties?
I can’t. It’s been crazy. That’s definitely a struggle. You really can’t just sit down and write a plan. Like today I’m going to be here, tomorrow I’m going to be there. But at the same time, you have to regiment yourself to where you’re not just simply popping in and out of your spaces. The key to our success on Highland Avenue is that I’ve been a presence at the restaurants all the time. Ideally, I want to be able to spend a lot of my mornings and afternoons here. You know, The Family Dog doesn’t serve lunch, neither does Rosebud during the week, so that would allow me to spend more time here and then pop down to North Highland Avenue in the evening. I just have to continue to surround myself with great people. We have a pretty good core of people. A lot of them have been with us for a really long time.
What has been the biggest lesson learned from opening Diner?
Not to overextend yourself and to stay on top of what’s going on. Be sure that you’re properly capitalized. I signed the lease for this property literally a couple of weeks right before we opened Timone’s. I know that I can never plan to open another restaurant before one that’s pending is up and going. That’s for certain. But at the same time, you know you’re at a crossroads — when opportunity knocks, how are you going to respond? I base some of my decision-making on gut feelings. When we opened The Family Dog, we were in no position to do it. But we knew that if we didn’t open up a space across the street, somebody would. And so jumping on that opportunity allowed us to cultivate a concept that wasn’t going to compete with Rosebud but was going to complement it.
What’s next for you?
Spending more time with my kids. And honestly, just bringing stability to our brand right now. This was a very challenging project. While we were building this, our pizza concept [Timone’s] was really struggling and so that really took the wind out of our sails to a certain degree. So we pressed the reset button over there and we’re going in a better direction now.
In terms of new projects, there’s nothing on the horizon. I’m a workaholic, no doubt. People speak negatively about that. But in this business, that’s required to a certain degree and the whole notion of micromanaging on a certain level is required in restaurants. I’m very flattered that when I walk into restaurant spaces that the staff says, “Oh, you’re working with us today?” They like that. I need to keep moving in that direction. I don’t ever want to get to a point where I’m the owner who doesn’t know what’s going on. Or I’m the owner whose going to walk into the space and make it more hectic than it already is. And that’s a fine line to walk. We need to stay focused on the guest experience.
I need to get to a point where I’m happy working in the restaurants, honestly. I mean because when I’m happy, then I can project a lot of positive energy and we can really have a great impact on the people who are working here, the people who are eating here and the property itself. That’s really the main goal.
So is it safe to say that the Angry Chef is working on his happy?
To a certain degree, I guess I’ll always be the Angry Chef. I think that moniker is so entertaining because we came up with it years ago when we got on the social media train. We knew that it was going to be a really significant part of how you market your business and so when it came time to come up with something that was going to get people’s attention, the Funny Chef just didn’t work. The Angry Chef definitely worked a lot better. But if you really read the tweets, they’re really comical and entertaining. There’s no malice intended at all. But it does turn people’s heads and sometimes that’s a good thing. I’m definitely not afraid to let people know what’s on my mind.