No one has their finger more on the pulse of Atlanta’s culinary scene than Ford Fry. The restaurateur behind local favorites such as The Optimist, Marcel and Superica proves that classic will always be cool.
Despite his status as an industry tycoon, the native Texan couldn’t be more down-to-earth if he tried. Funny and frank, and much to my dismay, our 40-minute talk flew by in the blink of an eye.
After honing his skills in Florida, Colorado, and California, Fry opened his first venture JCT Kitchen in 2007. Ever since, his life has been a flurry of accolades and media attention. Local real estate developers court Fry’s projects for their buildings. They know where the James Beard Semifinalist lands others will flock.
However, even more impressive than praise and power is the big picture thinker’s ability to stay true to his original philosophy. Eleven restaurants deep, the bottom line remains the same: to pull people together over platefuls of fresh, seasonal ingredients, and push unknown talent to center stage. Relevance doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel but rather, filling holes in the hospitality scene. After all, his definition of success is seeing a cast of characters every single week ordering the exact, same thing.
“Growing up in Houston, chefs were not cool. Think some big, fat dude with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
I always loved eating and knew I wanted to work in restaurants in some way. I started off as a busboy and was the worst— hanging out at the dish pit and eating all the leftovers. Next, I worked as a server, which I found incredibly stressful. I’d always give away 90% of my tables and finally thought, maybe restaurants aren’t for me.
After jumping around between colleges, my dad finally suggested culinary school. Once I chose Vermont, for the purposes of skiing, I realized, hey I really do love cooking. If money wasn’t an option, I’d ask myself, what would you do? The answer always was create amazing experiences centered around food and dining. I’ve had the pleasure to do that ever since.
Today, after I open one restaurant I am off to the next. It’s why, as the owner, I am passionate about fostering younger chefs. I am only as good as the person manning my kitchen, which means they need to be equally passionate about the menu and given credit where it’s deserved. I never want to be that chef whose food is great only when they are on the line. By empowering my chefs and spending time with them so they learn to make decisions similar to mine, I’ve been able to open a lot of restaurants —fast.
Whether it’s a bar, taqueria or upscale casual dining spot my restaurants are almost always places that I would want to go. And they definitely always cater to what the neighborhood needs. At the end of the day, my goal is to buck the system by giving people what they really want to eat. I will never create a dish just for the sake of being interesting.