In the late 1970s, a developer invited businessman Doug McKendrick to help open a restaurant in an area just outside of the city of Atlanta. There wasn’t much out there at the time – the new retail area was surrounded by farmland, McKendrick recalls.
Today, that area is known to most as the Perimeter, and it has come a long way since the ‘70s. It’s now a bustling commercial center with a large, upscale shopping mall, hotels and one of the largest office districts in the Southeast.
It’s been through several incarnations, but since 1995, that first restaurant space has been home to McKendrick’s Steakhouse, which now is regarded as one of the top steakhouses in Atlanta.
The Perimeter, and in the larger sense the communities of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven which touch it, are a prime spot for restaurateurs, too.
“I think the corporate business, all the office buildings out here create a tremendous amount of demand,” McKendrick said. “The Perimeter Center area is one of the best areas to come to.”
McKendrick said much of his business comes from the corporations that call Perimeter home.
“You have all these office buildings out here and when they have a meeting, they want a nice place to go. I think we provide them that,” McKendrick said.
But the area is home for a lot o f people, too.
“We have built business with local people that have been coming here for 15, 16, 17 years,” McKendrick said. “Our staff knows them.”
McKendrick said he sees the Perimeter area gaining popularity because it is a more convenient place to dine for people living in the north metro Atlanta suburbs.
“Downtown is kind of a tough locations these days, traffic-wise and otherwise. People are looking to do business near where they live,” McKendrick said.
Gone are the days when Atlanta’s restaurant scene was confined to Buckhead, said Joey Riley, chef and owner of Kaleidescope Bistro and Pub in Brookhaven.
Riley, who spent the majority of his career cooking in upscale restaurants in Buckhead and Midtown, said that for years, people had to travel to those areas to find unique, independent restaurants.
But when the recession hit, a major redevelopment in the heart of Buckhead stalled, leaving a hole in the middle of the commercial center. Now known as Buckhead Atlanta, the development is back on track. But the trouble in Buckhead provided chefs and restaurateurs with the opportunity venture out to other areas, including the Perimeter communities.
“You see it in East Atlanta, Cabbagetown, Oakhurst… each neighborhood has had an opportunity to do something,” Riley said. “When Buckhead did kind of lose a lot of things, it did a lot for neighborhood places to open and for people to embrace these neighborhood small businesses. I hope that trend continues.”
Riley, a longtime Brookhaven resident, said he wanted to open his Dresden Drive restaurant to give people more options for dining in the Brookhaven community.
“I saw an opportunity to do something in my own neighborhood,” Riley said. “I thought it would be something the neighborhood would embrace, and so far it’s been a great two years.”
Riley said his restaurant is one of a handful of “chef-driven concepts” along Dresden Drive. The community supports these restaurants, Riley said, which is why he believes there would be more if there were more commercial spaces available in Brookhaven.
“I have no plans to go anywhere. I love my neighborhood and wanted to stay in my neighborhood, and hopefully there will be another opportunity for me to do another concept or two in Brookhaven,” Riley said.
Like Riley, Chris Segal believes his Sandy Springs restaurants have been successful because of the community’s desire to have something unique close to home.
Segal, along with three other partners, owns 101 Concepts. The group just completed a renovation of Food 101, the first restaurant it opened in Sandy Springs 13 years ago, Segal said. The group also owns Meehan’s Public House, an Irish Pub, and Cibo e Beve, an Italian restaurant in the same shopping center as Food 101.
Segal said Atlanta has changed tremendously since he was first introduced to the restaurant business in the late ‘90s.
“Atlanta is such a totally different restaurant market than it was. People have so many more choices now,” Segal said.
Segal said he and his partners were drawn to Sandy Springs because of the area’s neighborhood feel. They enjoy having regular customers that they’ve gotten to know over the years, he said.
“We offer that you could bring your kids with you to our locations. We’re fairly family-friendly. That’s what separates us from some of the other restaurants,” Segal said.
Segal said with their restaurants, they aim to keep up with trends, without being trendy.
“People in Sandy Springs get excited about it,” Segal said. “They appreciate you trying to do something different.”
He said as Sandy Springs continues to grow and develop, he expects more restaurateurs and chefs will look to start their own concepts in the area. “We still think it’s underserved and feel there’s room for more [restaurants] to come in,” Segal said.