Chef Todd Ginsberg and his partners had offers to expand their intown deli to the suburbs.
They looked at Avalon in Alpharetta and a food hall project in Marietta. Instead, they selected Sandy Springs for a new location of The General Muir. The New York-inspired Jewish deli opened this January at City Springs.
“We got to really thinking about … Sandy Springs, how it changed and evolved,” Ginsberg said. “We thought that there would be an opportunity for a good deli up there, especially considering there are five synagogues within a couple of miles.”
For years, lacking a walkable city center, Sandy Springs had struggled to attract chefs and establish a thriving culinary scene. Even its own residents would pass over the city, driving instead to the fine dining in Buckhead or perhaps the eclectic bistros of Historic Roswell.
But things have changed. Just as Sandy Springs has evolved since incorporating in 2005, so has its dining scene.
Today, there are about 270 restaurants in the city, from fine dining to fast-casual, featuring authentic cuisine from Persian, Mexican, Japanese, Greek to Italian.
It took some effort though.
“Given the demographics of the community, we had a tough time getting chef-driven restaurants to come to Sandy Springs,” Mayor Rusty Paul said.
One restaurant helped set the stage.
The Brickery Grill and Bar opened in 1992 in a now defunct shopping center off Roswell Road. It would become the “epicenter of the restaurant scene in Sandy Springs,” Paul said.
“We opened because we felt like there really wasn’t a neighborhood-driven, and I’m going to use the word authentic, option for people to eat in Sandy Springs,” said Bruce Alterman, who ran The Brickery with his wife, Sally. “Our goal was not to be trendy or frou frou … We found a formula where we were just so fortunate that we ended up with long-term, loyal, repeat business.”
The Brickery, known for its fried chicken and baby back ribs, operated for 24 years, closing in 2015 when the shopping center where it was located was bought and redeveloped. That property now houses restaurants including Casi Cielo and C&S Seafood and Oyster Bar.
Alterman said when Mayor Paul was elected in 2013, he helped spur a new wave of restaurants.
“When Rusty came in, it was clear from the get go, that he saw the evolution of the restaurant community as a key element for the city,” Alterman said.
Paul said he worked with the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber to launch the Restaurant Council, tasked with promoting and marketing the city’s restaurants. The city’s first Restaurant Week launched soon after, offering special menu items and drinks as a way to pique interest in the city’s eateries.
“We promoted it on social media, and it caught fire,” Paul said. More residents began to eat out in Sandy Springs, and new restaurants soon followed, he said.
“And so the word spread. ‘Hey, Sandy Springs has a neat little burgeoning restaurant community. Let’s go there and check it out,’” Paul said.
Sandy Springs resident Dale DeSena, founder of Taste of Atlanta, in 2016 decided to bring her expertise in tasting events to the city. Food That Rocks launched that year as a way to celebrate Sandy Springs restaurants.
“I wanted to really showcase the restaurant scene and also help grow the restaurant scene,” DeSena said. “We knew we could do a big tasting event that was a VIP experience like no other.”
Food That Rocks was first held at Hammond Park, then moved to City Springs once the town center project opened in 2018.
Since then, City Springs has become a gathering place for Sandy Springs residents, lined with popular restaurants including The General Muir, The Select, Flower Child and NAM Kitchen. And city officials just launched City Bar at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, said Mayor Paul.
“City Springs was definitely a catalyst,” he said. “We knew that we needed a place for the community to come together.”
Other Sandy Springs restaurants help define the city today. Just to name a few, there is Rumi’s Kitchen, Breadwinner Cafe & Bakery, Il Giallo Osteria & Bar, Cibo e Beve, Southern Bistro, Bishoku and Hammocks Trading Company. More are coming, including Italian restaurant Tre Vele.
The pandemic has been an obvious setback for many restaurants. But what is not lost is the industry’s importance on the community and its quality of life, Paul said.
“Dining is the number one form of entertainment today,” DeSena said. “If a city has a popular and great restaurant scene, people will move here. Businesses will open here. I think that dining drives economic development in any area.”