Stephanie Smith 2016-02-17 00:31:16
Kitchen Confidential Like Atlanta itself, restaurant mogul Tom Catherall is a phoenix rising from the ashes of Here to Serve to open a hip, new tapas joint in Virginia-Highland. Tom Catherall’s tale is more of a reluctant comeback story than an intentioned resurgence. The certified master chef, who moved to this country from England with two suitcases and $3,000, built an empire of 14 Atlanta restaurants that was pulling in $46 million in revenue at its height. After losing his company, Here to Serve, in a divorce settlement that has become the stuff of local lore, Catherall discovered he had to start from scratch. He received a notice from the landlord of the Noche location in Virginia-Highland letting him know he had signed a personal guarantee on the lease 17 years ago, and he now owed back rent. Instead of paying the fine and moving out, he took it as a sign. He moved back from Florida, launched a new company called Master Chef Restaurants and decided to turn this one location into “the start of a new chapter,” he says. Ironically, Chet Huntley was his manager when he opened that first Noche location in 1993, and it was fitting he was by his side when it reopened as Tom Tom on Valentine’s weekend, solidifying it as the city’s new date-night spot. “The name Tom Tom is recognizable to older Atlantans, but probably not younger people,” says Catherall, of the restaurant he owned from 1993 to 2003 of the same name. “It’s new to them.” The former Noche space has been completely reimagined. Dillard Pierce Design Associates took the reins and whitewashed the back brick wall, and installed lighter flooring, crystal branches and a sleek sculptural wood wall behind a romantic bar that frames the open kitchen. The long narrow wrought-iron back patio—a favorite in the ’hood—remains untouched. Catherall is stepping back into the kitchen for the first time in 10 years. “The jackets still fit,” he says, laughing. He spent New Year’s Eve curing salumi and coppa with his son—former Noche Town Brookhaven sous-chef Ryan Catherall. In fact, his entire staff at Tom Tom was culled from his previous restaurants. Tom Tom’s menu features true Spanish tapas such as fresh grilled sardines ($8) and wood-grilled octopus over white bean ragu ($12) as well as more inventive riffs like barbecue salmon ($12) and marinated mexican skirt steak ($12). “Expect larger plates to be two-thirds the size of a main course. So it’s not a small plate, or a large plate—it’s the proper size,” he says. His famous fried chicken—the crispy and juicy bird locals will recognize from Cherokee Town & Country Club as well as Smash Kitchen & Bar—promises to return on Sunday nights. “What I do is not work to me. I’m passionate about food and pleasing people. I was never in it for the money. It was more to hear people saying the food and the experience was great.” With that, comes the question everyone has asked: Does Catherall have plans to expand again? “I can’t survive on one restaurant alone,” he says, smiling. “So you can bet I’ve got my eyes on other spaces.”
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