11 Questions with Atlantic’s Jason Restivo

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There is no one around who drives by the corner of Victory Drive and Drayton Street after 5:00pm 6 days a week and doesn’t see something is popping in that building. Since Atlantic opened their doors back in November it has been a very steady stream of guests pouring in and happy people walking away. Jason Restivo has been in Savannah for over a decade. In that time, he practically got to know every local in Savannah who dines out on a regular basis by name. He took that passion, found the right pieces to compliment his vision and is executive much to Savannah’s delight. I caught up with him on a, I’m told, typically very busy weekday afternoon.

**Do you feel like you are in the right place at the right time?

We are very fortunate, Jesse, to be a part of this evolution in Savannah. A lot of people want to call it change. We embrace it. We are growing with it. We refer to it more of an evolution. Savannah isn’t so much changing as it is evolving. This (Starland District) neighborhood is coming along. I think you are seeing more business owners in general in Savannah with a shifting mentality. It’s more of a ‘what do my guests want?’ More and more people are thinking that way. Not only are we trying to do it well, we are trying to do it right.

**Do I hear you saying you are spending more on some things even if you don’t have to?

I think so. For example, our biggest expense today is labor. We chose that to be. We knew very early on that we wanted that to be the case. I discussed it with Chef Lauren (Teague) and we agreed that we would try to make our people as happy as we possibly can. Our kitchen staff is at 7 people. I have two staffers saving up for a mortgage on their first home. That’s what makes me happy. We try to customize our staff meal (before dinner service) to whoever is on the schedule that night. If someone has a dietary limitation, we try to be cognizant of that. But when we are here, we practice a mentality of ‘no other.’ Everyone’s head is here and everyone is dedicated to making that evening as good an experience for our guests as we can.

**Speaking of guest experience, have you gotten any push back over the ‘no reservation’ policy?

We have. Very few times. A handful of times maybe in 5 months. People have to understand though, that even when we have had a wait, they are usually short. The other day, we opened at 5:00pm and every table here was full at 5:23pm. That’s when the wait list started. So when people come in after that, you may wait, but many times is no more than 10-15 minutes. And, as always, you are welcome to enjoy a glass of wine out by the fire pit while you wait.

**That sounds incredibly romantic but you are not going to tell me you haven’t had a few nightmare evenings.

Sure. On the weekends we do about 250 covers, that’s Friday and Saturday nights. One night, a Saturday, we did 274. That wasn’t comfortable. Afterward we knew that didn’t work.

**That sounds like a lot. How many seats do you have?

Inside in the 50’s. You add up our seating outside and it’s over 100. So that night we did almost three turns. And you had situations where someone was waiting an hour for a seat then had to wait an hour for their food. That’s not how it is supposed to be around here. That is when character is developed. We were all tested that night.

**Still though, when I drive by, you seem like you are slammed every night of the week. At least that is what it looks like from the street.

We get our pops. We do stay busy. But the best part for me, and I have no way to track this, I haven’t asked anybody, I haven’t done any research but my gut tells me our clientele is 80% local. I see a lot of the same people coming in to join us. On a Monday, for example, we’ll do anywhere between 88 and 122 covers depending on what else is going on or the weather.

**How many hours a week are you putting in? All of them?

Jesse, my restaurant is beautiful. I love being here. If I am not at home I am here. Sometimes I come in early, have some coffee and go back home. Sometimes I’ll come in at noon and stay til midnight or whatever. (Jason’s wife) Jennifer will bring the computer in the afternoon and sit outside with the dogs and spend some time here. I don’t keep tabs on my time, really. I’m blessed.

**What’s your most popular dish? Is there one?

The pastrami (made in house) has made all three cuts on the menu since we opened. The mushroom pate and the chicken liver mousse. Definitely.  The mushroom bolognese is amazing. It’s totally a vegan dish that chef Paul prepares. You sit there and you eat it and you’d have no idea it’s vegan. I mean, I love pork and I’m eating that dish all day long.

**The night I was here, one thing jumped out at me. No item on your menu was more than $19. You could have very easily gone higher than that if you wanted to. What was behind that?

Well, we have three dishes now at $20 (laughter). How dare you? We wanted to design a menu where you ordered multiple dishes. Have one, have three, share, don’t share. Up to you. Chef Lauren was on board with that approach from the beginning. We want people to hang around and eat. Stay a while with a glass of wine or two.

**While we are on that subject, the wines, have you been able to play a little bit with your list? Maybe share some glasses that you wouldn’t have done otherwise?

I have. Just a little. We carry some bottles that I don’t put on the list. Some higher end bottles aren’t on the list as well. It just doesn’t look right to have bottles top out at $120 then jump to $340 so we leave them off. Anyone who is serious about their selection is welcome to step in to our wine cellar and take a look around. I usually ask a guest to step in if they’d like, I’ll meet them there and we can discuss more of what they had in mind quietly. We are also expanding the glass selections a little bit, which is fun.

**It’s almost laughable to ask this at the 6 month mark, but where to now?

We are still getting the hang of all of this. Some weeks we’ve been slower than we expected and we’ve tried to find out why? What else was going on? If there is a big game or we know a storm is going to roll through, that could affect our numbers. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. The neighborhood over here (points to Ardsley Park) is still showing up. The students over there (points North on Drayton) are still stopping in. Maybe just not as many. St. Patrick’s Day we did as something of a test run for what we’d like to do over the summers here. We’ll see. I just know I was born to do this. All of it

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Eat It and Like It launched in Savannah, Georgia with television personality Jesse Blanco as the host. His passion for food and travel has made Eat It and Like It a two-time EMMY nominated program about contemporary and traditional Southern food.

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Eat It and Like It launched in Savannah, Georgia with television personality Jesse Blanco as the host. His passion for food and travel has made Eat It and Like It a two-time EMMY nominated program about contemporary and traditional Southern food.

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