In a business where longevity is rare, Warren Bruno was a restaurateur who not only endured but scored notable drink-and-dine successes, earning the admiration of patrons, employees, fellow restaurateurs and neighboring businessmen and homeowners.
His wife and business partner, Sandra Spoon, called him a visionary with a strong sense of what hungry and/or thirsty customers want in a bistro or a watering hole.
Sometimes, she said, that vision was ahead of its time as in the case of an early enterprise of his called Cha-Cha Charley’s, a taco-and-tequila tavern in Buckhead that likely would prosper today but was unappreciated in the mid-1970s. In 1983, however, he bought the fading Atkins Park Restaurant in Virginia-Highland and transformed it into what is now, 29 years later, a treasured neighborhood institution.
Mr. Bruno learned elements of showing customers a good time while on the job -- first as a bartender working his way through college in Rhode Island, then mixing drinks at the long-gone Playboy Club in Underground Atlanta. His wife said that more recently, aspiring restaurateurs were eager to work for him to learn the business.
All told, Mr. Bruno operated 12 restaurants or taverns throughout metro Atlanta, three of which thrive today -- his Virginia-Highland mainstay, an Atkins Park Tavern opened 10 years ago in Smyrna and Ormsby’s on Atlanta’s near northwest side.
“Warren made the Atkins Park Restaurant, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, seem fresh and, on the other hand, he made Ormsby’s, which we opened only three years ago, seem as if it had been a neighborhood fixture for 90 years,” said a longtime business partner, Kevin Drawe of Atlanta.
Warren Bruno, 63, died Wednesday at his Atlanta residence of complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His memorial Mass is 2 p.m. this Wednesday at the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 48 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive S.W. Cremation Society of Georgia is in charge of arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in his memory be made to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training, Georgia Chapter, 3715 Northside Parkway, Building 400, Northcreek, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30321 or to Team Bruno, Pan-Massachusetts Bicycle Challenge, which can be found at http://www.pmc.org/profile/TB0218.
A year after he revived the Atkins Park Restaurant, Mr. Bruno organized Summerfest, a two-day celebration each June that blossomed from a parking lot affair to an art-and-music extravaganza that takes up several blocks of Virginia Avenue and regularly draws more than 50,000 attendees. Admission revenue raised by Summerfest goes to the Virginia-Highland Civic Association for neighborhood causes such as parks and schools.
In 2008, Mr. Bruno told a community newspaper that Summerfest was intended to dispel animosity that had built up between business proprietors and neighboring residents.
“Warren was passionate about being a good neighbor. He believed in involving himself in the business and the residential communities wherever his restaurants were located,” said another business partner, Kyle Taylor of Atlanta.
Mr. Bruno was a co-founder of both the Buckhead Village Merchants Association and the Virginia-Highland Business Association and served as president of the latter for many years. He also was a member of the Morningside Elementary Local School Council, the Inman Middle School Technology Foundation and the City of Atlanta License Review Board.
Mr. Bruno liked his diversions on the adventurous side. He took great enjoyment in sailing the Caribbean, piloting a plane, competing in balloon races, long-distance bicycling and downhill skiing.
Survivors also include two daughters, Madison Bruno and Grayton Bruno, both of Atlanta; two sons, Derek Bruno and Alec Bruno, both of Atlanta; four sisters, Claire Bruno of Southern Pine, N.C., Starr Zabel of Buffalo, Wyo., Noreen Couture of Yarmouth, Mass., and Jeanne Bruno of Boston, and a brother, Richard Bruno of North East, Md.