Brown and Le had been business partners since 2011, when they opened late-night hot spot Octopus Bar in East Atlanta, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover.”
They followed that with a fine-dining concept, Lusca, in 2014. Despite the south Buckhead eatery's numerous accolades — making Bon Appetit's list of America's 50 Best New Restaurants of 2014, and garnering a James Beard Foundation nod as a best new restaurant semifinalist in 2015, plus Brown's 2015 best new chef nomination from Food & Wine magazine — doors shuttered at Lusca in early 2016.
However, the pair rebounded, launching another concept, 8Arm, an edgy cafe on Ponce de Leon Avenue, this past summer. Angus and Le also had announced plans to open a cafe called Ama in Paris on Ponce.
“I was always a champion of his stuff,” former Atlanta Journal-Constitution dining editor John Kessler said of Brown’s culinary talent.
Kessler called Brown, who grew up in Buckhead, “a true Atlantan.”
“That was what is so cool about 8Arm — it was real Atlanta. There’s this great feeling of homegrown quality to it,” said Kessler, who dined at 8Arm two weeks ago during a visit to Atlanta. “It was great. It felt so right.”
After attending College of Charleston, Brown cooked in restaurants throughout Oregon, Florida and Maine before returning to his hometown. It was at Miller Union that he kick-started his culinary career in 2010. Chef-owner Steven Satterfield recalled that Brown contacted him to request a chance. The unpaid stint led to a full-time position as a line cook.
“He was a great employee,” Satterfield said. “He really wanted to learn.”
Satterfield said he considers Brown’s time at Miller Union a “real incubation period” for his westside restaurant. Among the rising stars working in the kitchen with Brown were Justin Burdett, now executive chef at Local Provisions in Asheville, N.C., and Sean Telo, who helms upscale dining spot 21 Greenpoint in Brooklyn, N.Y.
A 2012 Creative Loafing article by Stephanie Dazey explains Brown's next, pivotal move: "He landed a position at Miller Union, but only intended to stay for six months while waiting for an opportunity in Boston to unfold. Little did Brown know, a late-night encounter with Le at Bottle Rocket in Castleberry Hill would alter those plans significantly. 'Nhan (who owned Bottle Rocket at the time) knew my landlord, so he stuck his head out the door and invited us in. We became friends instantly, drinking all night long just talking about the things we liked to eat but never got to cook,' Brown says. A few successful pop-up dinners later and the concept for Octopus Bar was born."
Brown and Le were off and running.
“I find it hard to think of two restaurateurs who have broken more of Atlanta’s rules than Angus Brown and Nhan Le,” AJC dining critic Wyatt Williams wrote in his December 2016 review of 8Arm. “When their hit restaurant Octopus Bar opened ... it seemed less like a restaurant than an experiment in pushing the boundaries of Atlanta diners.”
While Brown’s originality, unconventionality and experimentation in the kitchen will be missed, his peers also appreciated him for his eclectic personality and passion for life. “He had a great sense of humor,” Satterfield said. “He’s somebody that everybody loves. He was a fun person that people wanted to be around.”
“Angus was always there for anything we needed,” said Jonathan Fox, co-owner of Fox Bros. BBQ and a close friend of Brown.
Fox called Brown’s death a “devastating blow.”
“This was their year,” Fox said of Brown and Le’s culinary ambitions. “I will always respect his cooking, but more for doing what he wanted to. He was a true free spirit.”
Brown's survivors include his mother, Terry Brown, sisters Mackenzie Brown Bartlett and Terry Brown, and brothers Fiver Brown and Walker Brown. Funeral arrangements had not been made by Wednesday evening.