Angus Brown on closing Lusca and opening Ama on the Beltline

When chefs Angus Brown and Nhan Le of Octopus Bar , the adventurous East Atlanta after-hours eats-and-drinks hangout, took over the South Buckhead space once occupied by Bluefin and opened Lusca in April 2014, it seemed like an odd fit.

But at the time, Brown said it was pretty much the duo’s “dream restaurant.” And not long after, Lusca became an Atlanta critics' darling, was named a 2015 James Beard Awards semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, and landed on the GQ list of 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015.

Now comes word that Brown and Le are closing Lusca and turning it into a catering facility, while planning to open a new, much more casual restaurant, called Ama, in the Paris on Ponce  market space near the Beltline .

During a phone call this afternoon, I asked Brown what the heck was going on. Here’s some of what he had to say.

So from the outside this seems like a pretty crazy turn of events.

Yeah. But we’re pretty excited about what’s going on. Paris on Ponce is really the coolest place we could find. I was there earlier this morning and it feels awesome in there. Skip [Engelbrecht] who we’re partnering with is awesome, too. He’s worked there for 15 years and he bought it five years ago and he’s done a really good job of bringing in really cool craftsmen and things like print shops.

What’s the concept for Ama?

If you’re on the Beltline, you can see the big garage door they have open as an entrance, and that’s where Ama is going to be. It’s going to be 20 feet back and we’re building a glass wall that looks into Paris on Ponce. It’s going to be a small place, kind of similar to Octopus Bar in the way its run. It will be fast paced, I’m going to be doing most of the cooking, and hopefully it will have that kind of energy.

What about the menu?

It will mostly be wood-grilled seafood, but I’m going to have a burger, and lots of vegetables, and I’ll just be doing my thing. We’re also going to have coffee window that we hope to open really soon.

What will the Ama restaurant hours be?

We’ll be going from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. But that could go much later some nights, because we really want that, and we really like that. And also, a lot of people from Ponce City Market we’ll be getting off work, and those are the people that will be into the kind of stuff we’re doing. On the weekends, we’ll be open for lunch and brunch, which will be cool, too.

And what about Lusca?

We stated thinking about catering a while back, when I was thinking about leaving Lusca, and we were thinking about other things that I could do, so we could still be business partners. We looked at bunch of places and nothing felt right. And then we found Paris on Ponce, and we really wanted to concentrate on that. So using Lusca for catering became the plan and the catering has kicked off. Next week, I’m doing a party for 1,000. And hopefully that will turn into more like that.

Ultimately, was Lusca a weird space for you?

I think we really wanted to bring something different there. We wanted to make a statement and we wanted to be different from everything else going on. And I think we did it. We got a lot of national press. We got the GQ thing. We got James Beard nomination. We got a lot. So we thought we would get a lot more energy over there. But it just ended up turning into a restaurant for that neighborhood. We wanted something more than that.

Well, it certainly wasn’t Octopus Bar.

No. And one of my favorite things about Octopus Bar, especially now that it’s been open four years, is we’ll have a lawyer sitting next to a guy with a tattoo on his head. I love that. I was a there from day one, and I still go there all the time. But Paris on Ponce feels right, like it can be more like that. I’m a chef. And that’s what I want to do. I want to cook food and just do that.

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