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Change is back on the menu at 8Arm

Sidepiece turns the outdoor space at 8Arm into a safe space for cocktails, wine, beer and wood-fired food from chef Maricela Vega.
Sidepiece turns the outdoor space at 8Arm into a safe space for cocktails, wine, beer and wood-fired food from chef Maricela Vega.

Credit: Joshua fryer

Credit: Joshua fryer

Team once again responds to disruption with new Sidepiece

Can you be grounded in change? Ponce de Leon Avenue’s edgy 8Arm is plugged into that notion.

Since opening in 2016, responding to change has been 8Arm's modus operandi. Disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially significant in the restaurant and bar industry, emphasizing the importance of a contingency plan.

Staying true to those values, 8Arm delayed the opening of Sidepiece, an outdoor kitchen and bar originally scheduled to open June 4. In a strongly-worded Instagram post, the restaurant announced that Sidepiece would open on Wednesday, June 10, instead, so that employees could participate in the ongoing protests related to the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police.

After success with East Atlanta's Octopus Bar and running the short-lived but highly praised Lusca, Angus Brown and Nhan Le opened 8Arm, a quirky spot housed in a former scooter store. It fused the late-night energy and unconventional menu of Octopus Bar with Lusca's raw bar small plates and highly regarded wine list. A concise menu usually consisting of eight seasonal dishes stood out on the food scene. However, just as they hit their stride four months in, Brown died.

The team pressed on, opening an outside bar fashioned from a shipping container that saw the surrounding patio filled to the brim nightly. More tables were added. The team enclosed the space, to allow dining during inclement weather. In November of 2018, they opened Ink, a dark and intimate drinking den dreamed up by General Manager and Beverage Director Joshua Fryer. While recorded music played, they served up tinned fish, cocktails and Japanese tea ceremonies. In the spring of 2019, Maricela Vega joined and created a plant-based menu rooted in seasonality and Mesoamerican cuisine. (This year, she was a semi-finalist for the James Beard Rising Star Chef of the Year award.)

Beverage Director Joshua Fryer hopes Sidepiece at 8Arm will help bring the energy back to his team and the community.
Beverage Director Joshua Fryer hopes Sidepiece at 8Arm will help bring the energy back to his team and the community.

Credit: Courtesy 8Arm

Credit: Courtesy 8Arm

Last fall, Ink evolved into 8Arm Wine, a place for oenophiles to experiment and have conversations about natural wine. Shortly after, a fire gutted the adjoining building, Paris on Ponce, which is partly owned by 8Arm co-owner Skip Engelbrecht. The crew cleaned up and moved forward. Then came the pandemic.

“We were on a roll,” Fryer said. “Our bar program was about to implement some new changes, switching from classic cocktails and moving to local, seasonal cocktails, more of Maricela’s vision. A great time was arrested for us. It was disheartening.”

8Arm closed down on March 16, following the governor’s executive order on nonessential businesses. To maintain a relationship with farmers, the restaurant turned into a Community Supported Agriculture program, providing boxes of produce and essentials to paying customers and those in need.

Still, Fryer said, “we felt a little aimless and lost, because it’s not what we do.”

Sidepiece allows 8Arm to reopen slowly, with the evolving protocols needed to keep staff, customers and the community safe, while also facilitating a business model already operating on a thin margin. The team constructed a hut around a wood-fire oven and repurposed railings from 3Heart, their coffee outpost that was consumed by the Paris on Ponce fire. They also added a seating area near a tree for the wine bar. There is plenty of outdoor seating.

“We are scrappy, and we always have been,” Engelbrecht said. “But, we are creative, we are fighters, we believe in community, and we will stand up for that.”

Vega’s clever seasonal menu will come in the form of things roasted over a wood fire. Think skewers, with both meats and mushrooms and vegetable options; flatbreads, with locally sourced chicken and preserved mushrooms; and sides of thinly sliced Hasselback potatoes. The drink team will have a menu of made-to-order agua frescas. Beer and wine will be served from the new hut, while the seasonally focused cocktails can be ordered from the shipping container bar.

The team strictly will be following the 39 mandated measures in Gov. Brian Kemp's executive order allowing bars and nightclubs to reopen. Mask, gloves and temperature logging are already in place. QR codes will be used to scan the menu and orders, providing a no-touch experience. They will have disposable paper menus for those who need one. Everything is outdoors, with a counter-service, to-go model. Sails are being installed overhead for shade. Parking spots are being redrawn.

"We have a community of artists and builders at 8Arm," said Beverage Director Joshua Fryer. "It's because of that that we are able to evolve and change."
"We have a community of artists and builders at 8Arm," said Beverage Director Joshua Fryer. "It's because of that that we are able to evolve and change."

Credit: Skip Englebrecht

Credit: Skip Englebrecht

Soon, 8Arm Wine will take reservations for two-hour blocks of private dining, for groups of six or less, with a prix fixe menu of four to five coursed snacks and wine pairings. The 3Heart coffee truck will open soon, as well, serving from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“Restaurants don’t always survive in the best of circumstances,” Fryer said. “I think it is because we do stay connected with our community that ours does.”

Sidepiece will continue, once the bar and restaurant are fully open. It most likely will end up being a part of the late-night food program of the bar, which serves many in the hospitality industry after work hours.

“We are hoping by doing this new project, the energy will come back to 8Arm,” Fryer said.

8Arm. 710 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, Atlanta. 470-875-5856, 8armatl.com

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