Chef Gunter Seeger is back in Atlanta. The German chef, who anchored himself at the forefront of Atlanta’s fine dining scene for 25 years, has moved back to town after shuttering his eponymous, Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City. He confirmed the move and his plans to open a new Atlanta restaurant on a phone call with the AJC today.
Seeger gained prominence in Atlanta cooking at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton before opening his own fine dining restaurant, Seeger’s, in 1997. The restaurant, known for its audacious luxury and the accompanying high menu prices, was a critical darling and a training ground for talented young chefs. He closed Seeger’s in 2007 and moved to New York, where he consulted for several years before opening Gunter Seeger NY in 2016. The restaurant was short-lived, closing in 2019, but did earn a star in the Michelin guide and a two-star review in The New York Times.
Seeger and his family came to Atlanta in March for a celebration with plans to stay for two weeks, but as the coronavirus pandemic washed over the country, they elected to stay in town rather than return to New York. Now, the coronavirus has Seeger reconsidering all of his business plans. At the moment, he’s in the exploratory phase.
“To open a restaurant right now might be the worst idea ever,” said Seeger. “Things will change. I’ve been talking to people in China, Asia and Europe. It’s going to be different.”
In the post-coronavirus landscape in which Seeger plans to open his next restaurant, he said that the business model of restaurants would be fundamentally changed.
“It can’t just be a restaurant anymore,” he said. “It has to be a multi-level experience. I don’t think these chef’s counter restaurants will survive. You can’t have a 12-seat chef’s counter, even in New York with a $500 tasting menu, and survive at half occupancy. It just doesn’t work.”
Seeger said restaurants that survive the pandemic or open in the near future will need to offer a combination of retail, delivery and in-person dining. He believes the tasting menu format will remain viable, but not at a bar.
Why return to Atlanta now? Seeger said that a major project he’d been working on in New York was postponed for 10 months, and he feels that the effects of the coronavirus will last longer in the New York’s dense environment. He also noted that Atlanta has changed since he left the city 13 years ago.
“Things in Atlanta are incredible right now,” said Seeger. “I’ve been driving around the last two months and have been amazed by the city. So many neighborhoods are just beautiful.”
Seeger could not offer many details on his new concept, simply because there isn’t much to say yet. “This is an empty blanket right now,” he said. He is looking for a location “where people work and where people live.” Many more neighborhoods around Atlanta fit those parameters than when he closed shop more than a decade ago.
Much is still to be decided about Seeger’s forthcoming Atlanta restaurant, but he’s certain it’s coming. After his family’s extended visit here, Seeger said that he will move permanently to Atlanta at the end of May. He’s excited to rejoin the dining scene where he carried so much weight in the 1990s and early 2000s. “Hopefully I can contribute something,” said Seeger. “Our whole family is really looking forward to it.”
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