Chickens come home to roost; famous tavern has new residents

Sometime in November, residents in Poncey-Highland began to take notice of an odd looking square structure on the roof of Manuel’s Tavern, the 58-year-old Atlanta institution.

It was a pale green square thing. No one was exactly sure what it was.

A couple of months later, Brian Maloof, son of the founder, posted on Facebook the answer to the question:

Dear Friends of Manuel’s:

Back in mid-December, I posted that Manuel’s had a surprise coming in 2014.

For several years I have thought about building a rooftop chicken coop at Manuel’s. Yes, chickens living on Manuel’s roof. But hearing many words of advice against it, I reluctantly set the idea aside. For a while. …

I started what turned out to be a two-year research project about chickens, chicken coops and rooftops. And then, eight months ago, things moved from research and planning to action. …

The Monday before Thanksgiving, all the chickens came home to Manuel’s. The day after Thanksgiving I walked into the hen house and witnessed the laying of the first egg.

Those eggs will end up on the menu, as fresh as they come.

Reaction was mixed. While some residents and patrons of the restaurant applauded Maloof’s efforts, others were not too keen on the idea of chickens in a cool ‘hood like Poncey-Highland.

“Madness,” a friend of mine groused. “Can you tell him to get those things out of here? I don’t want to hear a bunch of chickens crowing all day long.”

Within a few days, I met with Maloof for a proper introduction to his brood. We made a precarious climb up a ladder to the roof and we talked inside the coop while he made them breakfast.

“They’re a little upset with me this morning because I’m running behind,” he said.

It was obvious the chickens were somewhat agitated. They were milling about making worried cooing noises reminiscent of Aunt Bea on the ’60s TV series “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Maloof prepared an all-organic concoction of cut fruit, whole grains, goat’s milk yogurt and black oil sunflower seeds, mixed together with hot water. The birds happily chowed down.

“We have 21 Speckled Sussex chickens and three Australian Australorp chickens,” he said. “After a lot of research and talking to other people, I chose these two types because they have a high level of heat tolerance, they have strong social skills and they are prolific egg producers.”

In addition to the Sussex and Australorps, there’s been a recent addition: a single rooster. He’s a small cute fellow, a different breed from the others and quite friendly. I was able to hold him with one hand.

“He’s an Old English Bantam Rooster,” said Maloof. “About an eighth the normal size of most roosters. I got him at a feed store in Cherokee County.”

While a number of intown eateries have gravitated towards organic foods and utilizing local farmers, this is the only restaurants I know of that currently has an on-site coop with chickens producing eggs that are served in the restaurant.

Maloof was inspired by several thoughts.

“I realize how lucky I am,” he explained. “And I wanted to find a way to increase income for my employees. The thought of raising our own chickens and serving organic egg dishes crossed my mind. And then everywhere I turned, I kept seeing things related to chickens. So I decided it was time to move forward with the plan.”

He and his poultry manager had to be certified by the Georgia Agriculture Department in order to produce, grade and serve eggs at the tavern. The end result could be the happiest and most comfortable brood of chickens in Atlanta.

“They have a 550 square-foot space to live in, (while) most of the world’s egg-producing chickens live their entire lives in a space that’s about a square foot and a half,” Maloof said. “The coop is insulated, air conditioned, heated, sanitary and protected from predators.”

Under his guidance, other traditions of Manuel’s have changed as well. There are charging stations for electric and hybrid cars in the parking lot. As of January 1, the restaurant became non-smoking. Everything possible in the restaurant is recycled or repurposed.

“It’s not a trend we’re following, although it may seem that way. That’s not the case,” Maloof said. “Things happen slowly here. I guess you could say it’s a sense of stewardship I feel towards the planet.”