When Justin Anthony took to the field as a striker for the Atlanta Ruckus in 1996, there were not 70,000 screaming fans in the stands. Neither Mercedes-Benz Stadium nor Atlanta United FC was probably even hatched in Arthur Blank’s head. Certainly, a South African dining concept was not cooking in Anthony’s mind. That is, until a knee injury forced the professional soccer player into early retirement.
What do you do when you’re 23 years old, sidelined and in a foreign land? If you’re Anthony, you recall the days when you played pro ball in London. You remember the South African sports pub there that made you feel a little less homesick for Johannesburg. Then, you look around at all the expats in Atlanta and say, “Let’s create something special for them.”
There was just one tiny problem. He didn’t know anything about restaurants.
He’s now 45 years old. He’s still fit as a soccer player, yet he’s built quite a bit of culinary muscle over the past 20 years, having opened four dining concepts inspired by the cuisine of his native South Africa.
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Anthony learned the restaurant ropes as a manager at Soleil, a French bistro in Buckhead that has since closed. His parents, Derek and Diane Anthony, moved to Atlanta from South Africa to help their only child get his brainchild off the ground. Diane knew her way around a kitchen. Derek had the braai skills to show this city how they ‘cue it up outdoors in South Africa.
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For his concept, Anthony settled on a bungalow on Roswell Road, just north of the dining action in the heart of Buckhead. He recalled how in the late ’90s, “it was the ‘in’ thing to open a restaurant in a small bungalow.”
10 Degrees South opened for business in 1998. This month, it celebrates its 20th anniversary.
Initially, 10 Degrees South was a home away from home for South African expats, with Anthony simultaneously greeting them as owner and pouring their drinks as bartender. Business grew brisk as the expat community began bringing their American friends along. The restaurant has since become a destination for diners seeking a taste of traditional South African cuisine. It’s also a hangout for residents of nearby Chastain Park.
Over the years, it has gone through about seven design iterations, many by Anthony’s wife, Kelly, an interior designer with Wolf Design Group, to keep it aligned with the look and feel of edifices in South Africa.
But the expansions, remodels and makeovers are not the only thing at 10 Degrees South that has changed over time.
Anthony had to adjust to diner preferences early on. Don’t call that triangle of fried dough stuffed with savory fillings a samosa. People won’t order it. Call it a spring roll. Don’t dare list monkey gland sauce as an ingredient on the menu. Even if the popular condiment for burgers and steak has nothing to do with monkey glands, it’s too exotic and off-putting.
He also struggled with diner confusion. Some thought the place was a Jamaican restaurant. Others, a Mexican spot.
“People had no clue what kind of a restaurant it was,” he laughed.
The job of educating eaters hasn’t let up in 20 years. “People still don’t know what South African food is,” he said.
He ticked off the South African cook’s pantry: fiery peri-peri hot sauce, curry — always yellow, cardamom, rosemary, salt and pepper, sugar. “It’s about the spices, the blends, the sauces. There is nothing bland about South African food,” he said.
In a country with 11 official languages, South African culinary influences come from around the globe. The flavors of French, Portuguese, Malaysian, Indian and Mediterranean, and even his father’s family roots in Lebanon find their way into South African dishes. While Anthony eschews the word “fusion,” he can’t find a better descriptor.
“I don’t think people know how sophisticated it is with food and wine,” he said of his native land. “It’s a third-world country, but from a food and wine perspective, it’s first world.”
Anthony takes pride in the cuisine, and also in being a pioneer behind a wholly unique dining sector in this country. Fast-casual international dining chain Nando’s, known for peri-peri chicken, arrived on U.S. shores in 2008. And there are currently South African concepts in Miami, Houston, Los Angeles and New York, among other cities in the States. But there’s something special about being the first. “We created a category,” he said.
His trajectory has included the birth of 10 Degrees South little sister Yebo, which started in Phipps Plaza in 2012 but moved down the road to West Paces Ferry Road in 2016. The small plates concept swaps names — Yebo Beach Haus and Yebo Ski Haus — as well as menu and decor with the seasons. In the fall of 2015, he opened Cape Dutch Braai and Bar in Morningside with hopes of evoking a trip to South African wine country by coupling fine vino with all manner of meat. He quickly followed with Biltong Bar at Ponce City Market, where the spotlight is on street food, especially beef jerky, and craft cocktails.
“Opening three restaurants in six months nearly killed me,” Anthony said.
He survived. And he’s ready for the next round.
In a matter of weeks, he’ll be opening a Biltong Bar location at the Shops Buckhead Atlanta. The 100-seat spot in this luxury shopping district of Buckhead will have a South African gastropub feel and a retail component selling biltong made using his dad’s recipe. His big-picture plan: to open three or four units in Atlanta, then roll it out in another city. He also thinks this is the time and place to bring out monkey gland sauce. “Atlanta and the world are ready for monkey gland sauce,” he declared.
Times may have changed, but one constant through it all has been his parents. Diane and Derek are still in the kitchen at 10 Degrees South. This month, they not only celebrate the restaurant’s 20th anniversary, but also Diane’s birthday and the couple’s 47th wedding anniversary. Derek was fast to point out that while they have been married for 47 years, they’ve been together for 50.
“September is always a big month,” said their only child. The trio stood together for a photo. His parents beamed.
10 Degrees South 20th Anniversary Events
Sept. 17-19: All food purchases will be discounted 20 percent.
8 p.m. Sept. 20: Free admission. The 20th anniversary celebration will feature complimentary hors d’oeuvres and live entertainment, including a Zulu dance performance. Drinks can be purchased. The restaurant will not serve its regular menu that evening. Tickets and reservations not required. 10 Degrees South, 4183 Roswell Road, Atlanta. 404-705-8870, 10degreessouth.com.