Founded by Steve Nygren and his family in 2004, Serenbe is an idyllic community among the rolling farmlands of Chattahoochee Hills, in Fulton County, southwest of Atlanta.
The 1,200-acre mixed-use development, about 25 minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson International airport, commingles nature and nurture in innovative and ecological ways. Single-family cottages, rural estates, townhouses and live-work businesses are surrounded by preserved forests, meadows, nature trails and an organic farm.
But, what makes Serenbe a destination for both residents and visitors is its array of amenities and activities, ranging from retail shops, wine dinners and cooking classes to music and theater.
Given Nygren’s background — which includes partnering to open the pioneering Pleasant Peasant restaurant near downtown Atlanta in 1973, and turning it into a string of restaurants in multiple cities before selling them in 1994 — Serenbe had to be a culinary destination.
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“Part of what we did in my years of opening restaurants in Atlanta, D.C. and Philadelphia, is we realized that we were place-makers as much as we were hospitality people,” Nygren said. “We realized hospitality was the foundation, which makes us a little bit unique. We formed a hospitality company to really bring that forward and manage the Inn at Serenbe, the Farmhouse restaurant, the Blue Eyed Daisy, the Hill, and now some future restaurants.”
Those include Halsa, a Swedish-influenced “polished casual” restaurant, opening in March on the bottom floor of the One Mado building, part of Serenbe’s new Mado commercial and residential development, featuring a spa and a hotel with an upscale restaurant.
Integral to the continuing expansion is former Farmhouse chef Nicolas Bour, who recently returned to Serenbe as executive chef and vice president of food and beverage. Bour is overseeing the Farmhouse, the Hill and Blue Eyed Daisy, as well as opening Halsa, and working on several new concepts, including a to-be-named Italian restaurant.
“Nic is a person that can really bring that quality of food, whether it’s casual dining or more formal,” Nygren said. “We brought Nic in looking forward to what we’re doing with Halsa opening, and a lot of other plans.”
Bour’s resume includes stints at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead; Ocean House, Rhode Island; and Loews Coronado Bay Resort and Humphreys in the San Diego area, as well as opening a dining destination at the Alohilani Resort in Hawaii and competing on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.”
But, after moving all over the U.S., he was more than ready to return to the easygoing pace of Serenbe.
“I was thrilled to be back,” Bour said. “Steve’s dream is really coming true. But, they didn’t really have a captain to steer the ship, as far as culinary. My goal is to bring all the restaurants up to standards of excellence, front and back of the house, and have consistency across the board.”
Bour’s first move at Serenbe was tweaking the menu at the Farmhouse, where he’s combining classic French technique with seasonal ingredients from nearby farms and produce from Serenbe’s farm and the restaurant’s kitchen garden.
He’s also been revamping the menu at Blue Eyed Daisy, with a focus on sandwiches inspired by one of his favorite restaurants, La Sandwicherie in Miami Beach, plus a new taco bar with more local ingredients.
Though he’s yet to delve into changes at the Hill, Bour said that will be more a matter of coordinating and sourcing.
“I want to make sure we’re all on the same page, as far as purchasing from local farms, and maximizing the utilization of the farm we’re running here,” he said.
He sees the Hill as “more of a place you can eat at a few times a week, with lunch during the week, and brunch on the weekends.”
As for Halsa, Bour said, because it’s designed to be part of a wellness community, the menu will be “very, very healthy,” with salads, build your own bowls, smoothies and coffee drinks — but it will have a cocktail bar, too.
Slated for opening in late 2019 or early 2020, Bour called the unnamed Italian restaurant “a little trattoria. We’ll have a counter where you can buy antipasti, and rotisserie chickens and ducks to go, and we’ll have pasta and pizza.”
Bour also has a hand in culinary education and an ongoing series of events with chefs and winemakers.
“We really want to push the educational aspect of things,” Bour said. “Maybe do a kind of a culinary bootcamp with a great chef and me. We’re going to do wine dinners as often as we can. And, we have a culinary education center with chef Brian Moll, who does cooking classes.”
He said there is enough at Serenbe “to keep me busy here for years. I’ve committed to being here for the rest of my career. I made that pretty clear to Steve. When they build the elder care here, I’ll be ready for it.”
Summing up the allure and future of Serenbe, Nygren invoked a kind of cultural and culinary Oz.
“It’s a place you drive out to,” he said. “We’re creating that Napa Valley destination, but, instead of vineyards, we have an organic farm. It’s a getaway from Atlanta, but we’re still very close. You add in all the things we’re doing with the arts, the theater and the ballet, and the artists in residence, that really makes for a vital experience, along with our restaurants and our culinary events.”