East Cobb restaurateur stays steady in turbulent times

The lobster roll party, available for two ($49) or four ($98), is Drift’s most popular takeout meal. The buttered, toasted rolls are amply filled with meaty chunks of fresh seafood. The dinner also comes with a generous serving of rich lobster bisque (not pictured), crab-flavored potato chips, house pickles and chewy chocolate chip cookies. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Caption
The lobster roll party, available for two ($49) or four ($98), is Drift’s most popular takeout meal. The buttered, toasted rolls are amply filled with meaty chunks of fresh seafood. The dinner also comes with a generous serving of rich lobster bisque (not pictured), crab-flavored potato chips, house pickles and chewy chocolate chip cookies. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Atlanta Orders In: Drift Fish House and Oyster Bar

Doug Turbush is the chef-owner of three upscale restaurants in east Cobb: Drift Fish House and Oyster Bar, Seed Kitchen and Bar, and Stem Wine Bar. In the four years that I have covered his dining group, he has struck me as someone who runs a tight ship, steadily keeping it on course.

Lately, helming Seed Hospitality Group has not been smooth sailing.

On March 17, Turbush shut down the restaurants due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He told his 100 employees to "take home whatever they wanted" from the food inventory. Then, he and his wife sat down and filed for everyone's unemployment.

To bridge the pay gap, they set up a GoFundMe page for employees, which raised roughly $45,000. They also applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Turbush described that chaotic three-week period in an April 7 phone interview. “Everything was foggy,” he said. At that time, he was waiting to hear about the PPP loan. He wasn’t optimistic about a quick comeback.

The reopening process has taken two months. The restaurant group received loan approval in the second round of federal funding. Drift and Seed began offering takeout in late May. The dining room and patio at both eateries opened to patrons June 10. Stem Wine Bar remains shuttered, because Turbush deems the space too narrow to ensure social distancing.

During the shutdown period, Turbush methodically was charting a course for the future.

“The whole time, we’ve been preparing,” he said.

Bay of Fundy salmon is a menu staple at Drift. Accompaniments of smoked tomato grits and field pea and corn succotash make for a hearty entree. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Caption
Bay of Fundy salmon is a menu staple at Drift. Accompaniments of smoked tomato grits and field pea and corn succotash make for a hearty entree. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

That means setting up streamlined takeout service, but it took four weeks to add in-house online ordering capabilities to the website because the software companies that supply point-of-sale systems for restaurants are “swamped,” he said.

He didn’t want to reopen for on-premises dining without a regular supply of personal protection equipment for staff, a COVID-19 playbook, or consumer demand.

“In the neighborhood, we see that traffic is building, confidence is building,” he said.

Personal protection equipment now is more readily available and reasonably priced, but it has taken time and patience.

The day that I picked up my takeout order was the same day Drift reopened for dine-in service. There were 70 reservations on the books. Yet, Turbush recognizes that some diners are not ready to walk through the doors and take a seat. “You gotta do what’s right for you,” he said.

Doug Turbush is the chef-owner of three upscale restaurants in east Cobb: Drift Fish House and Oyster Bar, Seed Kitchen and Bar, and Stem Wine Bar. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM
Caption
Doug Turbush is the chef-owner of three upscale restaurants in east Cobb: Drift Fish House and Oyster Bar, Seed Kitchen and Bar, and Stem Wine Bar. LIGAYA FIGUERAS / LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

For takeout customers, Turbush has tried to stay on-brand, while adapting. When folks pull up to Drift, they will find professionally made signs designating three parking spots reserved for curbside pickup. “It’s important to our aesthetic,” he said.

They also will find a postcard stapled to their order. Labeled, “A note from Doug Turbush,” the letter begins: “The words thank you cannot fully express our gratitude for your support today. We are hopeful for better and brighter days ahead and thank you in advance for your patience as we adjust and adapt to a new way of operating.”

Is there a restaurant you want to see featured? Send your suggestions to ligaya.figueras@ajc.com.

DRIFT FISH HOUSE AND OYSTER BAR

Menu: limited

What’s new: family meals for parties of two and four

Alcohol: specials on bottled wine, smoked Old-Fashioned and daiquiri cocktail kits (add your own alcohol)

What I ordered: Maine lobster roll party for two, crab fried rice, Bay of Fundy salmon, field pea and corn succotash. The lobster roll party, available for two ($49) or four ($98), is Drift’s most popular takeout meal, and there’s good reason: The buttered, toasted rolls were amply filled with meaty chunks of fresh seafood. The dinner also came with a generous serving of rich lobster bisque, crab-flavored potato chips, house pickles and chewy chocolate chip cookies. “It’s a bit of a luxury item, but it’s a good deal for what it is,” owner Doug Turbush said. Agreed. The crab fried rice and Bay of Fundy salmon are two of my menu staples at Drift. The fried rice was a huge portion, with a generous amount of crab that is easily shared among two or three people. The salmon held up surprisingly well for a long transit. Accompaniments of smoked tomato grits and field pea and corn succotash made for a hearty entree.

Service options: order online or via phone for pickup; delivery via DoorDash; contact-free curbside pickup available with reserved parking spots

Safety protocols: follows CDC and state guidelines

Address, phone: 4475 Roswell Road, Marietta; 770-635-7641

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Sundays and Tuesdays-Thursdays; 5-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

Website: driftoysterbar.com

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