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‘Our time to shine’: Atlanta restaurants ready to feed fans for Super Bowl

After months of planning, Atlanta restaurants ready to feed fans amid Super Bowl hoopla

Fans who tune in to watch the Super Bowl may pause during commercial breaks to consider the 1.3 billion chicken wings or 8 million pounds of guacamole that will be consumed in front of TVs around the country. But the preparations that metro Atlanta restaurants, as well as area food and beverage suppliers, have taken to feed the more than 1 million visitors expected throughout nine days of Super Bowl LIII festivities is almost just as mind-boggling.

If you try to book a reservation at your favorite Atlanta fine dining establishment, especially for Feb. 1 or 2, you’ll likely be out of luck. Similar to hotels around town, numerous area restaurants have had these days blocked off for months due to corporate buyouts and other private functions.

Before last year’s Super Bowl even took place, Atlanta restaurateur Ford Fry was fielding calls from companies interested in buying out his restaurants for private events. Come Feb. 1 and 2, regulars of his JCT Kitchen will find the restaurant closed to the public. Ditto for the Optimist on Feb. 2. Among Fry’s other restaurants, Marcel and King & Duke have been partially bought out, and they are only now opening up the remaining seats for reservations with the general public.

Fry stated that scheduling these private functions has been far more time-consuming than bulking up staff or placing larger-than-normal food orders with suppliers. “We’re always pretty much full on weekends, anyway,” he said.

Managing Super Bowl logistics has been far more complicated for a restaurant like Smoke Ring BBQ, located a stone’s throw from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the site for the game. Whereas the kitchen normally shuts down at 9 p.m., the entire week leading up to game day, it will stay open at least an hour later, according to Ron Eyester, director of operations for its parent company, 101 Concepts. And on Feb. 3, they expect to do 20 times the volume of a typical Sunday, he said. To store the increased inventory, Smoke Ring secured a trailer from food supplier Sysco.

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Smoked chicken wings are served at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q near Atlanta’s Little Five Points community. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

In addition, the company hired more staff last month and anticipates pulling personnel from some of its other restaurants. “That’s the benefit of having a restaurant group with multiple concepts,” he said.

Since Smoke Ring is in an area where vehicular traffic will be limited, it has had to deal with restrictions on its food service deliveries. And it has participated in several meetings with the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has been updating its 170 member restaurants via newsletters regarding street closures, events and other aspects that will affect operations.

“We have over 100 venues in the city that have secured Super Bowl-related events,” said Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau President and Chief Executive Officer William Pate. “There are a lot of logistics that come with the Super Bowl.”

Like Smoke Ring, the heat is on for hometown barbecue favorite Fox Bros. B-B-Q, but co-owners Jonathan and Justin Fox have been planning for this for years. “When there was talk of a new stadium, we looked at opportunities that could take us there with the hopes of Atlanta getting the Super Bowl,” said Jonathan Fox. “That part goes back four or five years.”

With game day approaching, the restaurant has more to manage than its presence among concessionaires inside the stadium. “We’re getting all these inquiries for events, and everybody waits for the last minute. It’s juggling this with the current production in the stadium for Super Bowl Sunday, and all the tailgates and media events leading up to it.”

Then there are the roughly 18,000 wings that they expect to sell on game day at their location on DeKalb Avenue near Atlanta’s Little Five Points neighborhood.

“Every restaurant in Atlanta is affected in some way, shape or form,” said Joey Godfrey, director of marketing for Atlanta Beverage. The local beverage distributor has been working closely with sports bars like Taco Mac and Hudson Grille, who can expect packed houses on game day.

Taco Mac Chief Executive Officer Harold Martin Jr. said that the company expects its Midtown location to be a “bonanza,” especially on game day, when a radio station broadcasts from the 933 Peachtree St. address. But the sports bar operates 24 other units around Atlanta. During the week leading up to the game, it has ramped up staffing, especially among bartenders who will pull from its 100 draft beer taps.

Atlanta Beverage supplies its clients with beer, wine, spirits and nonalcoholic beverages, but when it comes to the Super Bowl, beer is king, especially easy-drinking, domestic light beers. The company has been working with Anheuser-Busch InBev since last March to map out a beer plan, Godfrey said.

Smokehouse supervisor Craig Hoelzer handles a rack of ribs at Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q near Atlanta’s Little Five Points community. Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q is among many Atlanta restaurants getting ready for big business related to the Super Bowl. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Restaurants and bars that typically cater to the craft beer crowd, such as eateries in Ponce City Market, have increased their light beer selection. Atlanta Beverage has been especially focused on what Godfrey called the “hot zone,” the area within a mile and a half of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He noted that bars like STATS and others within that area will be closed to the public, especially Jan. 31-Feb. 3, having been bought out for private events.

To ensure that venues don’t run out of suds like Bud Light and Michelob Ultra, Atlanta Beverage will have staff and products stationed nearby. “They might not be used to selling 10 to 15 cases of Bud Light in a week,” he said. During Super Bowl festivities, “they might sell 10 to 15 cases in a night.”

“Super Bowl is dominating my life,” Godfrey said. “It’s 24/7. There are so many different events, it’s almost overwhelming. This will make the Final Four look easy next year.” Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be the site of the NCAA men’s Final Four basketball tournament in 2020, Atlanta’s fifth time hosting the event.

All of this planning can be a bit overwhelming at times to those in the food and beverage trenches, but fueling crowds is simply what the hospitality industry does.

“We had a meeting with our staff last weekend to reiterate the hospitality,” Jonathan Fox said. “It’s not a week to be hung over, get stuck in traffic or be late. We want to have our staff be on its game so that our product is on its best and the service is on its best. The world is coming to our door. It’s our time to shine.”

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