Ford Fry and the art of naming restaurants

Restaurant naming conventions go through phases, which can make things difficult for those of us who try to keep all the newcomers straight. During the "kitchen/cuisine" era, I was constantly on the phone with readers trying to distinguish South City Kitchen and One Midtown Kitchen from MidCity Cuisine.

The latter was a restaurant that used to occupy the Peachtree St. space that eventually became LPC during the “initials” craze.

The initials thing was a doozy. LPC, the Italian restaurant, was just up the street from STK, the trendy Angelino steakhouse, which had nothing to do with STG, the earnest Neapolitan pizza place. Thankfully, STG has the good sense not to put the word "Neapolitan" or "Napoli" in its name, like three other restaurants around town.

Are you confused yet? Then maybe you should go to one of Ford Fry’s restaurants. As Fry continues to build his Atlanta dining empire, he has been perfecting the art of restaurant naming.

Fry started out like everyone else with an affinity for the obvious. In fact, his first restaurant, JCT. Kitchen & Bar, went with both initials and "kitchen." His sophomore effort, No. 246, even resuscitated the long-passé numbers convention. As much as I liked Fry's food, I wasn't exactly sinking my teeth into the poetry of his names.

But in 2012, he coined his first indelible restaurant moniker. The Optimist, named for a child's sailing dinghy, created a pleasant association for all those who got the reference. But it also resonated in a way that seemed to ask, "Is the recession really over, and is a dining room this big and brash really here?" The image of the little boat itself served as a kind of humanizing icon for this huge, expensive, high-energy spot.

Then Fry opened King + Duke, a glamorous dining room with a massive indoor grill in Buckhead. The name referenced the two charlatan grifters with whom Huck and Tom cross paths in Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." At the time of the restaurant's opening last year, Fry explained that he felt like a bit of a charlatan himself, hitting the haute heart of Buckhead after making his name in the chiller climes of West Midtown. The name also suggested the library theme, with shelves of hardcover books, used in the interior design.

At first “King + Duke” was a head scratcher, but after a while it made a kind of perfect meta-sense. We’re all a bit like the king and the duke — putting on airs, pretending to be swells — when we dine out in a hot Buckhead restaurant.

Now comes Fry's latest, St. Cecilia, set in the soaring Buckhead tower lobby that housed Bluepointe for many years.

St. Cecelia? What? That sounds like a distant parochial school you drive to for a junior high school girls’ soccer match, not a high-gloss Italian seafood restaurant. I had to call Fry and ask how he arrives at these names.

He laughed. “Naming the restaurant always seems like the hardest part. It’s like naming a kid.”

Does he consult a lot of people?

“No, in fact I try to limit the number of people in the circle,” Fry said adamantly. “Someone always has some negative connotation.”

For this restaurant, Fry thought about his research trip to coastal Italy, where a number of towns were named for saints. He also began to toss around in his mind an image of a winged girl or siren, which he thought could be a good icon for the restaurant’s logo. That limited him to female saints.

At that point he began looking up the names of patron saints. Was there a patron saint for fishing? None he could find, but he did like the sound of St. Cecilia, patroness of music. Done.

Time will tell if St. Cecilia finds a deeper resonance among the Atlanta dining public. But one thing's for sure: Unless we're about to embark on a new age of "saint"-named restaurants, you won't forget this one.