The usuals: These restaurant regulars love their Atlanta versions of ‘Cheers’

Patrons remain loyal as staffers work to build personal connections
Bartender Dan Bergman (center) greets Kevin Gilliam and Joy Ivemeyer at the Woofs Sports Bar, one of many area restaurants that are becoming affectionately known as the Atlanta versions of "Cheers" due to a family friendly atmosphere and a growing sense of community. Photo by Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Bartender Dan Bergman (center) greets Kevin Gilliam and Joy Ivemeyer at the Woofs Sports Bar, one of many area restaurants that are becoming affectionately known as the Atlanta versions of "Cheers" due to a family friendly atmosphere and a growing sense of community. Photo by Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

While trying a new restaurant can be fun, walking through the door of a familiar place where everyone knows you (and your order) can’t be beat.

Meet a few people below who have turned local restaurants and bars into their Atlanta version of “Cheers.”

Joy Ivemeyer and Kevin Gilliam

Joy Ivemeyer, 56, and Kevin Gilliam, 42, make an unlikely pair of friends. Ivemeyer is outgoing. She can “talk to a brick wall,” Gilliam said, while he’s much more introverted.

But between working together as nurse practitioners and bonding over a shared love of musicals, the two now frequently can be found drinking a beer and sharing an order of mozzarella sticks at Woofs Sports Bar.

The friends have been frequenting Woofs, billed as Atlanta’s “only gay sports bar,” since about 2019.

Gilliam, who moved to Atlanta from Greenville in 2016, said it was Ivemeyer who encouraged him to start going to Atlanta’s gay bars in the first place.

“She brings out the best of me at times,” Gilliam said. “She is the one that literally will be there when I need her.”

Woofs soon became their favorite spot. Christopher Gonzalez, a bartender there for about five years, chalks it up to Woofs’ “neutral atmosphere.”

He said there’s a huge spectrum of people who come to Woofs and “make it home,” ranging from those who are more masculine-presenting to drag queens.

Having a place like Woofs, where patrons and staff can build connections and support systems, is necessary for the LGBTQ+ community, Gilliam said.

“Being able to be in an environment where I can choose my family and be loved — it’s huge,” he said.

— Olivia Wakim

Keith and Martha Cameron are longtime customers at Beans & Butter Coffeehouse in Lawrenceville, where Michael Simmons (left) is the owner.  Photo by Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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Keith and Martha Cameron

Keith and Martha Cameron walked into Beans & Butter Coffeehouse in Lawrenceville recently on the way back from a morning aerobics class. Decked out in their workout clothes, the 82-year-olds greeted co-owner and resident baker Michael Simmons with a hug.

While Keith ordered at the counter, Martha perused the pastry case. After ordering their usual — two matchas — they settled in at a nearby table and immediately got to chatting with a stranger seated next to them.

This is a common routine for the retired pair, who have been frequenting Beans & Butter since about 2017. They stop by to visit with Simmons and, if it’s a Sunday, they catch up with his youngest son, Miles.

When the coffee shop first opened, it was staffed entirely by Simmons, his wife Stacey, and their three children. When the Camerons started coming, Miles was still in high school. Through the years, the couple found themselves growing more attached to him, impressed by how dedicated he was to helping his parents.

After years of chatting with the Camerons, Miles said he sees them as his “work grandparents,” but he’ll graduate from college in a few months and likely won’t be spending as much time at Beans & Butter. It will be bittersweet for the couple, who love hearing about his life. But, even after Miles is gone, they’ll continue checking in with his dad for updates, Martha said.

Simmons said he and his wife opened Beans & Butter with the goal of creating a safe environment for people to gather and build a community.

“This is why it’s here,” he said. “These are the people that it’s for, and it’s to make them feel like this is their home.”

— Olivia Wakim

Uma Chidambaram shows off a dish from a recent Speak Easy Supper Club dinner in Marietta. She has attended at least 35 dinners. Courtesy of Teresa Bishop

Credit: Courtesy of Uma Chidambaram

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Credit: Courtesy of Uma Chidambaram

Uma Chidambaram

When Uma Chidambaram is asked to name her favorite restaurant in Atlanta, she answers, “Chef Shankman’s house.”

That would be the residence of chef Kyle Shankman, who has played host to the Speak Easy Supper Club in his Marietta home and other nearby venues for the past seven years.

Speak Easy made such an impression on Chidambaram that she has attended at least 35 dinners since late 2019. If she’s not traveling for work, she can be found once a month tucked away in her regular seat, taking photos of Shankman while he cooks.

Chidambaram first was drawn to Speak Easy by the food. A seven-course meal is served each time, she said, and other than Shankman’s signature milk bread dish, “in four years, I’ve never had the same thing twice, and everything is delicious every time. The level of consistency is amazing.”

But it was the homey vibe created by Shankman and his front-of-house manager, Dawn Perrone, that inspired Chidambaram to make Speak Easy a regular part of her life. She has formed friendships with other regulars and now considers Perrone, Shankman and his wife Jade as friends beyond the supper club.

“It’s become like a thing that you do at a friend’s house once a month,” she said. “It very much feels like family. There’s no pretentiousness.”

Shankman estimated that about half of the attendees at any given Speak Easy dinner have been to at least five previous supper club meals, and that “means the world,” he said. “With this type of business, the only true measure of whether or not we did a good job is the repeat business.”

With Chidambaram’s status as a regular comes some additional perks — at her 25th meal, Shankman let her choose the dessert (she went with a mango sticky rice dish). And what might be on the docket for her 40th dinner?

“We’re trying to convince Jade to let them put a nameplate at my regular seat,” Chidambaram joked.

— Yvonne Zusel

This summer, Dr. Patrick O'Neal and longtime Colonnade restaurant employee Rhea Merritt will be traveling to France together. Olivia Bowdoin for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

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Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Dr. Patrick O’Neal

Dr. Patrick O’Neal, 82, was introduced to the Colonnade on Cheshire Bridge Road in the mid-1970s by a neighbor who was a regular.

In the late 1980s, O’Neal became a regular himself after moving nearby. At least three nights a week, when he isn’t traveling to Athens to work as a clinical professor at the University of Georgia, he can be found sitting at the bar, or at a table in the dining room.

While his order changes every time — “I like variety,” he said — he leans toward the fish and shrimp, as well as the rotating specials, and he indulges in the restaurant’s famous fried chicken a couple of times a year.

O’Neal, who lives alone, has built relationships with other longtime Colonnade customers, as well as the restaurant’s staff.

“In some ways, it’s similar to what you see in English pubs,” he said. “It’s very much a social place. People don’t just come for the food and drinks. They chatter and catch up with each other.”

Through the years, O’Neal and other Colonnade regulars have formed a loose collective, calling themselves the Mixed Nuts. In addition to meeting at the restaurant, they’ve dined together at other Atlanta eateries and even have traveled together.

O’Neal is about to embark on another trip with a Colonnade connection. When he found out that longtime restaurant employee Rhea Merritt never had traveled overseas, he asked her where she most wanted to visit. Paris was at the top of her list. This summer, he’s taking her on a two-week vacation to the City of Light.

“He’s the sweetest man ever,” Merritt said. “You get to know these people and, they become a part of your life. ... They become your extended family.”

— Yvonne Zusel

Jeff Lewis (right) chats with J. Trent Harris, executive chef at Mujo. Lewis and his wife Amy dine regularly at the restaurant. Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


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Jeff and Amy Lewis

Jeff and Amy Lewis really like sushi, so when Mujo opened in February 2022, the married couple couldn’t wait to visit the upscale omakase restaurant led by Executive Chef J. Trent Harris.

“Amy and I looked over at each other, and we’re like, ‘This is really good,’” recalled Jeff Lewis, a financial adviser. “This checked all the boxes.”

To them, Mujo was on par with other high-end sushi restaurants in cities such as San Francisco and New York. They’re such big fans that the couple goes to Mujo about once a month.

Dining at Mujo, where a meal starts at $245 per person, is about more than just food. It starts with the luxurious environment, where even the placement of the dishes and glassware is given thought. While the menu changes often, depending on seasonal availability, Jeff knows that a favorite cocktail — perhaps an umeshu Old-Fashioned — will be waiting for him.

For the Lewises, it’s not just that the food is prepared expertly and presented beautifully. “It’s the people,” Jeff said. “Over time, you build relationships with the folks that work there, and you see how hard they work to make it a special experience for everybody that walks through the doors.”

— Lia Picard

Joe and Lisa Sanderson, seen at Roshambo's bar, live near the restaurant and are regular customers. Courtesy of Joe Sanderson

Credit: Courtesy of Joe Sanderson

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Credit: Courtesy of Joe Sanderson

Joe and Lisa Sanderson

When Chris Hall opened Roshambo in December 2022, he hoped the elevated diner in Peachtree Hills would become a neighborhood spot. And, sure enough, two of its regulars, Joe and Lisa Sanderson, live only a block away.

“It’s right by our house, so it worked out,” said Joe, who works in forest management.

The Sandersons generally find themselves at Roshambo about once or twice a week.

“My wife thinks their cheeseburger is the best in Atlanta,” Joe said. And when the couple is headed to their cabin in North Carolina, they pick up the restaurant’s chicken bucket, which includes a whole bird, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, biscuits and sauces.

Joe said he likes that Roshambo serves breakfast all day, as well as the restaurant’s attention to detail. “We usually sit at the bar when we eat, even for breakfast or lunch,” he said, and bartender Kraig Dane serves their favorite dishes and whips up a killer Aperol spritz for Lisa. “The bartenders are super nice, super friendly, always remember us, go out of their way to make everybody feel at home.”

It’s that kindness that keeps the couple coming back. The Sandersons’ kids have been out on their own for a few years now, and coming home to an empty house can be a little lonely.

“When we go into Roshambo, Kraig is always happy to see us,” Joe said. “He asks about what we’ve been up to, about our last trip, about our kids. They know enough about us and interact in a more personal way, which we really appreciate, given that we’re empty-nesters now.”

— Lia Picard

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