Restaurant group owner Frances Leigh Catherall dead at 56

010917 ATLANTA - Frances Leigh Smith Catherall at her Atlanta home on Monday, Jan. 9, 2019. 
010917 ATLANTA - Frances Leigh Smith Catherall at her Atlanta home on Monday, Jan. 9, 2019. MANDATORY CREDIT: BITA HONARVAR / BITA HONARVAR PHOTOGRAPHY

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Credit: Bita Honarvar

Atlanta restaurateur Frances Leigh Catherall died last week, friends told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She was 56. No cause of death was given by the family.

Catherall was perhaps most known as owner and CEO of Here to Serve Restaurant group, which closed en masse in 2015 and failed to pay its employees, resulting in a lawsuit.

Here to Serve Restaurants shuttered 10 of Atlanta’s most popular restaurants, leaving about 1,000 employees without jobs and pay. In addition to Prime, Shucks, Smash, Strip and Twist, the 19-year-old private company operated three Noche locations (Brookhaven, Virginia Highland and Vinings) and two locations of Coast (Buckhead and Johns Creek).

Chef and ex-husband Tom Catherall transferred controlling interest in the company to Leigh Catherall in 2012 as part of a divorce settlement. The change in ownership was the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by Simon Property Group, owner of Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, where two of the restaurants operated, alleging the leases were wrongfully transferred to Leigh Catherall’s name and breached an agreement between Tom Catherall and Simon.

To friends, Catherall was a “classic beauty” with a sweet personality who didn’t intimidate anyone.

“She was just somebody that you immediately felt comfortable being with,” friend and former Riverwood High School classmate Mimi Bean told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


ExploreLeigh Catherall files for bankruptcy protection for two Here to Serve restaurants

Restaurant troubles aside, food remained Catherall’s passion. For six years, she served as a board member for Atlanta-based non-profit Open Hand Atlanta, which helps people prevent or manage chronic disease through nutrition.

“She really helped us establish and maintain a wonderful relationship with different restaurant owners and chefs,” Open Hand Executive Director Matthew Pieper said.

Pieper said Catherall also expanded the group’s annual fundraiser Dining Out for Life, in which partner restaurants donate a portion of their profits to the organization. The fundraising event is scheduled for Wednesday, which also coincides with Catherall’s funeral.

The organization plans to install an engraved brick on its campus in honor of her service.

Catherall’s passion for food came through in her art, which was most notably featured on the cover of Jezebel magazine. Catherall’s cover art prominently featured a salmon, steak, and sushi accompanied by a martini and cigar — the painting served as an advertisement for Prime, one of the many Here to Serve restaurants in Atlanta.

“We would sell the cover as ad space,” said Jezebel magazine founder Mimi Bean. “We would sell to someone who was promoting a business. Leigh did a painting for Prime restaurant and we ran a story behind the painter. It was kind of a win-win.”

According to the article, Catherall developed a love for food and art after completing a yearlong program in Europe. At the time of the feature, Catherall was commissioned for several projects in California, including one for famed American restaurateur Pat Kuleto’s eateries.

“Some people are born with an artistic flair,” Bean said. “She expressed it and it was a very in your face happiness.”

Funeral services for Catherall will be held 2 p.m. Wednesday at St. Anne's Episcopal Church on 3098 St. Anne's Lane in northwest Atlanta.

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