Steve Alterman, of famed Horseradish Grill and grocery dynasty, dies

Atlanta restaurateur’s Southern menu drew raves nationally

Steve Alterman was an icon in the Atlanta food industry — twice.

First, he gave up his plans for a career in law to be part of a family grocery business that ran for 50 years, grew to 101 stores, and spanned three states.

Then, after that business sold in the 1980s, Alterman transitioned into the restaurant business, eventually opening the Horseradish Grill to national raves and huge crowds. Its take on Southern cuisine was declared an unequivocal success, earning kudos from “Esquire” magazine in 1994 as one of the country’s best new restaurants.

“The traffic going down Powers Ferry and Wieuca Road to get to the opening party was unbelievable,” recalled Gerry Klaskala, a consultant on the restaurant and owner of Atlanta’s Canoe and Aria restaurants. “You would have thought the Rolling Stones were playing at Chastain. That’s how crazy it was.”

Stephen “Steve” Alterman, a man dedicated to his faith and his family and best-known for running Horseradish Grill, a Buckhead institution for 25 years, died Monday from complications related to Parkinson’s disease. He was 75.

A graveside funeral service was held Wednesday at Greenwood Cemetery.

Alterman was born into a prominent Jewish family in Atlanta and was a member of the first graduating class at Hebrew Academy in 1960. He graduated from Atlanta’s Grady High School in 1965 and then headed off to the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his Bachelor’s degree in 1968.

He had hopes of one day being a lawyer or possibly a rabbi, his family said.

But his father asked that he join the family food business of Big Apple and Food Giant stores. As many as 13 family members worked in the business over the years, and Alterman would regale people with stories of working summers as a youngster and unloading boxes for $3 an hour.

Alterman stayed four years with the grocery chain after it was sold, serving as director of store operations. He went on to co-own Ray’s on the River and Rio Bravo with Ray Schoenbaum, owner of Ray’s On the River, Ray’s at Killer Creek, and Ray’s in the City restaurants.

But it was the Horseradish Grill that was his creation and business pride.

The restaurant was built at the site of the old historic Red Barn Inn on Powers Ferry Road by Chastain Park. It brought together “Southern culinary royalty,” including famous Southern chef Scott Peacock, to create a totally unique restaurant down to the onsite organic garden, with inspiration from renowned chef Edna Regina Lewis.

Peacock said the restaurant had a winning combination — a serious Southern menu and a historic spot.

“I give Steve a lot of credit for being able to embrace that and champion that in the way he did,” Peacock said. “It was very important to my life and career, very important to Atlanta, and very important to the culture. It can’t be overstated.”

The restaurant was known for its high-quality, locally and regionally grown fresh vegetables — or ones fresh from its own garden — and its many great dishes, including fried chicken and pork chops, served with black-eyed peas and tomatoes.

Before it was sold in 2019, Horseradish Grill was the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Atlanta, and Alterman had connections all over town, including restaurant patrons he knew by name and took a sincere interest in, Peacock said.

“He never sought any fame, but he was famous,” Klaskala said.

Alterman had his father’s business acumen and his strong faith. He was president of his synagogue, Congregation Beth Tefillah on High Point Road in Atlanta. His father held the same position at the synagogue he attended.

“He will be remembered as a righteous man, a sweet man just like our father,” older brother Richard Alterman said.

Credit: Special to the AJC

Credit: Special to the AJC

Daughter Rachel Alterman Wallack said Alterman, at 5-ft., 6 inches, “was the tallest man I know” and that he “loved fully and often loudly.”

Wallack, founder and mission director at VOX ATL, recalls how supportive her father was when she decided to quit her first job as an editor at “Business Atlanta” magazine to start the nonprofit working with teens.

Wallack said he taught her and her brothers that “we can do hard things.”

“I carry that lesson forward, along with two key others: Take a breath. And don’t miss an opportunity to love, to laugh, to fill yourself with the things that nourish you, to tell someone how much they mean to you,” she said.

Alterman is survived by his wife, Marci Ball, and his children, Rachel Alterman Wallack (Sandy), Daniel Alterman, and Joshua Alterman; his children by marriage, Laura Kahn and Michelle (Kevin) Fry; and grandchildren Dov, Isaac and Joanna Wallack, Sam and Molly Shir, and Harper Frye.

Donations can be made to Congregation Beth Tefilah @bethtefillah.org, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research @www.michaeljfox.org, or VOX ATL @voxatl.org.