Richards was diagnosed on March 30. “I don’t think I left the house until May 5,” he said. “I don’t think I was in normal health until sometime in June. I feel really great, but I still have to take four different medications in recovery.”
Richards, 49, still does not know how he contracted the virus. He’d been wiping newly purchased goods with alcohol, tossing clothes in the washing machine as soon as he entered the door, and social distancing. “That’s why it is so baffling,” he said at the time.
Richards is sharing his story now, because it is intertwined deeply with Lake & Oak BBQ, the restaurant he recently opened with chef Josh Lee, formerly of Superica and Chicken & Beer.
The space at Hosea L. Williams Drive and Second Avenue became available while Richards was ill. He called Lee to check it out. Lee reported back: “We have to do it.”
Richards estimated that he has opened well over 10 restaurants in his career. But, he said, launching Lake & Oak during the pandemic has posed unique challenges, ranging from “understanding the rules and how they have to be applied,” to being respectful of how other area businesses are operating. When Lake & Oak opened in early July, none of the three nearby restaurants was open for dine-in service, so Richards and Lee followed suit.
The restaurant’s 40-seat dining room remains closed. It’s still a takeout-only operation, although patrons can enjoy their barbecue at umbrella tables spaced out on the patio.
About that barbecue: “It’s a combination of who we are,” Richards said. “Josh is from Atlanta. I’m from Chicago. We have those influences in there, but we are using all the techniques we learned to do this.”
The self-taught, James Beard-nominated Richards picked up those techniques while working at five-star hotel kitchens, at several Atlanta restaurants he co-founded, and from opening his own place, Richards’ Southern Fried, a chicken and soul food stall at Krog Street Market. He shares much of what he’s learned in “Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes,” his cookbook published in 2018.
At Lake & Oak, it’s about the smoke. From brisket to wings to slabs of ribs — and even onions destined for a salad —– smoky flavor is everywhere. Sauce is serious, too. There are two options: Chicago Red, a variation of Richards’ dad’s sweet, tomato-based recipe, and a Carolina mustard sauce.
The current menu is an abbreviated version of the one Richards and Lee plan to roll out eventually. They hope to sell alcohol, too.
Lake & Oak isn’t the only thing keeping Richards busy. He’s got that food stall at Krog. It’s been shuttered for months, but, when it reopens in six to eight weeks, the signage won’t read Richards’ Southern Fried. It’ll say Soul. He’ll be plating up plenty of recipes from his cookbook, lots of Southern dishes, and, of course, fried chicken.
This year “just shows that you must have some type of perseverance, and can’t get down in the fray of things, or you will lose your damn mind,” Richards said. “That’s what COVID has taught us: Control your own destiny.”
LAKE & OAK BBQ
Menu: abbreviated, barbecue
Alcohol: no, but will be available once liquor license is approved
What I ordered: half slab St. Louis ribs, with side of smoked mac and cheese; brisket and side of collard greens, with smoked turkey broth; four whole wings, with side of Brussels sprouts and cabbage slaw; chicken, pimento cheese and collard sandwich, with side of jalapeno creamed corn; smoked and grilled onion, tomato and cucumber salad. Lake & Oak is putting out some satisfyingly smoky barbecue. The brisket was exceptionally tender and smoke-laden, and the whole wings were noticeably juicy. The roasted jalapeno gave the creamed corn nice heat, and was the winningest of sides. Don’t miss the salad. It’s not your regular barbecue joint salad.
Service options: takeout only; order online, via phone or walk-up; patio dining available; no delivery
Safety protocols: following all COVID-19 restaurant safety guidelines; all staff wear masks; public only permitted inside to use restrooms, but must wear mask indoors; hand sanitizer, masks and complimentary bottled water available for patrons
Address, phone: 2358 Hosea L. Williams Drive NE, Atlanta; 404-205-5913
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. Sundays. Adding Tuesday and Wednesday hours after Labor Day
Read more stories like this by liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook, following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter and @ajcdining on Instagram.