For longtime Atlanta chef and restaurateur Kevin Rathbun, 2020 has been an especially eventful year — and not just because of COVID-19.
In May, Rathbun made the decision to close his namesake restaurant, Rathbun’s, along with his next-door drinks-and-small-plates spot, Krog Bar.
He’d been working to renegotiate the leases on the two properties located at the Stove Works in Inman Park, but couldn’t come to terms with the real estate company. With the pandemic, and new construction and demolition looming, he decided to call it quits.
“They were going to double my rent, and they wanted me to move the dining room,” Rathbun said of Rathbun’s, which opened in 2004, followed by Krog Bar in 2005. “Then, they were going to tear down Krog Bar, so, with all that, it was just kind of silly to keep it. But, Rathbun’s was my baby, you know. That was the first of all of it, so it wasn’t easy.”
Rathbun managed to salvage and store most of the interior of Krog Bar, with plans to reopen it in another location one day. And, he still owns and operates Kevin Rathbun Steak, which opened in 2007 on the Eastside Beltline, and KR Steakbar, which opened in 2013 in Peachtree Hills.
Both restaurants reopened in June, and have been doing surprisingly well, offering both dine-in and takeout service. “It ramped up pretty quickly, and last month has been about 70%, so that’s good,” Rathbun said.
While Kevin Rathbun Steak and KR Steakbar ostensibly are about red meat, they each take a different approach. When Steakbar opened, many people didn’t quite know what to make of a small-plate steak place with pasta and other Italian influences.
“I didn’t want it to be Kevin Rathbun Steak, per se,” Rathbun said. “I wanted to be more of a deck-of-cards style, with meats and fish, where everything was shareable, and the price point was lower.”
But, in the first year, Rathbun tweaked the concept a bit, adding some larger steaks, and streamlining the bar program. As he put it, “I give the people what they want. I’ve always been like that.”
Certainly, Kevin Rathbun Steak is all about that philosophy, satisfying expense account travelers and special-occasion diners alike, with prime steaks, seafood and a long list of signature sides.
“That’s my baby now,” Rathbun said. “I own the building, and I ain’t going anywhere. I’ll be there forever.”
While he admitted that he wasn’t enthusiastic about doing takeout at first, Rathbun said he’s been pleased with the response.
“I was concerned about the visual of a steakhouse doing curbside,” he said. “Somebody is spending $100 a head on a steak and sides in a cardboard box? But, on Saturday night, we had a raft of takeout at the steakhouse. We probably had 40 people order to go.”
All things considered, and winter notwithstanding, Rathbun remains optimistic.
“I’m pretty overwhelmed that we’re doing as well as we are,” he said. “I’m happy that the employees are comfortable, and the guests are comfortable. The percentages are up. The bills are being paid. But, winter is coming, and I’m concerned about that. I used to say, ‘I’m living the dream.’ Now I say, ‘I’m living in a dream, and I’m really, really waiting to wake up.’”
Menu: Italian-influenced steak, seafood and pasta
Alcohol: beer, wine and cocktails, including drinks to go
What I ordered: burrata with romesco, almonds, toast and balsamic; pansotti with butternut squash, sage and pumpkin seed; maltagliati with short rib, arugula and pecorino; shell steak with espresso demi and horseradish, and a side of eggplant fries; tiramisu with luxardo cherries. Everything traveled well, including the delicious pastas, and even the steak and fries were near perfect out of the box.
Service options: dine-in or takeout; order online; curbside pickup
Outdoor dining: patio dining with umbrella tables and heaters
Mask policy: required for employees and guests
Enhanced safety measures: plexiglass dividers, QR Codes
Address, phone: 349 Peachtree Hills Ave., Atlanta; 404-841-8820
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 5-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays
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