Start-up businesses sometimes have their root in misfortune, prompted by job loss, or perhaps the search for personal fulfillment. Mercer Street Meals is one of those stories.
The idea for a takeout-only spot specializing in a nutritious, value-driven prix fixe menu was hatched last spring when COVID-19 brought much of the restaurant industry to a standstill, including Lance Gummere, chef and co-founder of chicken-oriented diner Bantam & Biddy and Midtown bistro the Federal.
A neighbor asked Gummere what he thought about cooking up some prepared meals for folks on the block. Gummere declined, but, when his relationship with his restaurants’ parent company, Little Green Hen Ventures, took a turn for the worse, he changed his mind.
“He started doing it just for our street,” said Gummere’s wife, Gracie, recounting how they would load up meals on a Radio Flyer wagon for their 12-year-old son Ryland to deliver to buyers on their block in Atlanta’s eastside Ormewood Park neighborhood.
Word of mouth spread, with neighbors asking on behalf of friends. “We started opening it up,” she said. “Now, people come from Tucker, Decatur and Stone Mountain.”
Reasons for the success of Mercer Street Meals are many. This is quality food, executed by a veteran chef. Think: entrees like lasagna Bolognese, roast brisket, fried chicken and a full rack of ribs, each one rounded out by a salad or a thoughtful side dish or two — and all of it amply portioned.
Dessert, in particular, is one of Gummere’s strong suits. I can attest to a carrot cake that was so moist, delicious and chock-full of freshly shredded carrots that it inspired me to make my own the next day (with far inferior results). And, imagine the glee of neighborhood kids over sweets inspired by a Little Debbie Star Crunch or a Hostess Ding Dong.
Because the meals are intended to be family-friendly, the Gummeres plan menus together. Gummere brings his chef’s brain to the table, while his wife, a graphic artist who long has handled parental duties for their two sons when he was working at restaurants, knows what will satisfy youngsters. Homestyle pork schnitzel or meatloaf have far more kid appeal than foie gras.
The dinners also are affordable — priced at $25 for two and $45 for four (plus tax). “We were really conscious of people’s budgets,” she said.
Their kitchen, including three additional fridges and a hotbox, is so stocked, it looks like a restaurant that’s come home to roost. But, the cramped space is a minor headache, offset by the smells that emanate from the kitchen all day long. What’s more, the home-grown business has given this family time to reconnect.
“He’s never been home that much with our children,” Gracie Gummere said. “He never had an entire day off, unless we were on vacation. ... It’s been really wonderful to have him home.”
As Mercer Street Meals outgrows its home kitchen, the Gummeres are looking for a brick-and-mortar spot that will allow them to amp up production of weeknight dinners for families who want a break from the stove — and still let Dad be home on weekends.
MERCER STREET MEALS
Menu: chef-driven, ready-made meals for two or four
Recommended dishes: prix fixe menu changes regularly and focuses on comfort food; expect a hot, nutritious, amply portioned meal
Price range: $25-$45
Service options: carryout; place orders online; menu posted on website and social media; orders must be placed by midnight the night before pickup
Outdoor dining: no
Experience: Online ordering was easy, while pickup was fast and organized. The food was packaged tidily for travel (and the smells got my tummy grumbling on the car ride home). This was a thoughtfully prepared and well-executed meal. The boeuf bourguignon held savory chunks of slow-cooked beef; a mix of earthy button, cremini and dried truffe mushrooms; roasted carrots; and pearl mushrooms on a thick bed of polenta. I can’t overstate how generous the portions were. The mixed-greens salad for this two-person dinner easily amounted to four side plates. And the mini carrot cake was so good that, after my husband ate the remaining slice the following day for breakfast, I was inspired to make carrot cake muffins of my own — along with braised red cabbage to round out a lunch of leftover boeuf bourguignon.
Address, phone: address provided via email prior to pickup day; 404-713-6001
Pickup hours: 5-7 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays
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