Malik Rhasaan and Detric Fox-Quinlan, the husband-and-wife team behind the social media-driven food truck phenom Che Butter Jonez, will officially open their first brick-and-mortar restaurant on June 5.
The neat storefront space on Cleveland Avenue in southwest Atlanta is located in a small strip center, anchored by a Chevron station. Just off I-85, near the airport, it’s close to where the couple live with their children. And it’s not far from the Met Atlanta development, where the Che Butter Jonez truck got its start.
Last week, Rhasaan and Fox-Quinlan were at the restaurant, getting ready for the soft opening. And as they readied themselves for that next step, they reflected on how Rhasaan, a talented home cook, morphed into Che Butter Jonez, a cartoonish character that claims, “I cook better than your muva!”
In real life, Rhasaan’s mother was from Bermuda, and his father was from Jamaica. Growing up in the sprawling New York City borough of Queens, Rhasaan was immersed in a multicultural world Anthony Bourdain called “a wonderland” for food.
“I was the kid who took the stinky lunch to school,” Rhasaan said. “I had dinner for lunch, if that makes sense. And being from Queens, it was just diverse. You have a Jamaican restaurant on one end and Jewish deli the other. As kids, we’d go get a $2 matzo ball soup, then we’d go to the Chinese restaurant and get chicken wings and egg rolls, and mix it all up. There was just so much food around.”
Without a doubt, the rotating Che Butter Jonez restaurant menu will feature some of the greatest hits from the food truck menu. The top-seller is a lamb burger with caramelized onions and jalapenos, lettuce, tomato and herb aioli, stacked on a brioche bun, and served with fries.
Another staple is Who Let Mookie Make the Pasta, playfully named for the “Do The Right Thing” character, and most often made with linguine noodles and shrimp, spinach, tomatoes, red onions, green onions, garlic and shaved Parmesan cheese. But sometimes Rhasaan does a slow-simmered lamb ragu, or dreams up yet another variation, like Chicken 65.
“People ask me all the time, ‘What’s your style of cooking?’ I say, ‘I make what I like.’ That’s how I grew up,” Rhasaan said. “But there’s a lot of things I want to do. The last four weeks, I stressed myself out thinking about what my menu was going to be.”
In addition to lunch and dinner, Che Butter Jonez will be open mornings, serving Café Bustelo drip coffee, bagels, croissants, and that New York City classic, the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich.
“It’s going to have the whole feeling of a bodega in New York, but in the Chevron in Atlanta,” Fox-Quinlan said, smiling. “To start off, we’ll do a little brunch every other Sunday, and I do a really nice brunch,” Rhasaan said.
“His brunch is awesome,” Fox-Quinlan agreed. “We’ve been together now for nine years, and from the onset of our relationship, he cooked for me. I would think, ‘Oh, this is the dish that he cooks well.’ But then he kept cooking, and I didn’t have to cook anymore, it was so good. And I told him, ‘You should open a restaurant.’ "
Instead, the couple decided the way to a restaurant would be through a food truck. Some three years later, that proved to be true. And even if the restaurant is a modest one, they believe it’s another step forward.
“Why I’m glad we started here is because now you’re coming for the food,” Rhasaan said. “I did a lot of stuff before this. I did social justice stuff. I worked with tech companies. I just do stuff. I’ve been like that my whole life. If I find an interest in it, I do it. If I see a gap, I want to fill it.
“But now, I don’t want to do anything else but cook. It’s about the food for me. I still get nervous cooking for people, because that’s the most personal thing you can do, besides kissing someone.”
757 Cleveland Ave., Suite E, Atlanta. 404-919-4061, chebutterjonez.com/che-on-cleveland.
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