When it opened in May 2013, chef Kevin Gillespie’s Gunshow was different from anything Atlanta had seen before.

Dubbed “a dinner and a show all in one,” it offered a decidedly interactive experience, with a series of dishes presented tableside by the chefs that prepared them and bartenders mixing and serving cocktails from a rolling bar cart.

More interaction with guests was one of chef Kevin Gillespie's aims with Gunshow. Here, he visits with restaurant patrons. Courtesy of Gunshow

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Gillespie’s stature as a chef and restaurateur has grown since then, as he’s opened (and closed) several Atlanta restaurants. And, of course, his multiple James Beard Award nominations, along with becoming a finalist and fan favorite on the Bravo television series “Top Chef,” have given him a national presence.

During a recent chat at Gunshow, Gillespie noted that he was in the midst of a series of tests that marked five years since he was diagnosed with a rare form of renal cancer. “It’s going back and making sure everything’s OK, and, technically, that’s when they tell you you’re cancer-free,” he said. “But, it has been a rough ride, and I’ve definitely had a lot of ancillary problems in the last five years.”

Asked about the origins of Gunshow, Gillespie said it was “driven as much by what I didn’t want to do as what I did want to do.”

He started working on the idea in 2011, while he was the chef-owner of Woodfire Grill. The do’s and don’ts list included: not becoming stagnant, not resting on his laurels, more direct guest interaction with the people who actually prepare the food, greater transparency and, ideally, a lower cost.

Gillespie said that last point was inspired by how uncomfortable his parents were coming into Woodfire Grill, “because they felt like it was built for a class of people that were several rungs on the ladder above them. I felt really bad that I had truly accidentally made something that was not for your average person.”

Ultimately, Gillespie and his wife Valerie opened Gunshow with their own money, because they couldn’t find a single investor.

“The minute I told them I was going to do this really wacky thing, they all just said you’ve lost your mind,” he remembered. “So, we took our life savings and dumped it into this. What came out as Gunshow was a $350,000 investment, which was pennies in this business.”

The restaurant’s bare-bones design, featuring communal tables with views of the open kitchen, was as much a matter of necessity as invention, Gillespie said.

It's a busy night in the chef-filled kitchen at Gunshow. Courtesy of Gunshow

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

“It wasn’t this genius idea that I get too much credit for,” he said. “It was workshopping problems, and then solving them in real time.”

After 10 years, the concept remains much the same, but Gunshow has changed as it has grown.

“When we started, we were a four-person kitchen; now, we’re more like an eight-person kitchen,” Gillespie said. “And, as people came in, they brought their ideas. So, we have slowly evolved over 10 years, to where the food is more composed, and much more avant-garde.”

That said, the one item that has stayed on the menu is the Gillespie family’s banana pudding.

“It doesn’t match the other things we do, but it matches me,” Gillespie said. “I believe every great meal needs to have some element of familiarity.”

Along with the food, the bar program also has become more sophisticated, although the toasted Old-Fashioned remains the restaurant’s signature drink.

Grilled steak Caesar tartare is an example of a dish that might be presented to you at Gunshow. Courtesy of Angie Mosier

Credit: Angie Mosier

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Credit: Angie Mosier

Looking back, the name Gunshow originally was controversial, but that mostly has faded away over time.

“I was thinking to myself, in a very realistic way, would 40-year-old Kevin name this place Gunshow? I don’t know that I would,” Gillespie said.

“I think Gunshow is as close to performance art and food as you can get. It’s proven to be a restaurant that you go to, and it’s like going to a concert where you’re getting fed. It might as well be dinner theater. So, the name has taken on that expression, and now it’s just what it’s called.”

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