Iconic Atlanta restaurant recognized with James Beard Award

A longtime historic Atlanta restaurant is being honored with a James Beard Foundation Award.

Busy Bee, which has been open at 810 Martin Luther King Drive SW since 1947, is one of six recipients of the 2022 America’s Classics Award.

The honor is given to locally-owned restaurants “that have timeless appeal and are beloved regionally for quality food that reflects the character of its community,” according to the James Beard Foundation. To be eligible, establishments must have been in existence for at least 10 years.

Tracy Gates is owner of the iconic Busy Bee Cafe in southwest Atlanta.  Photo Courtesy of Morgen Purcell/Lemon Brands

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More than 100 restaurants across the country have received the award since the category was introduced in 1998.

This year’s recipients will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony on June 13 in Chicago. The 2022 awards will be the first in two years.

201021-Atlanta- Rev. Raphael Warnock orders baked chicken at the Busy Bee Café in the West End after voting at State Farm Arena on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

Busy Bee was opened by Lucy Jackson on what was then called Hunter Street, one of only two streets in the city of Atlanta open to Black entrepreneurs at the time. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights icons stopped by frequently at the restaurant to try its soul food including fried chicken, ham hocks, catfish, collard greens, macaroni and cheese and cornbread.

Today, the restaurant is owned by Tracy Gates and her family, and remains a gathering spot and tourist attraction. Vice President Kamala Harris and Oprah Winfrey appeared at Busy Bee during separate 2020 visits to Atlanta (Winfrey called the restaurant’s catfish the best she’s ever had), and rapper Killer Mike and Sen. Bernie Sanders famously stopped in together for a meal in 2016.

Food and Wine magazine named Busy Bee one of Atlanta’s best classics restaurants in 2020.

The Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee reviews all recommendations for America’s Classics submitted by the public during an open call in the fall and those submitted by the voting body. Six of the 12 regions recognized by the awards program are included within each awards cycle and rotated to the next cycle so that each region is included every other year.

This year’s other recipients include Casa Vega in California, Connie’s Place in New Jersey, Solly’s Grille in Wisconsin, Wo Hop in New York and Florence’s Restaurant in Oklahoma.

Gates did not immediately respond to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s request for comment.

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