Owners of LT’s Wings in southwest Atlanta talk end of an era, next steps

Open since 1996, the neighborhood staple built a sense of community around customers hooked on its specialty sauces and good service.
LT's Wings owners confirmed that the southwest Atlanta shop will close.

Credit: Gavin Godfrey

Credit: Gavin Godfrey

LT's Wings owners confirmed that the southwest Atlanta shop will close.

On a Friday afternoon, over a week before Christmas, Doris Jeter sat on the patio of her southwest Atlanta business, grappling with a decision business owners dread having to make.

“We don’t feel good about closing,” Jeter admitted. “It’s been an excellent run. And when it was very profitable, it was awesome. Now it’s not profitable. It’s like, OK, do you want to be stuck in the glamor of ‘I own the business,’ or do you want to end it when you can?”

LT’s Wings & Other Things, the business owned by Jeter and her husband George since 2002, is closing its doors on Dec. 23. She told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution increased competition, changing demographics and health issues are the main reasons behind the impending closure.

The Jeters purchased the business inside the small space near the intersection of Cascade and Fairburn Roads from its original owner, Timothy Crim, who opened LT’s in 1996. Crim named the business after his daughters, Lauren and Taylor. Six years later, he was looking for a buyer. Enter George Jeter, who had just retired from Coca-Cola Co.

Before they became owners, the Jeters were also frequent customers. For them and others, LT’s was woven into the fabric of the close-knit community. Local schools had platters from the restaurant for end-of-year parties and events. Folks knowing they had to bring food for barbecues, birthdays, Super Bowl, and graduation parties made it a point to roll with the self-dubbed, “Simply the Best Since 1996″ and “ATL’s #1 Chicken Coop.”

Doris and George Jeter stand outside of LT's Wings in southwest Atlanta. The Jeters purchased the business in 2002.

Credit: Courtesy photo

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Credit: Courtesy photo

When George Jeter bought the business from Crim, he would say “LT’s stands for ‘loving touch.’” In a city known for its celebration of wing culture, fans of LT’s — which includes die-hards such as former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms — will tell you the business lays claim to arguably the best of its kind inside the Perimeter.

Whether it’s their Lemon Pepper (OG, wet or Cajun), House Special, or Sweet Heat, longtime bird lovers who flock to the tiny house on the hill, will tell you it’s the sauce and a combination of size and juiciness that separates the taste. The wings are made fresh to order, with a wait time typically between 20 to 30 minutes. The “Other Things” in the restaurant’s name alludes to the variations of hot dogs, chicken tenders and sides. Customers also say it’s the warm welcome and interactions with George Jeter and the family that keeps them coming back.

Unfortunately, being viewed as an Atlanta staple does not give you an edge on a saturated market leading to a monopoly on chicken prices. “When you have Chick-fil-A across the street and you got Zaxby’s down the street and Wingstop, there’s a lot of competition,” she said. “People love the quality, but the chain wins.”

Development along the Cascade Road corridor, Camp Creek Parkway and Fulton Industrial Boulevard brought with it faster, cheaper food options. The rise of chains means the slow demise of Black mom-and-pop shops when the demographics that supported them change.

“The people that were the staples of anchoring this business are not here anymore,” Jeter said. “You see some people that come every week, but you see others once a month. It’s a treat or once every two weeks. That is not going to anchor the business. You get the younger group that while they like the quality, they don’t like the price.”

Southwest Atlanta resident EmmoLei Sankofa learned of the closure when she made her weekly trip to LT’s last week. Sankofa jumped on her X account to share the news and encourage her followers to flood the shop with business.

The film and television composer has visited the business every day since to buy food, but to also check in on the Jeters.

“I just think that if you understand the history of this community, you understand why it’s important to try to preserve some of these Black businesses because the city is changing,” Sankofa said. “I’m like, dang, this is a piece of the community that’s leaving. It’s not even just about the wings.”

Sankofa grew up in southwest Atlanta, and remembers getting full off of LT’s while she was a student at Westlake High School. That hasn’t changed as an adult. Her go-tos are medium buffalo, Sweet Heat or Oriental Glaze, and occasionally lemon pepper.

“I think that this is a wake-up call,” she said, citing Buzz Coffee and Winehouse in Cascade Heights as another Black-owned business that closed this year. “As much as everybody is like, ‘Oh, I miss the old Atlanta,’ we have to do a better job at helping preserve things. If there are things that are characteristic to Atlanta that we want to preserve, we have to be more active in trying to support these things.”

Customer Ashley Woodruff was informed of the closure by the cashier. Woodruff grew up in the area, attended nearby Mays High School and has been hooked on LT’s since first tasting the House Special as a kid. Woodruff lives in New York but drops in on LT’s whenever she visits her family.

“I’m always sad to see the city losing staples,” she said. “The point of coming home is to be able to feel something familiar. When something leaves, it leaves a space for who knows what to come in. Will it give you that same feeling?

That sense of Black community Woodruff remembers probably looks and feels a lot like LT’s in its 2000s heyday, when the shop was open six days a week. During the pandemic that shifted to four days. Now, it’s down to three.

The family has also faced behind-the-scene challenges. George Jeter was diagnosed with dementia about a year ago. The man his wife jokingly refers to as “the mayor” is known as the driving force behind the business, warmly greeting customers and rocking his Mr. LT’s cap gifted to him by a customer. He was also the lead on business operations, which he’s no longer able to handle. Their son, who managed the shop, passed away from cancer three years ago. Today, Doris Jeter handles operations, IT, HR and shop management.

There have been offers to buy the restaurant in the past, most notably from NFL quarterback and Westlake High School alum Cam Newton. Ultimately, no deals ever came to fruition.

“You always want something to live on. My husband keeps pushing that,” Jeter said. “The original owner still owns the building, so it’s not like we can sell the building. We can sell the business. You start talking finances and people are expressing interest, but then you give them a price and it’s like, ‘Well, let me think about it.’”

Though LT’s is closing , Jeter says they still have a great relationship with Crim, the building’s owner and originator of LT’s. They’re even brainstorming ideas which include potentially selling their lemon pepper, House Special and hot buffalo wing sauces. Like any good Southern cook, Doris Jeter laughs at half-hearted attempts to know the secret behind some of their legendary sauces.

What she will talk about is her appreciation for the outpouring of support they received long before Sankofa’s post caught the attention of locals. They wouldn’t have made it without their longtime customer base. “As we run into them, they are expressing their gratitude, but they also understand,” she said.

“I still respect it because sometimes as a business owner, you have to make tough decisions,” Sankofa said. “If they decide to close (permanently), I’m getting wings until the door’s closed.”

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