Southern Belle, Georgia Boy to temporarily close Jan. 1 due to COVID-19 economic fallout

‘It made more sense to go into hibernation,’ says chef-owner Joey Ward
Joey Ward is executive chef of Southern Belle and Georgia Boy. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL

Joey Ward is executive chef of Southern Belle and Georgia Boy. CONTRIBUTED BY MIA YAKEL

The coronavirus pandemic has not claimed chef-owner Joey Ward’s acclaimed sister concepts Southern Belle and Georgia Boy, but it is about to sideline them.

Ward announced Friday that he would be putting operations at both Poncey-Highland restaurants on pause beginning Jan. 1.

In a letter to supporters, Ward wrote: “Unfortunately, old man winter has reared his ugly face and outdoor seating proved nearly unbearable for guests, cutting our already limited dining capacity by half. This, in conjunction with a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases resulted in our reservations dwindling and meant the we have taken serious financial losses several weeks. As a native Atlantan, and 20-year veteran of the hospitality scene here, I know that January is typically one of the slowest business months of the year. Consequently, we have decided to close beginning January 1 for an undetermined length of time – dependent on (potential) Government aid, Covid-19 vaccine effectiveness and population response, as well as Georgia’s notoriously unpredictable winter weather.”

A customer waits for takeout outside Southern Belle. CONTRIBUTED BY WENDELL BROCK

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He emphasized that the closure was “not a goodbye for good.” He also attributed the restaurant’s ability to stay in operations this year to the “passion, dedication, talent, creativity and tenacity” of his 16-person staff, which has been cut by half compared to pre-pandemic days.

In a phone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ward said that, financially, “it made more sense to go into hibernation.”

He stated that he would make the space available for pop-up events and private parties during the temporary closure.

Ward remains optimistic that he will reopen. “I’m motivated for 2021 and to get Georgia Boy and Southern Belle back to their former glory, if not better.”

Georgia native Ward opened small plate-focused Georgia Belle and Southern Boy, which offered a more experimental tasting menu, in November 2019 after serving for six years as the executive chef at Gunshow, Kevin Gillespie’s innovative and celebrated modern dim sum-style restaurant in Glenwood Park. Before that, he worked at Gillespie’s now-shuttered restaurant Woodfire Grill.

The restaurant received a rare three-star review in the AJC in January 2020: “If you want a gastronomic crash course on the modern American South, Southern Belle is as good as it gets.”

Pre-pandemic, dishes included Crispy Chicharrones From the Farm, Ceviche Like in Peru, Salad of Local Frisee, Warm Pumpkin Bread, Blue Crab Beau Monde and Warm Sticky Toffee-Coffee Pudding.

Ward pivoted after the restaurant temporarily closed in March due to COVID-19, then reopened for takeout in April, offering takeout program Southern Belle at Home. Offerings included three meal options designed to serve two people with three courses each. Ranging in price from $45-$58, the meal themes included Better Than Home Cookin’, a play on traditional Southern comfort food; A Trip Down Buford HWY, Southern Belle’s version of the team’s favorite Buford Highway staples; and YES, VE’GAN, an all-vegan menu.

Georgia Boy also resumed offering its multi-course tasting menu in recent weeks.

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