Just in time for springtime outings on Atlanta’s ever-bustling BeltLine, Red Beard Restaurants founding chef Kevin Gillespie—a current finalist for James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurateur Award—and president and chef Marco Shaw are set to unveil Slabtown Public House, the team’s newest culinary venture, opening April 22. Located off the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail at 670 DeKalb Ave., Slabtown takes over the former space of Cold Beer, the concept Gillespie and Shaw opened in July 2019.

“With Slabtown, we’re bringing an even more fun and welcoming concept to the ever-diversifying audience along the BeltLine,” says Gillespie. “We not only get to provide our patrons what they want, but we also are able to make our foundation a permanent fixture in the community.”

The massive space with a BeltLine-adjacent rooftop bar in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood also will serve as the headquarters and kitchen for Defend Southern Food, a new nonprofit started by Gillespie and Shaw to address food insecurities that arose during the pandemic. The program is designed to deliver more than 500 meals a week to families in the Maynard Jackson High School cluster (including six elementary schools and one middle school) whose students receive free or reduced-cost breakfast and lunch. The idea is to supply those students and their families with nutritious homecooked meals that are boxed up twice a week and delivered to schools. Gillespie and Shaw first identified the neighborhood need when Cold Beer closed at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“We had thousands of pounds of food we needed to give away, and no one to give it to, yet we knew there were hungry people right around us,” says Gillespie.

Gillespie and Shaw then reached out to neighborhood schools that had been trying for years to feed hungry students at dinnertime. Says Gillespie, “When we talk about the success or failure of young people living in poverty, we don’t seem to recognize that poor performance and behavioral issues can be tied back to a lack of food security in their lives. It’s really hard to care about tomorrow’s test or your homework when you’re hungry.”

By ordering dessert or that extra cocktail at Slabtown, diners will help fund the work of Defend Southern Food.

Over the past year, while overseeing the work of the nonprofit in the Cold Beer kitchen, Shaw also got a crash course on the Atlantans who lived around or use the BeltLine. That valuable research has now gone into the creation of Slabtown.

“In nice weather, I would see thousands of people walk past the restaurant every day,” recalls Shaw. “Maybe 20% of those people glanced up at our rooftop or even noticed the restaurant. We have hundreds of residents who are an elevator ride away from our front door. If we could interest even one-tenth of those people into coming in, we could not only sustain a restaurant but also the nonprofit as well.”

In addition to a great selection of draft, canned and bottled beers and house-crafted original cocktails, Slabtown’s menu will feature casual pub food using high-quality ingredients. Guests can look forward to nachos, a burger, and Gillespie’s famous Closed on Sunday chicken sandwich. The eatery will serve weekly and seasonal specials, but a large part of the menu will be a “greatest hits” selection of staples drawn from Red Beard favorites.

“One of the things we learned from Cold Beer was that people out on the BeltLine would text their friends to join them and a four-top table would turn into an eight-top,” explains Shaw. “But when their friends arrived, and they looked at the menu and saw octopus, that created a barrier. With Slabtown, we wanted to create a menu that is accessible to all.”

But never fear, Kevin Gillespie fans. The “Top Chef” star and cookbook author has not forgotten who he is. “I love nachos as much as anyone, and I’m going to put a lot of work into making sure they’re the best ones you’ve ever had in your life,” says Gillespie. “Don’t be fooled by the simplicity. You’re still getting food from a restaurant with my name on it. It’s going to be all-natural, whole food. We’re not going to be opening a bag and dumping stuff on top of it. Here’s the thing. I’m 40 years old now and a cancer survivor. As much as I love dive bar food, I can’t eat it anymore.

With Slabtown, we’re going to be making all of those favorite foods but elevating the quality.”

While Gunshow, Gillespie’s iconic flagship restaurant will still proudly fly its freak flag, Slabtown is being designed as a place to crash and relax after a harried day of Zoom calls. The spacious rooftop and beer garden will be full-time features of Slabtown.

“Let’s face it, Gunshow demands a lot of you,” says Gillespie. “It’s hard to get a reservation. It’s loud. It’s bright. You don’t get to pick anything. You don’t get to choose your pacing. It is, for lack of a better term, a tornado that serves food. In comparison, Slabtown is going to be easy on you. We want this to be a place where you go and hang with your friends multiple times a week. If the pandemic taught us anything, we learned we all need to relax and have more fun. Slabtown will be conducive to that.”

With the work of Defend Southern Food hardwired into the business model of Slabtown, Gillespie and Shaw’s latest culinary venture honors the old Atlanta neighborhood the restaurant is named for. In 1844, mill owner Jonathan Norcross was inadvertently responsible for naming the neighborhood when he gave away slabs of wood to his neighbors in need, who then used the building materials to construct homes for themselves and their families. With Defend Southern Food’s mission of reducing food insecurities in the neighborhoods Red Beard Restaurants serves, Shaw and Gillespie hope to create a similar legacy. While supporting Defend Southern Food, the company also has made a shift to provide a more livable wage and workload for its team and will be open four days per week—Thursday-Sunday.

“The pandemic forced us to stop and take a look at what we were doing, what was working, what wasn’t, who we were serving and who we weren’t,” says Shaw. “It forced us to take notice and to listen to the people in need around us. Slabtown and Defend Southern Food emerged as a result.”

“Thanks to Slabtown diners, we will now be able to not only feed those young people dinner but also their moms and dads, their grandmas and grandpas, whoever is living under their roofs,” Gillespie adds. “I wanted to create food stability for the entire family. As a kid growing up, my mom and dad always made sure we were fed, but they didn’t always get to eat. I know what that feels like. With Slabtown and Defend Southern Food, we want to help create a solution for the whole family.”

Red Beard Restaurants is currently hiring for a variety of positions at Slabtown as well as Gunshow and Revival. Interested candidates can apply online.

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