Chef Kevin Gillespie — a current finalist for James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurateur Award — and Red Beard Restaurants president and Chef Marco Shaw, are set to unveil Slabtown Public House on April 22, 2022, according to a press release Tuesday.
“With Slabtown, we’re bringing an even more fun and welcoming concept to the ever-diversifying audience along the BeltLine,” Gillespie said. “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.”
Complete with a BeltLine-adjacent rooftop bar in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, the Slabtown space will also 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,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie and Shaw then reached out to neighborhood schools that had been trying for years to feed hungry students at dinnertime.
“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,” Gillespie said. “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.
In addition to a selection of draft, canned and bottled beers and house-crafted original cocktails, Slabtown’s menu will feature casual pub food. 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,” Shaw said. “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.”
“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,” Gillespie said. “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 those favorite foods but elevating the quality.”
While Gunshow, Gillespie’s 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,” according to the release.
“Let’s face it, Gunshow demands a lot of you,” Gillespie said. “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 through 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,” Shaw said. “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.