Sign at the Busy Bee Cafe in Atlanta, Georgia

Sign at the Busy Bee Cafe in Atlanta, Georgia

Dining Legacies: Must-Try Black-Owned Restaurants

More than 50 years after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Georgia's black-owned restaurants are a rich part of our state's culinary landscape.

Depending on location and preference, diners have plenty of culinary options in Georgia from which to choose. But it wasn't always so. Before the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, African Americans in the South were restricted from patronizing many businesses, one of many factors that influenced activism throughout the region. During that time, Black-owned and -operated restaurants served as safe havens. And they not only sated customers’ appetites for fresh fish, okra stew, or a succulent pork chop dinner, but also fueled the people who kept the movement in motion.

Like Freedom Houses (private homes that families opened to traveling civil rights lawyers and protestors at risk of persecution), and Black churches that functioned as both spiritual and organizational centers, Black restaurants around the South were community-driven locales where ordinary people contributed to extraordinary work.

Restaurants with Civil Rights History

Paschal's Restaurant
Paschal's Restaurant in Atlanta

Leaders of the movement had to eat, too. In Atlanta, Martin Luther King, Jr. and contemporaries such as Andrew Young and Ralph David Abernathy could attend meetings and hear the latest reports, socialize, and throw down on delicious food. Activists frequented Paschal's Restaurant near the historic Atlanta University Center and the meat-and-three, Busy Bee Cafe, beloved for daily specials like chicken giblets and rice. In Albany, soul food from Carter's Grill & Restaurant helped power the campaign there.

More than a half-century later, Georgia boasts a number of notable restaurants owned and operated by Black chefs, many of which have garnered national acclaim. And while many of their establishments remain cornerstones of their communities, they're also heralded as destination-worthy gathering places where visitors go to eat and enjoy.

More Must-Try Restaurants

The Grey in Savannah
The Grey in Savannah

The Grey in Savannah

In Savannah, The Grey has become a fine-dining sensation for what chef and co-owner Mashama Bailey calls port-city Southern cuisine. The restaurant is housed in a beautifully revamped 1930s-era Greyhound bus station that operated through the mid-sixties. Its terminal-inspired front bar and light-filled dining room featuring wood-paneled fixtures and leather seating give visitors the feeling of being transported.

Chef Bailey, a New York native who spent childhood summers visiting family in Waynesboro, Georgia, takes diners on a culinary journey. Tangy raw oysters, Gullah-inspired rice and peas, pecan-crusted fresh fish, and spice-driven roasted lamb, pork shank, and veal sweetbreads are highlights of the daily changing menu. Bailey's classic French training and use of West African flavors that influenced Southern cooking garnered her a 2018 James Beard nomination for best chef in the Southeast.

Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Atlanta
Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Atlanta

Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Atlanta

Chef Deborah VanTrece of Atlanta's Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours is as inspired as she's ever been. Diners flock to her restaurant in Atlanta's Westside for standbys with a twist such as short rib lasagna, mashed potatoes mixed with smoky gouda, or bite-sized seafood beignets accompanied by vanilla bean–flecked remoulade.

Humanitree House Juice Joint & Gallery in Augusta

When Denise and Baruti Tucker opened Humanitree House Juice Joint & Gallery in Augusta's historic downtown in 2014, they planned an art gallery and juice bar. Baruti is an artist, and Denise is a master herbalist (who juiced for church members managing cancer treatments). As vegans, they had limited options for dining out. So, the cold-pressed juice spot evolved into a casual restaurant serving spicy kale wraps, a "toona" salad made with chickpeas and dill, and a vegan burger featuring black beans, black rice, and blended organic beets. Juices may be custom pressed, but you can buy bottled options that Denise makes daily with seasonal ingredients from local farms. Don’t miss the vegan brunch offered the second Sunday of every month.

Francar's Wings in Macon

When Macon native Carl Fambro completed his service in the Army, he was determined to work for himself. He returned to his hometown and opened Francar's Buffalo Wings in 1993. Since then, he's tracked the likes and dislikes of his patrons in pursuit of the perfect wing. He's created recipes for 49 different flavors that rotate on and off menu. The Mercer Gold sauce — featuring a honey-mustard base and black pepper — was inspired by the neighboring university’s orange and black colors. Macon Heat is level-three spicy, built from a hot sauce and loaded with peppery notes. Francar's also serves fish, sandwiches, and grilled wings, which are popular with wing diehards who need to skip the fryer.

Sam's Bar-B-Q in Valdosta

In Valdosta, Sam Watts gets to work between 5 and 6 a.m. to get the barbecue pit going. At Sam's Bar-B-Q, he serves chicken and links, but regulars are faithful to his ribs and pulled pork. The meat cooks slowly for up to five hours to reach "fall-off-the-bone" tenderness. Customers begin lining up when the carryout window opens at 11 a.m., but not everyone can wait to get home to eat their hefty slab or rib sandwich, so Watts keeps a couple of outdoor tables with chairs ready.

Miller's Soul Food in Dublin

Well into its sixth decade, Miller's Soul Food is a downtown Dublin institution, known for its stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. The family-run business serves up a rotating menu of cafeteria-style meat-and-three options. Mains include chicken and dumplings, pigs feet, baked salmon, pork chops in gravy, and even oxtails with rice. Choose from stewed rutabagas, tender collard greens, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, and other options for sides.

Whether you're seeking high-end, modern fare by award-winning chefs, down-home soul food from a meat-and-three, or fresh, health-minded creations on the go, Georgia’s Black chefs and restaurateurs offer a wealth of dining options — and proudly carry on a rich culinary and cultural legacy.

Published: September 2023
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