Chef's Table - Power to the Fifth

You've most likely eaten their food, even if you didn't know it. Founded in 1993, the Fifth Group Restaurants include South City Kitchen, the Food Studio, La Tavola Trattoria and Sala Sabor de Mexico, as well as the catering arm, Bold American Catering. The three partners, Robby Kukler, Steve Simon and Kris Reinhard, state their purpose is "to passionately move people and provide the opportunity to experience joy. Their mission is "to become the leader in the Atlanta dining scene while significantly impacting our city's dining reputation." They've got a list of 28 values they hew to, which may be why turnover is low among their 200 restaurant employees.

Creative Loafing: Where'd the company name come from?

Steve Simon: There are a number of good things related to the number five: five-star hotel, five-star general. We wanted something that encompassed the four food groups but also went beyond that, to include service, design and architecture. We are more than just food.

Robby Kukler: We appeal to all five senses. And we wanted something easy to remember and say.

I know this is like asking a parent which child he likes best, but which is your favorite restaurant?

Robby: And like kids, ours would be upset if we didn't name one of them! We have four different concepts and price points and I like all of them. But the Food Studio gets shortchanged from a dining perspective, even though our office is here.

Steve: I have a favorite, but it evolves. I can say that I am fond of La Tavola because something clicked and it became a place I wanted to eat. I'm in the cycle now with Sala.

Which restaurant makes the most money?

Robby: Per square foot, maybe La Tavola, but South City Kitchen will likely have a double digit increase this year. It's very consistent.

Steve: But the largest entity of the five is Bold American. We do 800 to 900 events a year and it accounts for 35 percent of our business.

Are you planning to open any new restaurants?

Steve: We've signed a lease in the heart of Midtown. It will open in 2005.

And we are looking at something outside the Perimeter — just barely. They don't have a lot of options.

How'd you all meet?

Robby: Our former partner introduced us. Steve and I are both Michigan State graduates. We figured out that we were on campus at the same time for one semester but didn't know each other. We grew up 45 minutes apart.

I hear you just got back from eating in Manhattan. Any plans in another city?

Robby: No immediate plans. But I'd never say never.


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