Chef's Table - The Prince of Ponce

Don't call Eats asking for the executive chef. The best you'll get is a cook or co-owner Robert Hatcher, a fiftysomething homebody with virtually no restaurant experience prior to opening the immensely popular Ponce mainstay.

Creative Loafing: In the nearly 12 years that Eats has been around, how has the Atlanta dining scene changed?

Robert Hatcher: The main thing I've noticed is the proliferation of restaurants. There's just so many of 'em. It hasn't really affected us. We kinda found our niche and we're not a trendy restaurant, so whatever people are doing, thank goodness we have our loyal customer base that still comes here.

Has the customer base changed over the years?

I would say it's remained the same. It's something about Eats that I've always been very proud of. You can walk in here and you'll see the greatest cross-section of society. You see people that are one step above homeless all the way up to local TV celebrities.

Eats falls into the "fast-casual" concept that's hot in the restaurant industry right now. You virtually started it in Atlanta.

I have to give my partner Charles [Kerns] credit for the original concept. Originally we envisioned it as a little food court. We were going to have the chicken counter and the vegetable counter, which was separate originally, and then we always had the pasta. We were going to have a sandwich counter, but we never got around to it.

How do you keep it so affordable?

I don't make as much money as I could. [Laughs.] Sometimes I think people go into business wondering , "How much money can I make from a product?" I think Charles and I tried to think how little can we sell it for and still make a decent profit.

What makes Eats an Atlanta hangout for indie rockers as well as Va-Hi families?

Well, I don't know. It could just be the casualness of it, and I think everybody likes a bargain, and I feel like it's one of those few places that, even though our food is very basic and simple, it's a fresh product at fast-food prices.

Eats, 600 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-888-9149.


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