Omnivore - Remembering Ria Pell

The owner of Ria’s Bluebird diner dies


I join everyone else in the city who mourns the death of Ria Pell. She owned Ria’s Bluebird diner and Sauced, which she sold to BoccaLupo soon after winning a “Chopped” competition on the Food Network.

Ria was a town character as much as a chef. She was kind, funny, and had a powerful sense of the campy and the kitschy. There were flashes of it all over Sauced, from the paneling to 50s-style lamps and taxidermy. As I recollect, years earlier she operated a restaurant in Little Five Points whose decor duplicated that of a mobile home.

Ria was into the punk scene and was a co-founder of MondoHomo, a queer arts and music festival (that was discontinued after its sixth year in 2012). Ria and I agreed in several conversations that queer culture needs to be nurtured and developed despite the increasing assimilation of the LGBQT population. MondoHomo also explored ways that art can facilitate political change - something you rarely see in Atlanta.

As it happens Donnie Reider, another organizer of MondoHomo, died in November too. Ria cooked for his memorial gathering.

I live very near Ria’s Bluebird and recall its opening 14 years ago. It launched the revitalization of commercial buildings at the corner of Memorial Drive at Cherokee Ave. Over the years, the diner’s lunch and breakfast dishes have grown more inventive, but Ria remained famous for her pancakes - something she complained about on “Chopped.” She wanted to demonstrate her broader skills.

Ria was one of those people who proved that eccentricity is not a liability. It is an asset and should be cultivated. I’m sure Charles Bukowski would have approved of her when he wrote, “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.”

(A celebration is planned Friday, Dec 13, at Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points. The AJC has plenty of pictures from last Saturday’s graveside services at Westview Cemetery. More than 1,000 people attended.)