Aurianna Pell, the Atlanta restaurateur known as Ria, made her mark serving breakfast and lunch across from Historic Oakland Cemetery. The success of Ria’s Bluebird over the past eight years has helped shepherd the resurgence of Memorial Drive and the Cabbagetown and Grant Park neighborhoods.
Pell, 41, is now working on launching another restaurant, one that will offer suave Southern meals focused on wine, mixed drinks and conversation, in the more upscale Inman Park neighborhood.
Pell says Sauced, which, as it name implies, will incorporate plenty of sauces in its “low and slow” cuisine, is scheduled to open in the fall.
With the economy extremely weak, she picked a tough time to strike out on a new venture. She’s already felt the sting of failure. Another Pell restaurant, Patio Daddy-O BBQ in East Point, closed because of the winding down of the Fort McPherson Army base.
The tattooed entrepreneur took a break from construction at Sauced’s future home to talk to Like the Dew.
Q. You were getting tired of the breakfast and lunch routine?
A. I was absolutely tired of cooking breakfast. You can only cook so many eggs. I’d say in five of those [eight] years it was me who cooked every single egg. It’s great to keep growing… doing different stuff that’s not necessarily what’s going on in Atlanta bars. Bars have a really formulaic system of chicken wings, burgers — garbage that is fried, comes pre-made. I don’t want to go that route, at all.
Q. What’s the concept?
A. It’s going to be a tier below fine dining. The good food, the good service, the well-crafted cocktails but not the stuffiness. The building has such a 50s, 60s feel to it, we’re going to try to do some classic comfort food that doesn’t necessarily mean mac and cheese. We’re going to have some smoked meats, for sure. It’s more the slowness of the South that I’m trying to evoke. We want to try to bring back a lot of the cocktail culture of the 40s, 50s. It’s the Manhattans, it’s the Old Fashioneds.
Q. How did the neighborhood respond?
A. Mixed bag of nuts there. They’re worried I’m going to have some crazy hipster punk rock bar. The previous tenant had bands. It drove the neighbors nuts.
Q. Tell me a little about your background.
A. I went to high school out in Smyrna (Campbell High School). Played volleyball out at West Georgia College. I left West Georgia to move downtown and be in the mix of things. I think I came down here in ’89.
Q. How did you get in the restaurant business?
A. My parents worked in different food service establishments. It was an easy job for me to get. You could be as crazy looking and outspoken and still have a job.
Q. What were you doing when you decided to open Ria’s?
A. I was unemployed. I bought in Cabbagetown when it was ridiculously cheap. I got my house for like 19,5. So I didn’t really have to scramble too hard like I do now. I had been talking about it for seven years. My friends were so sick of hearing, “Oh, I’m going to own my own place one day.” But it took me getting a real job in a nice restaurant, Floataway Café. I learned more in a year there than I had in 10 years in the industry. It was a great place to be around a bunch of professional people who were really seriously focused on food. It wasn’t until then that I was like, “Alright, I’m getting my own place.”
Q. Did it take off right from the start?
A. I opened on a Friday. By Saturday there was a 30-minute wait. That Sunday we did so much business, we had to close that Monday to restock and get it together.
Q. Restaurants frequently shut down pretty quickly. What’s the secret to making a restaurant successful?
A. Consistency. Consistent, quality ingredients and a good bit of love. When you’re working with the good intention, then it transfers to the food, it transfers to the service. And I think our clients get it. I’m super nervous. We got dug in pretty deep financially right before the bottom dropped out, so we couldn’t really back out. Thank goodness our landlord has been really cool with us. We’re just trying to get it open as quickly as possible.