For five-and-a-half years, Marc Taft has been serving Southern fried goodness at the well-known Marietta restaurant Chicken and the Egg. But, by the end of 2018, Taft will go from being the executive chef of one restaurant to eight under his newly-formed Southern Fried Hospitality restaurant group.
“We were one of the first chef-driven restaurants to come outside of the perimeter and do something in west Cobb,” Taft said of Chicken and the Egg, located at 800 Whitlock Ave. in Marietta. “There were plenty of chains to choose from but not a lot of chef-driven ones. We took a chance on the west Cobb community and they took a chance on me.”
Fortunately for Taft and Cobb County foodies, the risk paid off. Taft said he has tweaked and tailored the menu in response to much-acknowledged customer feedback. As a result, the restaurant, with its traditional Southern, farm-to-table fare, stays busy. Taft is taking his love for Southern food and multiplying it with Brine Seafood Shack (debuting spring 2017 in Alpharetta’s Avalon), FEED — Fried Chicken & Such (scheduled to open late spring in The Battery Atlanta adjacent to SunTrust Park), CO-OP Community Table + Bar (scheduled to open April 2018 in Forsyth County’s HALCYON development) as well as a burger joint and a food hall version of FEED, also set to open in the HALCYON development by the end of 2018.
“I think if we were opening a bunch of chef-driven restaurants, opening all of these would be extremely fast, but these are concepts so we looked at scalable concepts we could easily multiply,” Taft said. “So we already have menus that have been tested and approved, some of them have a small footprint, and most are relatively casual. The trend we’re seeing is people are enjoying fast casual right now, whether it’s due to ease or price point. I’m still a chef at heart so CO-OP is probably our best opportunity to build on the Chicken and the Egg as it will be a little more hyper-local and upscale. The time is right — there’s recovery in the economy and people are willing to spend money to go out and eat, so we want to figure out how to grow smartly and build something that people see as a worthy value.”
Taft’s spot in the Battery came after Fuqua executives (developers of the Battery) put the word out they would like to have a fried chicken restaurant in the entertainment district. Taft said the team was presented with six or seven options and Taft’s chicken and concept was chosen.
“The minute they announced the Braves were coming to Cobb County, that interested me. Initially, they said there weren’t going to be many restaurants in there but that grew. For people young and old and from all backgrounds, fried chicken becomes a common language. And it’s perfect for ballgames. I think it’s good that the Fuqua people were willing to go with a local business instead people from out of town or a corporation,” Taft said of the 3,000-square-foot FEED restaurant, which will also serve side dishes and appetizers, such as braised collard greens, macaroni and cheese, salads and coleslaw.
Taft, a Montgomery, Alabama, native, started his culinary career while in high school, working at a local Chick-fil-A restaurant. When he was a college student at the University of Alabama, his goal was to work for the FBI — a long way from testing spice combinations in fried chicken.
“But when I was in college, there were hiring freezes for federal government jobs, so there wasn’t an easy way to get into the FBI. So I stayed in restaurants and stuck it out there. I think it was a lucky break,” Taft said.
Taft moved to Marietta from Nashville, Tennessee, in 2008, to open Pacci Ristorante in Atlanta. After a good run and several accolades, Pacci closed in March 2011 and Taft worked as the director of operations for the Southeast region of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, where he was responsible for overseeing several restaurants, including renowned Area 31 in Miami and Central 214 in Dallas.
Taft said his Southern upbringing has influenced his approaches to both business as well as the art of creating great food.
“There’s natural Southern hospitality in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. People still talk to each other on the street and care about each other. I use that and take a simple approach to business,” Taft said. “It’s about making connections to people and a handshake still means something to me. If I’m talking to someone and say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it and I expect the same from them as well.”