By Brian Benefield
[This is the latest of Brian Benefield’s Second Helpings columns, highlighting food in Cobb County. To read more of his reviews, follow this link]
Covid-19 has affected many businesses in the last few years, but the restaurant industry has been hit with Hulk-like force. People who choose this business as their life’s work are crafty and intelligent, and the pandemic brought out their ingenuity to the fullest.
Delivery services are booming, and whether through third-party apps or direct online ordering, the demand for food delivery is at an all-time high. Curbside pickup will remain at many locations, and I don’t see this option disappearing anytime soon.
When we order out from a local restaurant, I almost always pick it up, so their business doesn’t incur a whopping delivery fee along with other compounding issues they’re dealing with. The pandemic forced a technological shift for many eateries by revamping their websites and social media so prospective customers could place online orders more efficiently.
Lolita Yagnik from her ice cream shop (featured in a previous Second Helpings column) told me that she widened her customer base through delivery apps like Uber Eats and Doordash to reach patrons that may not know her bodega existed.
I chatted online with Chef Greg Lipman from Piastra Italian Restaurant in Marietta Square, and his words spoke volumes.
“Costs of all aspects of labor have increased, but the quantity and quality of workers have decreased. Pay has gone up inverse to qualifications, and I am training inexperienced people for jobs that require know-how,” Lipman said.
He elaborated, “All I know is I want my staff to make money, and if they’re happy, they’ll ensure the guests are happy. And if the guests are happy, they will spend more, and everyone is happy.” That’s a lot of happiness, and what could be wrong with that?
Supply chain issues are real; the cost trickles down from processing agriculture to meat packing and trucking the goods, all creating additional costs. Poultry, meat, and fish prices have increased dramatically.
Still, Greg told me that he is fortunate because most of the food he orders comes from local purveyors and farms around Georgia and can usually supply him with what he needs. Being able to acclimate to ever-present change is arduous, to say the least, but Greg said somberly, “Adapt or die.” Lipman exclaimed that the community of Marietta has been very supportive throughout the pandemic, and he is grateful for the outpouring of love from the general public.
Ghost Kitchens are another concept that is not new but have sprung up like mushrooms after a heavy rainstorm all over Atlanta since 2020.
An example in Cobb county is Catfish Hox, which serves Southern food with a Cajun twist. This fast casual bistro opened in 2016 and has transitioned into a ghost kitchen since the pandemic.
The dining room is no longer open but has a drive-through and offers take-out and delivery options.
We have enjoyed their food many times in the last few years and would highly recommend the smoked wings coming right off the Big Green Egg, and you can see billowing smoke in the parking lot. If you think catfish isn’t for you, this place will change your mind with a light cornmeal breading, cooked and seasoned perfectly.
My wife craves their Voodoo shrimp entree, which is grilled shrimp with a sweet/spicy sauce, served over sauteed green beans that have enough garlic to keep any mother-in-law at bay for at least a week. I think the ghost kitchen is here to stay and plan to interview the owners of this delicious local spot soon for a future article.
Next time you dine out, remember that servers are people trying to earn money like everyone else and deserve respect. So if you notice an increase in prices on the menu for your favorite pastry or croissant, know that the owner of your local bakery isn’t trying to put the extra dough in their pocket but only to survive and make a living. Be kind, always.