Chef Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South restaurant in Atlanta is for sale but not closing yet
Rumors of Empire State South’s impending closure are greatly exaggerated, and Five and Ten in Athens is not for sale, according to chef Hugh Acheson.
Although yes, Empire State South is on the market, as first reported by the Atlanta Business Chronicle in July, Acheson says there are currently no active deals on the table and the downtown Atlanta restaurant remains open and under his management, with chef Sam Herndon. Acheson and Herndon co-run the kitchen at Empire State South, following the departure of chef Daniel Porubiansky, who left the restaurant in September to return to Bacchanalia.
“It sells when it sells,” he says.
Acheson has made no secret that he is spending more time in Canada these days to be closer to his daughters, who are both at university there, and to take care of his father, who has cancer. End-stage Alzheimer’s.
“Restaurants take a long time to sell. I’m not closing the doors of Empire. It’s always in a good place. There’s no drama in that,” he says. “People sell their successful small businesses all the time and walk away, but for a leader it’s like, ‘Oh my God, what’s going on?’ Sometimes lives change and priorities change, and it’s not a bad thing for some people to move on.
The optimal scenario, he says, is to sell Empire State South and its name to someone who wants to make it his own and continue his legacy in Atlanta. But until the restaurant sells or he strikes a deal with the owners, Acheson vacillates between Canada, his home in Athens, his duties at Empire State South and his event obligations in Atlanta.
As for the Empire State South menu, Acheson and Herndon plan to keep the tasting menu, which will eventually have four to five courses and change more frequently. The snack menu which includes the popular trio of In Jars spreads (pimento cheese, baba ganoush, smoked fish mousse) is now served from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., rather than stopping at the start of the evening service.
Acheson is also working on developing a home economics program with a production company for schools across the country, as well as concerts and private catering events, like Cooking for a October 20 fundraiser at Ormewood Park on behalf of Georgia Secretary of State candidate Bee Nguyen.
Last spring, Acheson made two trips to Romania and Poland to help coordinate food distributions with World Central Kitchen to help feed refugees fleeing the Russian invasion in neighboring Ukraine. Herndon joined him on the first trip. After opening Montreal-style Mount Royal steakhouse and Spaceman rooftop lounge at the Hyatt Centric hotel in Buckhead last December, Acheson quit the restaurants in April citing “creative differences” with hotel management . Three Arches, a Mediterranean restaurant run by chef Josh Hopkins, has just opened in the former Espace Mont-Royal.
“It is heartbreaking to realize the impact the restaurants and my team have had in Athens and Atlanta. But at the end of the day, I have to make the best decisions for my family,” Acheson says. “I’m very proud of my 25-year heritage of cooking in Georgia. Empire is in incredibly talented hands with Sam and Five and Ten are in a very strong position right now.
“So we’re definitely not done yet.”