Ford Fry’s culinary inspirations cover many years and much of the country: from eating out with his family as a child in Texas, to studying at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, to spending time as a fine dining chef in Florida, Colorado and California—and eventually as a corporate chef in Atlanta. Although the corporate chef position didn’t stick, Fry’s love for Atlanta stuck with him and it has proved a recipe for success so far. Fry and his restaurants have been included in numerous national and local publications, such as Bon Appétit, Condé Nast Traveler, Chicago Tribune, Cooking Light, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Esquire, Food & Wine, Garden & Gun, Delta Sky, Southern Living and the Washington Post. Accolades for Fry and his restaurants include:
- October 2012 – The Optimist named the Best New Restaurant of the Year by Esquire magazine
- 2013 – Fry named a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation Awards for Outstanding Restaurateur
- June 2013 – The Optimist named one of the 70 Best Restaurants in the World by Condé Nast Travelermagazine
- September 2013 – The Optimist was on the cover of Bon Appétit and named the seventh Best New Restaurant in the country by the magazine
- October 2013 – King + Duke selected as one of the Best New Restaurants of 2013 by Esquire magazine
- November 2013 – Fry wins seventh annual Georgia Restaurant Association Crystal of Excellence (GRACE) Award for Restaurateur of the Year
- November 2013 – Fry named Empire Builder of the Year by Eater Atlanta
- Invited to cook at the Beard House on multiple occasions
In January of 2007, Fry put down roots in Atlanta with the opening of his first restaurant – JCT. Kitchen & Bar – a place that’s as warm and friendly as its owner. The menu at JCT. is reminiscent of traditional family favorites and features ingredients from regional fields and farms. Regulars love JCT.’s refined comfort food, from fried chicken with bacon mac and cheese to deviled eggs with country ham to the restaurant’s famous “angry” mussels. The upstairs bar serves up small plates, cocktails and amazing views of the Atlanta skyline for a more casual dining experience. JCT. Kitchen & Bar is the kind of place locals take their out-of-town guests for a classy Southern experience.
“I want to create restaurants that strike a timeless emotional chord – restaurants that don’t pander to trend, but draw generations of families together,” says Fry.
Fry’s culinary vision always begins with ingredients and dishes that are central to the Atlanta community and Southeastern region. He sources local ingredients not only because they taste better but because it allows him to partner closely with suppliers and honor local harvests. He then utilizes classical European techniques in his preparation, which results in dishes that are approachable and uncomplicated yet entirely new to his guests.
Fry opened his second restaurant, No. 246, in Decatur, Georgia, in July 2011 with executive chef/co-owner Drew Belline. No. 246 presents guests with an Italian-inspired dining experience that is influenced by seasonality and local products. The restaurant offers pizza that is cooked in an oven imported from Naples and handmade pasta. Like JCT. Kitchen & Bar, No. 246 is more than just a restaurant; it is a neighborhood gathering place.
His third restaurant, The Optimist and Oyster Bar at The Optimist, opened in May 2012 in Atlanta’s Westside neighborhood. The Optimist serves sustainable seafood prepared in a wood-burning oven, while the attached Oyster Bar at The Optimist is a more casual, “fish camp” style spot for raw and roasted oysters and a specialty punch menu. Landlocked Atlantans appreciate having a sophisticated beach food experience nearby.
Fry’s King + Duke opened in May 2013 in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. The restaurant uses primitive techniques such as hearth and open fire cooking to create dishes with bold and smoky flavors. Additional components are kept to a minimum in order to showcase the natural flavors of the wood-roasted cuisine.
In January 2014, Fry opened St. Cecilia. The restaurant’s name not only pays tribute to the patron saint of music, it also represents Fry’s love of music and the sirens of Greek mythology whose songs coaxed mariners to shore. Located at the bustling corner of Peachtree and Lenox Roads, the addition to The Pinnacle Building blends a timeless design with a modern day atmosphere. Inspired by the southern European coast, the menu features light olive oils, wood-roasted fish, simple, yet perfect pastas and local produce. He opened Mex-Tex restaurants The El Felix in Alpharetta’s Avalon development in October 2014, and Superica at Krog Street Market in Atlanta in February 2015. Marcel, a European-inspired steak house with glamorous 1920s influences, opened on the Atlanta Westside in July of 2015.
State of Grace opened in Houston, Texas in the fall of 2015, along with sister restaurant to The Optimist, BeetleCat, in Atlanta’s Inman Park Inman Quarter mixed-use development. The second edition of Fry’s Tex-Mex restaurant, Superica, opened in the Chastain Park neighborhood of Atlanta in July 2016, followed by The El Felix, with a second edition that debuted at the Battery Atlanta outside SunTrust Park in November 2017. Superica’s third edition debuted early 2018 in Charlotte, N.C.
In addition to his restaurants, Chef Fry also partnered with North American Properties, Vantage Atlanta and Iconologic to help launch People’s Food Truck to benefit City of Refuge, a non-profit organization dedicated to community development efforts. He partnered with Four Seasons Hotel of Atlanta in 2015 to open Bar Margot as a hotel bar with high-service standards, big-flavor food, and “zero pretension,” Fry said.
All of Fry’s restaurants have a few things in common: they’re as formal as guests want them to be; they’re chef owned and operated; they’re committed to their communities; and they serve exceptional food made with local ingredients in casual environments where a great deal of attention is paid to detail. However, each restaurant has its own unique identity.
“When I’m looking to develop a new restaurant, I start with the location,” explains Fry. “I ask myself if the space has a story to tell and if the restaurant would meet a need within the community where it is located. Then I carefully consider the culinary genre and make sure the type of food is one I’m passionate about. This is my strategy for putting all the parts in place.”
Fry’s goal is to continue creating restaurants that are relevant, timeless and inspired, in spaces that are unique and soulful. He wants to run restaurants that are measured by customer satisfaction and growth, not just by sales. And he strives to teach his employees how to take the next steps in their careers by cultivating their talents and watching them come into their own.
“I love finding talent in the region, and putting these people in an environment where they can learn and grow,” says Fry of his management philosophy.
Along with his roles at his restaurants, Fry is also the founder of one of Atlanta’s most popular food events, The JCT. Kitchen & Bar Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival. This annual event features some of the South’s best chefs and mixologists, who are paired with local farmers to create innovative tomato dishes. The Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival is also an excellent opportunity for chefs and attendees alike to meet producers and develop longstanding relationships in order to further support the local food movement. Proceeds from the event benefit Georgia Organics, an organization that is very important to Fry. Fry also serves as a founding chef of the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, which debuted in May 2011 and is a luxury festival that celebrates the deep food and beverage traditions of the South.
Fry currently resides in Roswell, Georgia, with his wife and two sons. In his spare time, he enjoys playing guitar and spending time with his family.