The General Muir, which brought revived interest in the deli dining experience eight years ago in the Emory University area, is trying to remake itself at its new location in the heart of Sandy Springs. In response to a precipitous dip in restaurant dining because of the pandemic, this addition in the City Springs government offices building will put a strong emphasis on catering of traditional deli items and a grab-and-go business for dining at home.
After a delayed opening of nearly a year, the facility is planning to greet its first customers in early December just prior to Chanukah.
Although the restaurant will offer seating inside and on a spacious patio outside, chef Todd Ginsberg expects at least half of the location’s business will come from catering for family celebrations during the pandemic. That’s the case whether the event is in a private home or in the rental spaces in the special events facility at City Springs that the city has built next door. Flexibility in a business model, Ginsberg believes, is the key to survival in these challenging times.
“It’s very much styled to individual needs. So if they want to simply pick up their catering order or want us to deliver, we can do that. But if they want us to drop it off, set it up and work the serving stations for them, we can do that too. So we are, you know, full service here.”
Another big change he sees today is a new emphasis on health. There is a free-standing hand washing station outside the restrooms, seating inside the restaurant has been cut in half, and outside tables accommodate social distancing.
Largely gone is the heavily salted, greasy fare that characterized the traditional New York deli experience. He hopes to add some upscale fish dishes in the evening, for example, There’s more emphasis on salads and lighter entrees, packaged in a refrigerated case near the front door ready for the quick trip home or packaged in the catering order.
“We try to listen to each individual. If somebody asks for lean pastrami or lean corned beef, we want to give them that. They want their order a little-less juicy or fatty because of their health or because that’s the way they prefer it, we’re going to do it.”
Still, there are some elements of the deli business that are unchanging. There’s a full-service bagel bakery on full view up front in the restaurant so that customers are never far from a hot freshly baked assortment that they can add to their carry-out order. According to Ginsberg, tradition is a big part of his success, whether it’s in his pastrami spicing or the fluffiness of the large matzah balls that he serves.
“It’s always looking towards the future while remembering the past. You know, one of the things I learned very early on in my career was you take the things that you learn from each person, or in this case, from each restaurant, and you build upon it, and you build on what their failures were, what their successes were, and most importantly, what the community around you wants.“
The opening of The General Muir in Sandy Springs is a substantial commitment in an industry that has seen well-known names in Atlanta close their doors and large national operations retrench by closing hundreds of locations across the country.
According to industry statistics, the restaurant industry is the nation’s second- largest private employer and the third largest employer overall. At the start of the pandemic in March, it employed one out of every 10 workers in the country.
Also in March, industry analysts were predicting that two-thirds of restaurants would not survive and as many as 75 percent of the nation’s independent restaurant locations would disappear, according to The New York Times.
But The General Muir has tried hard to keep its workforce busy and employed, in part to maintain the strong sense of teamwork among employees that Ginsberg feels has been an important factor in keeping the operation afloat.
He firmly believes that the emphasis on individual service, flexibility and a commitment to the catering business will help the new restaurant weather the storm. The Sandy Springs location is, after all, in the heart of a large and thriving Jewish community.
The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival has made the City Springs complex its flagship location during the past two years. There are a half dozen synagogues within a radius of less than three miles, and the offices of several Jewish organizations are just a few minutes drive.
Ginsberg believes The General Muir will be welcomed as more than just another restaurant.
“I feel we help to make this community more whole, particularly in these difficult times. By having the synagogues close to their homes, by having the food that they like so close to their homes, I think that’s all that matters to a lot to people. They love that.”