Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Brunching at Babs Midtown

Brunching at Babs Midtown is a wholly unique experience. I've known the eccentric and delightful proprietor, Randy D. Adler, for years. We were colleagues years ago, but we've been friends much longer. Randy has a heart of gold, a quick quirky wit, and an incredibly strong love of food, family, and friends.

Please, enjoy this interview Randy gifted me and then make plans to bring your friends in for brunch! And breakfast and lunch, too. It promises to be "an experience"!

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

You'll find Babs Midtown at 814 Juniper Street, one of the tree-lined main thoroughfares in Midtown. It's in the basement of a house (not where Randy lives), but the restaurant front faces south (left side of the house) and has a patio and lovely gardens with water features. It's easily accessible, just look for the maroon awning.

Once you're inside, to say the décor is eclectic would be an understatement, but as you settle into the environment, the theme coalesces. There are numerous collections and more than a few nods to the restaurant's namesake. More about that momentarily...

wanderlust ATLANTA: If I'm a first-time visitor to your restaurant, what should I order?

RandyWe offer bistro and comfort food, made from locally sourced ingredients. If you're looking for a hamburger, we're not the place—we've never done a hamburger, since day one! We don't do ground meat, except sirloin for a lamb dish. While you're looking over the menu, enjoy a cocktail. Thrillist named Babs Midtown's Saki-Mary "one of the best Bloody Mary's in Atlanta"! And we won Atlanta's inaugural Bloody Mary Festival! It's quite popular.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

The above photo is Babs' Country Club Chicken Salad and Sweet Potato Fries. Delish! 
On another visit I enjoyed Babs' featured pressed sandwich, the Sundried Tomato Chicken Salad! That's tossed in their house-made celery and black pepper mayo served with Sweet Potato Fries and curry-sriracha dipping sauce. Also delish!

wanderlust ATLANTA: Where are you from and how long have you been in Atlanta?

Randy: I am from Rye Brook, New York, but was born in Brooklyn. I moved to Atlanta in 1982. I worked on the Pre-Opening and was part of the Opening Committee for the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead/Downtown and then served as Chef Tournant and Garde Manger Chef at the Ritz.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

When Randy says, "Put an egg on it!", he's not kidding. The number of menu items, particularly the brunch menu, that has eggs or an egg is quite remarkable. I love eggs so this is a philosophy I can get behind. There's also an egg tie-in to the name of the restaurant. Keep reading...

wanderlust ATLANTA: What got you into the restaurant business?

Randy: It paid much better than babysitting. (Ha!) Also, when you lock the door, the day is done. Every day is a new adventure, with different folks invited onto the stage to participate in my particular realm of reality.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

wanderlust ATLANTA: What was the catalyst that launched Babs Midtown?

Randy: I wanted an outlet to create "a great place to gather", where food, fun, and fresh were all under one roof. It was also an outlet for my whimsical side. Since my former business of 28 years, The Preferred Caterer, was a full-service events and delivery option, Babs seemed like a natural extension. And I needed a challenge. I needed something that was done at night when you locked the door, and by "night" I mean 2:30pm. We're a breakfast, lunch, and brunch dining destination.
 
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

wanderlust ATLANTA: When did Babs Midtown first open?

Randy: We opened 18 years ago on April 1st. Then I blinked and here we are 18 years later! I enjoy it. I can lock the door, I don't take this home, and it's my own kingdom. We're also the longest operating sole proprietorship in midtown that has not changed location. And our employees are loyal. Some of our staff have been here 15 years.

wanderlust ATLANTAIf the Thrillest-recognized Saki-Mary isn't quite your speed, opt for the delicious, bubbly Blood Orange Mimosa! Randy serves it with "a dollop of decadent reality" in an oversized red wine glass. It will brighten your morning (or cure that hangover) quicker than coffee ever did--it does for me, at least.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

wanderlust ATLANTA: You've had a number of celebrities dine at Babs. Can you drop a few names for us?

Randy: Hmmm…everyone is a celebrity when they're at Babs! A few names you'll know though include Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Queen Latifah, Ana Ortiz, Judge David Nahmais, Tony Gonzalez and his wife January, and Martha Stewart who was a lot of fun. And of course my regulars are a real treat...it's very Cheers-esque sometimes.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

Dessert! There are always fresh, delicious desserts on the menu at Babs, but my favorite is the Banana Coconut Crème Layer Cake frosted with white coconut frosting and served in a give-me-a-straw pool of organic Israeli Date Syrup.

wanderlust ATLANTA: What's something that you'd like people to know about Babs Midtown that they won't know until they experience it?

Randy: Although we're in the heart of Midtown, I didn't want to be a gays-only restaurant. We have a great mix of everyone! This restaurant is a safe haven for people. A few examples... (1) People are very comfortable being themselves here. (2) People have come out to their parents here--again, it's a really safe environment. (3) And we're such a unique experience that the owner of Last Resort Grill in Athens, Georgia, said that when Babs closes it'll be the end of an era.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

Randy: We've tried to do our part during the pandemic. I've made it a practice not to charge seniors on a fixed income more than $12 for a meal. During the pandemic, I've told them the register is broken...we've comped $5,000-$7,000 during this time. The blind enjoy dining here because they know I won't coddle them. Older people feel secure here. It makes a difference, too! We've had reports made and the results show that we're doing it right. Our customer retention rate is 78%, more than 70% of our customers drive here, and the average guests visits 3 times per month. 

Our menu changes every day now, and I put it up on Facebook. Surprisingly, 30% of our sales comes from frozen food. When they said, "Pivot or perish", we pivoted! We did not take federal loans we laid no one off of work, and we didn't cut off anyone's benefits. I'm proud that we've taken care of our staff and they in turn cheerfully take care of our guests. 

We’re more than Brunch…we’re a destination. As I tell our employees, you can go anywhere to get a meal. Give them a show and as many talking points as you can, which our art, snowglobes, and salt and pepper shakers all do. But the bottom line is good food that is locally sourced and delish, and staying true and being authentic to my values and standards.

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

wanderlust ATLANTA: I originally thought the restaurant was named for Barbara Streisand. She's a gay icon and Midtown is the gay mecca of the South. But it wasn't named for Streisand. So, Randy, how did Babs Midtown get its name?

Randy: If you know the John Waters movie Pink Flamingos (1972), starring Divine as Babs Johnson, and you see all the Divine memorabilia around the restaurant, it becomes obvious that it's named for Babs Johnson, who coincidentally discussed eggs quite a lot in the film. Among the décor here at the restaurant is a framed original Odorama card, from the film Polyester, the first of its kind to be used in cinemas! Speaking of the décor, it may not look like it at first glance, but much of it is strategically placed to create conversations, and our guests do converse!

Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"
Babs Midtown - "A Great Place to Gather"

wanderlust ATLANTA: What do you like most about owning a restaurant?

Randy: I enjoy the ability to adapt, the vision to create, and the reality of getting to embrace my concept of what food is and should be. I feel respected, not toyed with and not overworked. We are also part of the fabric of the neighborhood. I gambled when I chose this locale but I knew in my heart that this area was going to be the heart of Midtown. I know I'm fortunate...I get to be me every day!

VIDEO: Have a listen at what other Babs Midtown customers have to say about their experience...

A Great Place to Gather from Joshua Allan Howard

wanderlust ATLANTA: What do you do for fun?

Randy: I collect graters from all time periods. Of course I enjoy food. I like to read, the theatre, and traveling. Have a look at the decor in the restaurant and you'll see more of what I like. A personal favorite is a photo of movie director John Waters wearing a Babs t-shirt!

wanderlust ATLANTA: Please share with us a little about The Tzedkah Project.

RandyThe Tzedakah Project is a nonprofit, a fully accredited 501(c)3, that seeks to help others through financial and personal support. We launched it on my birthday during the pandemic, April 2020. We're currently focusing on people affected by the pandemic and when that's past us, we'll revaluate how we'll operate going forward. The Tzedakah Project works with community groups that strive to improve the lives of individuals who are looking for a hand up, rather than a hand out.

wanderlust ATLANTA: This interview barely scratches the surface of who Randy is and the depth of kindness in his heart. I hope we'll be friends for a very long time. In the meantime, Babs Midtown, an 18-year-strong dining destination, is indeed "a great place to gather."

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