Though the traditional three-year anniversary gift is leather, you cannot eat it, so Jason and Jennifer Restivo planned something tastier for their diners at Atlantic: wine and plenty of it.
If you have already gone to the Midtown-Starland eatery any night this week, you were treated to guest sommelier ‘takeovers’, and from Thursday through Saturday, oenophiles can delight in three more evening events, each of which is a salute in equal parts to Jason Restivo’s extensive background with wine and to the patrons who have made Atlantic a beloved eatery that has been part of the neighborhood fabric since 2016.Get Savannah arts & culture news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and our Dine newsletters
Thursday will actually feature two separate events: a lunchtime pig roast and the evening’s Magnum Madness, in which all wines by the glass will be poured from the burly ten-glass bottles usually reserved for special occasions. No occasion more special than an anniversary, so pop those colossal corks. Though Atlantic never does lunch service, this unique week called for a memorable midday meal. Tank Jackson (Holy City Hogs) will be smoking a pig that will be ready to serve at 11:30 at the restaurant’s Bays, the side patio nicknamed in honor of the building’s filling station roots. The kitchen will bake their play on Wonder Bread to go with house-made coleslaw and potato salad for this pork sandwich picnic-style party. On tap will be local canned beers and, thanks to the work of two Atlantic staffers who are from the same hometown in Alabama, Milo’s Famous Sweet Tea (Bessemer, Ala.).
“The whole idea is to sit outside and eat by the pig itself,” Restivo said of the ‘one-option’ one-off lunch.
That night, the eighteen listed magnums - approximately 180 glasses of wine - include fifteen-year-old Barolos and single-vineyard Napa cabernets and range in flavor profile from champagnes to deep reds.
“We’re going to pour things by the glass that you will normally never see by the glass,” said Restivo. “And when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Friday night will feature higher-end domestic wines chosen by Advance Sommelier Clint Sloan, who previously worked with Sean Brock and created the wine programs at Husk and McCeady’s in Charleston while also being named one of the top sommeliers in the country by Food & Wine (2011). Sloan also hosted a Scarpetta Wine takeover on Wednesday night as part of the week-long birthday party.
On Saturday night, the grand finale wine takeover will be hosted by Master Sommelier Robert Jones of Kysela Pere et Fils (Winchester, Va.), whose friendship, working relationship, and shared love of wine with Restivo dates back to the latter’s time at Garibaldi. Guests will have a chance to drink by the glass from a carefully curated carte while also engaging with Jones in a casual Q&A.
Earlier this week, Atlantic’s anniversary celebration started with raw and fire-roasted Harris Neck Oysters from E.L. McIntosh and Son’s (Darien, GA), and additional seasonal specials will rotate throughout the week, adding to a ‘refreshed’ menu whose favorite dishes are still there.
Renowned American winemaker and Sommelier André Hueston Mack, the first African American to be named “Best Young Sommelier in America,” hosted Monday’s takeover, and Tuesday evening’s event featured winemaker and Savannah resident Jim Foley of Séamus Wines, boutique winery that produces handcrafted wines made from the best Northern California grapes.
With the fall chill in the air, the fire pit sounds like a perfect place to join the Restivos and their oeno-friends to raise a glass - or three - to celebrate what Atlantic has been, is, and will continue to be.
THE COLLECTION OF A JOURNEY
“We saw the potential of what Savannah was for us,” Jason Restivo said about realizing Atlantic, the couple’s first restaurant. “We didn’t see the potential of what Savannah was for Savannah.”
Born in San Luis Obispo, Restivo spent about eight years in Clyo in the late 80s and early 90s when his father got a job at Gulfstream. In 1995, he had a chance to go back to his native California, which was fate because eight years later, he met Jennifer while both were working at The Inn at Spanish Bay, a Pebble Beach Resort.
The couple married in 2006, and that summer, they moved to Savannah. Jennifer, who is originally from Minneapolis, saw the price of Hostess City real estate during a 2005 visit to see Jason’s father and said, “We’re moving here.”
They bought a house on 37th Street, sight unseen on the internet. “That’s a good dollar for us,” Restivo recalled with a laugh. “We did alright.”
“For us, we could take our time, start a family,” he said, adding that at that time Jennifer was reading books about how to get out of the rat race. In the next few years, they bought another place on 37th and some land and established themselves in Savannah’s flourishing hospitality field.
Jason’s first restaurant job was in 1994, and though he reached a point when he could have transferred to Cal Poly to pursue an engineering degree, he decided to keep busing tables because he knew that something singular was there for him. His father tried to tell him that he could buss tables and go to college at the same time, but Restivo chose Door #2.
“I was more intrigued about what could happen tableside,” he said and added that Carmel, a destination for both American and international travelers, exposed him to folks from all over the world. He was fascinated by who they were and what had brought them to such places - and that was all happening in a dinner service, in an hour and a half on one’s experience. “That’s why I chose this. This is all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s not all that I will do, but I definitely love what I do,” said Restivo resolutely.
Having worked in a prime California market, he felt good about his table presence and mechanics as a server, but a three-year stint at Palmetto Bluff afforded him the tutelage of colleagues on the nuances of fine-but-casual quiet service so beloved - and even expected - in Coastal Empire restaurants.
Atlantic is the first owned-and-opened establishment for the Restivos, and Jason was quick to recognize mentors and friends he worked under in the years that led to up to Atlantic’s inception, namely those at The Pink House and Garibaldi.
“I’ve learned so much from every dining room I’ve ever worked in,” he explained, “but the last six years working the Balishes really mentally prepared me to go into ownership.”
“I really learned about the importance of smart business and maintaining culture.”
Hired as a maître’d, Restivo moved up the front of house ranks and served as general manager in his final two years at Garibaldi, during which time he was part of revamping and redefining a progressive wine program. “There is a system from every single restaurant I ever worked in that’s in place in this restaurant,” he said proudly, admitting that Atlantic is essentially an amalgam of his two-plus decades of culinary and fine dining experience. “It is a collection of my journey.”
Since it opened, Atlantic has never had the appearance or the ambience of a place that was a ‘first go’. Every touch of its layout, design, and decor says that this an offshoot of a casual-chic brand started in Charleston or the fourth restaurant from a successful local restaurateur.
“We work really hard to create something,” Restivo said. “I wanted to create an atmosphere where people can forget about their reality and hang out with us.”
Without discounting the fantastic food or delightful drink, he maintained that the true reason folks come to Atlantic is that they have heard that they will be taken care of. Restivo said that he has recently been watching "Cheers" reruns and referred to the nostalgia of a place where someone does know your name and the feeling that you have when you are in that place.
“We’ll always have new food, we’ll always have cutting edge wine lists and beverage program,” he said assuredly, “but we are in the middle of three very dynamic neighborhoods, and so because of that, we have the responsibility of being who we need to be for our neighbors.”
As he put is, a place “that’s always reliable, constant, fun, and innovating.”
Restivo called their nearly 900 days of serving food and drink to the community a “wild ride” and said that he is “always grateful.”
“I never take out dining room for granted, never take our service for granted, never take out food for granted. I care about serving people. It’s all I ever want to do, and I’m dynamic because of every employee who works here and what they bring to the table.”
This owner-operator could not be prouder of his team. Six employees have been with the Restivos since Day One, five more have worked at Atlantic for more than a year and a half, another ten over a year, and a handful are in their first year, which Restivo cites as a reason for their strong service: a staff synergy that he likened to kids who play on the same Little League team year after year and keep getting better.
From January of 2018 to about two months ago, Restivo was in the kitchen himself, which was never part of "The Dream," but he said, “To keep The Dream alive, I had to do what I had to do,” during which time they “went and created what Atlantic needed going forward.”
Newly toqued chef de cuisine Steffan Rost has helmed Atlantic’s kitchen for about eight months now, and sous chef Juan Stevenson returned to Savannah and to the Restivos’ fold after gaining incredible experience in Atlanta. “I think we will always be excited for being that neighborhood eatery,” Restivo humbly said.
“This whole area of Starland, I truly believe it will be Savannah’s ‘uptown’ - where you have downtown, this is the ‘uptown’ with places to eat and drink and also places for craft and shops and healthier sidewalks. This is the place where locals can still be a part of that downtown buzz but in neighborhoods that they all walk to,” he predicted, sounding a little like an update of the Cheers opening credits lyrics.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Restivo credited his wife entirely: a great restaurateur and a smart husband.
“My wife’s very talented and gifted, and her gut will tell her ‘when’ and ‘why’, so here we are,” he said, saying that Jennifer is always right. She also waited tables post-high school and college and was a cocktail server at The Inn at Spanish Bay when the pair first met.
On their time off during those Monterey days, they had no bills, no mortgages, no children, and no non-work responsibilities, so they took the dog for a hike on the beach between sharing a bottle of champagne and some pâté. “We have experienced enough fine dining and fine-atmosphere restaurants to know that we both are on the same page,” Restivo said of their collaborative bond.
Ida Rush George financially “made Atlantic happen” for the Restivos and had a hand in the restaurant’s design. In another episode of food fate, Jason Restivo met George while waiting tables at Palmetto Bluff and said, “The reason why we’re partners is because there’s just enough signs in our pasts that said that we should be together.”
What the trio created in a 1930s filling station at the corner of Victory Drive and Drayton Street is, without question, singular in Savannah. Atlantic’s ‘competition’ is not local as much as it is great neighborhood restaurants across the nation. In kind, like so many of Savannah’s best restaurateurs and chefs, Restivo agreed that their place is not in direct competition with the best of the best.
“Our diners still go to The Grey and Green Truck and Zunzi’s,” he happily acknowledged. “The people go where they are comfortable.”
“When one wins, we all win,” Restivo said of Savannah’s largely symbiotic food trade. “We are becoming a very very important destination location in the southeast, and at the end of the day, we all want to work to get out of the shadows of New Orleans and Charleston. We are Savannah.”
He expressed admiration for Johno Morisano (The Grey) and Anthony Debreceny (The Collins Quarter, The Deck, The Fitzroy) and how they have taken their passions for the trade and put it back into the local community. John and Sharon Massey and their Tacos for a Cause at Bull Street Taco inspired the Restivos to do something similar with Wine Wednesdays, when $5 from every glass of rosé sold directly benefits a chosen charity. Restivo also credited Savannah’s landmark restaurant titans for creating the opportunity for restaurants like Atlantic even to have a chance.
“If it wasn’t for the Pink House doing what they do,” he said, citing its serving some 700 guests seven nights a week for two decades, “none of the rest of us would be here.”
“It’s all about the process,” he said with the confidence of a man who owns a beloved restaurant, “and if you focus on the process, then the outcomes are always going to be generally the best.”
Raise a glass and be upstanding, Savannah, and be glad that Jason and Jennifer Restivo opened their intimate and laid-back eatery in our little corner of the world.