“I didn’t open a restaurant to be the best,” says Jason Restivo. “I opened a restaurant because this is an opportunity to instill value in our employees. In the restaurant industry, we take care of people all the time. Who’s taking care of us?”
That, in essence, is why Atlantic is so loved. Restivo’s style of leadership is respectful, reciprocal, and takes responsibility.
“I believe that, for this to be what it is, it starts with me,” he muses. “The vision that we’ve cast out of how I treat my staff and I serve my staff is the manner in which I encourage them to serve our guests. If I serve them with respect, talk to them with respect, then our staff will turn around and take care of our guests with respect.”
Restivo’s attention to detail pushes Atlantic to be better every day.
“I miss the mark every day,” admits Restivo. “I don’t know if people see it right away, but I know that if I don’t recognize it and let it root, it’ll show up in about six months and then it’ll be like, ‘Why is everything empty?’ Because we made a mistake and we didn’t move on it.”
Restivo began his restaurant career in 1994 in the dish pit and ending up falling in love with the front of house after realizing he could travel the world without ever leaving the restaurant.
“Now I’ve been in every role that a restaurant has,” he says. “I’ve walked in shoes, so that’s what’s very humbling.”
Because of that experience on both sides of the dining room, Restivo feels comfortable delegating tasks out to his staff instead of taking it all on by himself.
“If I’m standing in the way all the time, then I stop their growth,” he muses. “There’s nothing you do that I can’t undo. I can fix a mistake. We have a line of accountability, but what we don’t have is oppression. No, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you!’ We just learn from it.’
Atlantic is on its twentieth menu change since opening in November 2016. When they first opened up with Chef Lauren Teague, they agreed on the importance of not changing the menu too much.
“It would be dangerous if we changed the menu every day or every week,” says Restivo. “When you look at the food and fast-forward three years, how we evolved the menu is it’s also what’s available? What’s fun? What’s playful? What’s childhood? What’s memories? More or less, we’re inspired by people who are cooking food around the world, because when you look at Savannah, we’re a melting pot of cultures.”
That eclecticism is what made Restivo love the restaurant life, and it’s what keeps Atlantic exciting.
“Every day is exciting,” he says. “Excitement isn’t always positive or negative. It’s just excitement; it’s not dull. God, I think I would close if I ever had a season that was dull.”—Rachael Flora
Runner-up: The Pirate’s House