The General Muir prepares to set sail at Emory Point, with school ties

By Kimber Williams | Emory Point | Jan. 30, 2013

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The Jewish deli from the owners of the popular West Egg Cafe is a sentimental nod to both family and community. Emory Photo/Video.

UPDATE: As of Wednesday, Jan. 30, General Muir is now open for breakfast and lunch. Dinner service begins on Monday, Feb. 4.

The sound of a restaurant being born is a pleasant din — the collision of creative energy and power tools, as a mere idea transforms into the warm invitation of a real space.

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson, co-owner of General Muir. Photo by Kimber Williams.

Sitting amid the sleek new architecture of The General Muir, among a wave of restaurants and retail shops now opening at Emory Point, co-owner Ben Johnson appears content with the happy chaos — a serene captain of a ship about to set sail.

It's a bold move and unexpected direction for Johnson and his wife, Jennifer, who own and operate Atlanta's enormously popular West Egg Café, and their new partners, Chef Todd Ginsberg, recently of Bocado, and West Egg General Manager Shelley Sweet.

For months, the soon-to-open venture has been ranked among Atlanta's top new restaurants to watch, kindling a buzz among foodies all over town: Could culinary lightning possibly strike twice?

Early in Emory Point's planning stages, Cousins Properties, Inc., the firm that built and operates the complex, had approached the Johnsons about opening a second West Egg Café to offer a breakfast option within the retail and residential development on Clifton Road.

That would have been the easy and practical choice — but frankly, not a terribly creative one, Johnson acknowledges.

"We wanted to go in a different direction," he recalls. "This was a chance to be creative again, to dream up something different and new."

And so they have. In many ways, the new restaurant/deli scheduled to open this month across from Jos. A. Banks is a sentimental nod to both family and community.

Inspired by New York City's traditional — and rapidly disappearing — Jewish delis, the restaurant is named after the World War II-era refugee transport ship that carried Jennifer Johnson's maternal grandparents, both Holocaust survivors, to New York in 1949.

But its location is also a meaningful choice for Johnson's side of the family.

His father, Ben F. Johnson III, is a 1965 Emory graduate and chair of Emory's Board of Trustees — in fact, he met his wife, Ann, on the Emory campus 50 years ago this year.

And the senior Johnson was an enthusiastic supporter of the Emory Point development long before his entrepreneurial son had chosen it as a home base for his latest business venture.

Adds the younger Johnson: "The more we kicked around (the idea of Emory Point), the more we thought this would be a great area. Emory draws students from around the country, many from the Northeast. The University, the CDC, Emory Hospital, residential areas around here — it's a magnet for people from all over."

Deli classics, with a twist

In the nostalgic design of the deli/restaurant, Johnson and his partners have sought to recreate a sense of time and place — a new culinary community with old-world ambiance.

Natural light pours through windows onto sleek subway tiles, yawning marble counter tops, an old-fashioned deli case and dark woodwork. The restaurant will offer a full coffee bar, deli/counter service and a full-service dining room.

For the Johnsons, who travel to New York often, the deli direction was a natural choice. "We've always lamented that you can't get a good New York deli experience down here," he recalls.

The menu — which covers breakfast, lunch and dinner —will serve both homemade deli classics, such as pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver, and hand-rolled, kettle-boiled bagels, and specials with an unexpected twist.

"Our idea is returning to the handcrafted roots of a lot of (deli) food — if we can do it and do it well, we're going to make our own, whether it's bagels or pastrami or whatever the case may be," Johnson says. "We're trying to bring that sensibility to the entire menu."

Johnson believes he has the team to make that happen. Ginsberg, who grew up in New Jersey and New York enjoying classic delis, is said to have yearned to open a deli for much of his career. Pastry chef Lauren Raymond will add to the mix, with cheesecake, black-and-white cookies, buttery rugelach, and bagels.

There have been some definite advantages to having culinary entrepreneurs in the family, says Ben F. Johnson III: "(My son) would ask us over for dinner to test out recipes, making pulled pork over grits and say 'What do you think?' and that would become the 'pig and grits' (entrée) on The West Egg menu."

"I've been very, very pleased with how happy they both seem to be, working together and in the restaurant business," he adds. "It's nice to see your children doing what they enjoy."

As for his son's decision to open a new restaurant in the shadow of Johnson's alma mater?

"I've always viewed (Emory Point) as an exciting project," he says. "The truth is, the Emory community hasn't had much new retail development for decades. The notion of a mixed-use development with 450 residential units has great potential to be both a community and a destination."

The General Muir is scheduled to begin service in late January, among a series of retail shops and restaurants opening on a staggered schedule throughout this spring.

Openings continue at Emory Point

As businesses continue to open at Emory Point, celebrations and special events have been held along the way, such as Emory discount day at Marlow's Tavern or a benefit night to support Emory Friends of Music at Bonefish Grill. Emory students are finding employment at stores like Loft, and many retailers are offering discounts to lure shoppers.

Emory Point was developed by Cousins Properties, Inc., and Gables Residential in a long-term lease agreement with Emory University, which retains ownership of the property. Cousins manages the retail space, while Gables manages the residential component.

The mixed-use development offers about 80,000 square feet in retail space and more than 400 apartments.

Originally posted on Jan. 25, 2013

More Emory Point businesses

• American Threads

• Bonefish Grill

• BurgerFi — coming soon

• Carriage Cleaners

• CVS

•  Fab’rik

•  Fresh To Order (F20)

•  Francesca’s Collections

• Jazmin Spa

• Jos. A. Bank

• La Tagliatella

• Lizard Thicket

• Loft

• Marlow’s Tavern

• Paradise Biryani Pointe — coming soon

• Solar Dimensions

• Strippagio

• Sweet Monkey Frozen Yogurt — coming soon

• Tin Lizzy’s — coming soon

• Which Wich? Superior Sandwiches