There on Fifth's 1/2 Roasted Chicken.
BY ELLIE HENSLEY
Opening a new restaurant is always a gamble. But the owners of Midtown’s There on Fifth are so certain they have a winning concept, they placed their bets on it during a global pandemic.
Bill Brown and Chef Shane Devereux opened There on Fifth inside the former Barrelhouse space in Tech Square last July. The two first tried to partner on a restaurant concept in Midtown more than a decade ago, but each wound up stepping away to pursue other interests. With the opening of their gastropub, the business partnership comes full circle.
We spoke with Brown and Devereux at There on Fifth to learn what it took to open a restaurant in 2020 and get their recommendations for food and cocktails on their menu.
Bill Brown and Chef Shane Devereux, Co-owners at There on Fifth.
“A Real Gastropub”
Brown’s vision with There was to create “a real gastropub.”
“Too many people use the name ‘gastropub,’ but it doesn’t mean anything,” Brown said. “A real gastropub has good cocktails, craft beers and the food is made from scratch and creative.”
Restaurants were a departure from the first several decades of his career, which he spent in financial services. He worked for 19 years on Wall Street in the New York Stock Exchange before working for a mutual fund company as a national sales manager. He lost his job in 2005 on the heels of the financial crisis and moved to the Cayman Islands for a short time, before moving back to metro Atlanta with the idea of opening a restaurant.
In 2011, he opened There Brookhaven.
“I was terrified, because I had sunk about $350,000 of my own money into the place,” he said. “Originally I treated it like a man cave — ‘come on in and let’s party.’ But within six months people were raving about the food. I never looked back.”
Brown, who did get a culinary degree before going into finance, has always tried to fill his kitchens with “chefs, not cooks,” and his menus with locally grown and seasonal ingredients. Devereux said the philosophy behind There is to create a menu with the best products possible and sell it for the lowest cost that they can still turn a profit.
When possible, Devereux and Brown use locally grown produce from their own gardens and farmers markets in their dishes.
“A neighborhood spot is what fits that mold,” Devereux said. “We’re trying to create a spot where people want to come in once a week or more and we have a menu that nobody else has.”
There Brookhaven was so successful that Brown decided to open another location. He had never lost hope of opening a restaurant with Devereux, who still stepped in as There Brookhaven’s guest chef from time to time. But Brookhaven was a “geographically undesirable” location for Devereux, who lives south of the city. In Midtown, they would be meeting in the middle. So when Brown heard that space along Fifth Street was available, he decided to check it out.
“More than a few people from Georgia Tech, the trust and the school, said it would be a perfect fit,” Brown said. “We decided this was the spot.”
A Series of Devastating Events
Although Brown thought the location itself was prime, the restaurant space needed extensive renovations. He had crews knock a wall out to add a patio and large windows to bring in more light.
While going through the opening process, Brown had a brain aneurysm. He was at work in Brookhaven when he had a sudden, severe headache — though he initially resisted being taken to the hospital. He was airlifted to Emory University Hospital and had surgery, remaining in the hospital for 11 days. His recovery put his expansion plans on hold for a bit.
“But once we started going, we were just going through the normal delays in getting permits from the City of Atlanta,” Brown said. “I got in the crossfire of that. It was a drag. Finally we had a built restaurant and we were ready to open.”
And then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. There on Fifth had been scheduled to open on March 24, 2020, and a public health emergency was declared in Georgia on March 14. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued a stay-at-home-order on March 23.
“Nobody saw the pandemic coming,” Brown said. “It was devastating.”
Brown halted his plans to open until July, when it seemed things might be easing. But after a few days of success from being “the new kid on the block,” COVID-19 cases spiked. That prompted a renewed focus on quarantining, and business at the restaurant tanked.
There on Fifth ended up closing for lunch, half a day Sunday and all day Monday until the situation stabilized. Their landlord, Georgia Tech, has helped There survive by reducing its rent throughout the pandemic.
“They have a heart, a mind and a conscience and they have worked with us,” Brown said of Georgia Tech. “We had a meeting and we decided we would give this a shot.”
Meet Us (at) There
Ten months after its opening, Brown is finally seeing more traffic at There on Fifth. He still has not reopened for lunch or on Mondays, which is partially because he is waiting for more daytime workers to return to Midtown and partially because like many restaurant owners, he is currently experiencing a staffing shortage.
Devereux recently made his official return as head chef and co-owner at There on Fifth. You can find him in the kitchen almost every day putting his own spin on Southern classics, as well as dishes he has learned from his travels around the world.
“I came back due to the friendship and the opportunity for us to come back together,” Devereux said. “It just worked out.”
There on Fifth prints new menus every couple of weeks, with a few permanent staples like the Bison Burger and the Smash Burger. Those are can’t-miss menu items, though Devereux hesitates to pick one item to recommend off the menu as everyone’s taste buds are different.
Burgers are a staple on There on Fifth's menu.
“If you love something, eat it,” he said. “For me, if something is on the special card, there’s a reason for it and it’s not because it’s an item we want to move. It’s an item we put a lot of thought into.”
There also has an excellent beverage program, with elevated classics organized by spirits like the Reverse Vesper, El Diablo and Paper Plane. Or, you can Choose Your Own Adventure, which means you have a conversation with the bartender and have them design a drink just for you.
There on Fifth's bartender extraordinaire Thomas Salako mixed up his Midtown Mule for us. Check it out in the video below:
Thirsty? Try this at home.
Want to try your hand at mixology with Midtown flair? Download and create your own There on Fifth cocktail at home using this recipe card!
Midtown businesses like There on Fifth have missed you just as much as you have missed them. When you’re ready to come back, please show your support to Midtown restaurants and their hard-working owners and staffers. From posting a positive Yelp review to posting pics of your meal on social media, there are many ways you can show how you "Love Local." Head over to this page for a list of ideas.