When Frank Smith opened SOHO in 1997 with his college roommates, he hadn’t considered where his restaurant would be in 20 years.
“Those first few years were tough," he says. "Our goal was to keep the doors open and make the restaurant better each day. Vinings was a quiet sleepy neighborhood back then – compared to today.”
Frank, a New Jersey native with 30-plus years of hospitality experience, moved to Atlanta in 1995 to work at Brooklyn Cafe in Sandy Springs. It was there he met his wife, Susan, from Syracuse, New York, a singer and entertainer with her own strong background in restaurants. The couple married in Italy, bought a home in Vinings and planted roots in the small but growing Atlanta suburb. In 2008 they doubled-down on the community where they lived, worked and played and bought out his partners. The Smiths rebranded SOHO as an “American Bistro,” a nod to their favorite European bistros, focusing on a neighborhood atmosphere, a progressive wine list and a flavorful menu that remained a Vinings go-to spot.
But it wasn’t always so easy. The economic downturn in 2008 was their biggest learning experience as business owners.
“No one knew where the bottom was, especially in our industry," Frank says. When Susan would come home from a shift, and she didn’t tell me the sales for the day, I knew it was bad. But we knew if we could just make it through the great recession, then we would be poised to create a neighborhood establishment for years to come.”
Hard work and perseverance proved them right.
“Our goal every day was to make SOHO the best we could," Frank says. "On a daily basis, we made sure every guest was happy, and they knew that Susan and I were grateful for their support. The Vinings neighborhood has always supported the local businesses; they are loyal, to say the least.”
Reflecting on their 21 years at SOHO, the one element Frank and Susan are most proud of is the people and how SOHO has played a pivotal part in so many lives.
“We have had our share of celebrations that all restaurants have—birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, engagements; but when a guest shares with me that they met their future spouse at the restaurant—and it’s happened often—that’s meaningful. We have been referred to as 'the Cheers of Vinings,' the place people come to connect in good times, and well, not-so-good times."
Frank remembers 9/11 in particular.
“I will never forget the weekend after 9/11; the bar was packed, and people just needed to talk to someone, share stories, to be a part of a community," he says. "To have SOHO be that place for the neighborhood at that time was extraordinary. Hard to believe that it was 17 years ago!”
“I can’t talk about SOHO without recognizing the staff,” Frank says with pride. “Working with so many talented and dedicated people from just every part of the country, every age and walk of life—they all have stories. When SOHO can be a positive influence on their lives and help them navigate through the challenges life hands them daily, being someone who is there to just listen or mentor when we can, that’s an unbelievably rewarding emotion. Yeah, it’s definitely the people—that’s what we treasure the most as we approach our 21st anniversary. The people.”
4300 Paces Ferry Road SE, Atlanta, 770.801.0069, SoHoAtlanta.com