There is no doubt that Atlanta is a Great American City because of our rich black culture and history. One of the best places that this culture is represented is in food – specifically soul food. Black people in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow era were treated as second class citizens in the South, and among many indignities, often forced to take the “worst” ingredients available – vegetables and animal parts white people didn’t want. But since we know that these racists of the past are idiots and fools, they obviously didn’t see the potential of these ingredients (or the race they subjugated). Black people did – and created an incredible, iconic food culture that’s distinctly American.
Atlanta has a unique place in that history thanks to the Busy Bee Cafe. Opened in 1947 by Lucy Jackson – AKA Miss Lucy – it was a place MLK and other Civil Rights icons loved coming to. MLK was said to enjoy the Ham Hocks, in particular. In the 1970’s, Miss Lucy sold the business to two Auburn Avenue businessmen, but they were not very successful in keeping the menu up to par.
That was when the Gates family bought the restaurant in 1981. Tracey Gates, the daughter of the family, started working and focusing on the restaurant when she came of age, in 1987. She was passionate about getting the menu standards back to what Miss Lucy had established many years before. Tracey has a tremendous respect for her elders and their knowledge of the past. She once said, “I always keep an elder cook on staff who are usually in their 60’s and 70’s because I tend to run into challenges with the products with the way they grow them now.”
What they’re famous for now, however, is their fried chicken. And that recipe came from the Gates family – specifically, Tracey’s grandmother – once again, reflecting her respect for the past. From an interview – “I like to read old cookbooks from the 1800s from African-Americans and reading the history of culture to experiment with how they cooked food back then to now.”
To hear from Gates directly about her respect for tradition and taking over the business, check out this interview with Southern Kitchen and Atlanta journalist Mike Jordan.