What if I told you one of the best burgers in Atlanta is meatless?
What if I told you it currently operates out of a ghost kitchen?
And what if I told you it’s currently on track to become a full-fledged holistic lifestyle brand with its very own community of rabid fans?
There are no tricks here…it’s just a good-ass burger, courtesy of Good-As Burgers.
To learn more about this rapidly-growing organization, conquering the world one (plant-based) cuisine at a time, I sat down with owners Cornoy Watkins and Talia Jones, AKA Mr. and Mrs. GAB’s.
I interviewed the soon-to-be-married couple in Forrest Eatery, the ghost kitchen in West Midtown where they’ve been operating since 2020. They’re brimming with confidence, contrasting the sense of controlled chaos as their young company is speedily maturing. While the next few months, weeks, and even days are unpredictable, they’re chipper and nonplussed, cheerily finishing each other’s sentences as they walked me through the origins of Good As Burgers, or GAB’s.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Cornoy had no clue he and his then-girlfriend Talia would be opening a vegan burger restaurant in Atlanta. After all, he was a music producer, having worked with artists ranging from TLC to Lil Wayne, and she was in marketing and PR, also for the music industry.
Cornoy had spent a decade living in Los Angeles, where he was exposed to the Cali style of healthy living, including plant-based diets. This issue is close to his heart, with a family history of ailments like lupus and sickle anemia, so he and Talia wanted to “change the generation” with greater health consciousness. Thus, he decided to go fully plant-based, and got Talia on board as well.
After initially wanting to franchise an LA friend’s burger joint in Atlanta, Cornoy made the call to create his very own restaurant. With the partnership of Talia and her branding expertise, they introduced the world to Good As Burgers, a name you can remember from Talia’s nifty elevator pitch: “as good as any burger you’ll ever try…maybe better…and it’s a good-ass burger.”
For many in the restaurant industry, COVID was a time of crisis and stagnation…for GAB’s, it was one of purpose. Talia elaborates, “The pandemic was a blessing in disguise because it slowed us down.” She had just had their daughter. The music industry had completely shut down. As a result, they were able to devote their full efforts to safely operating their new restaurant in the midst of a largely unknown virus. That’s where the ghost kitchen concept benefitted them greatly: customers could quickly pick up their orders before enjoying them offsite.
As any restaurant owner can attest, it was quite a challenge in the beginning, especially because neither Cornoy nor Talia had prior restaurant experience. “The learning curve was crazy,” Talia remembers, “because we had to learn everything from scratch.”
In a way, opening a restaurant during the pandemic was a handy trial by fire because they had no choice but to pivot and adapt to the emerging trends in the industry, such as going cashless and utilizing social media.
Once the GAB’s corporate operation expanded beyond the founding couple’s bandwidth, it was time to assemble a team. Talia explains, “Cornoy is great at putting the puzzle pieces together.” They promoted largely from within, assembling a mighty roster of prior employees and friends. COO Jevon Kinloch keeps the ship running smoothly and Creative Director Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins is tasked with making sure the world knows the name Good As Burgers. This hiring approach made complete sense to Talia: “The people that work for us love our brand, so that puts it off on the customers to love our brand as well.”
The Good As Burger, and Co.
Now that we’ve met the team, let’s introduce ourselves to that burger.
I asked Cornoy what goes into the perfect meatless burger, and his answer pointed to a few simple yet essential elements: fresh ingredients, balanced seasoning, and that famous GAB’s sauce (think Big Mac Sauce but better). They use Beyond meat because, unlike other meat substitutes, it doesn’t use soy. The burger comes in the OG single-patty size, the Double OG, and the Big As Burger (which is now its own brand under the GAB’s umbrella). When I asked how large the latter burger is, Cornoy simply responded, “It’s huge.”
In this increasingly vegan-friendly culture, you can’t merely aim for a passable plant-based option. Talia reiterates, “We cater to the person that wants to convert [to veganism] or the curious carnivore.” The theory is simple but sound: if a meat-eater likes it, then a non meat-eater will definitely like it.
Outside of the burger, there are myriad menu items that meet GAB’s goal of offering up foods they like, but which are healthier and nary any animal products. One of the biggest fan favorites is the GAB’s Famous Sloppy Joe Sliders: 3 mini sandwiches of ground Beyond meat on a bun and topped with homemade Sloppy Joe sauce and sauteed onions and bell peppers. Cornoy got this recipe from the Sloppy Joes his mom served him as a child, minus the meat. He emphatically adds, “no Manwiches here.” Where else can you get Sloppy Joes, especially ones that are plant-based, and especially ones that are delicious? These are definitely better than the ones from Billy Madison.
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You know you’re in for a treat when a menu has a “Munchies” section. One of these is the Sloppy Joe Cheese Fries: their killer fries (Talia is a self-proclaimed “fry connoisseur”) drowning in Sloppy Joe sauce and covered with vegan mozzarella cheese.
Another star of the Munchies menu is the Strawberry Cheesecake by Nikki, a friend of theirs who has her own proprietary dairy-free cheesecake that they gladly stamp her name on and serve. They already have Beyond Meat Chick’N Tenders on the menu, but they will soon be launching Good As Chicken, a new brand focused on all things chicken, including chicken parmigiana.
I had the pleasure of sampling said chicken parm and it’s unique in flavor and indistinguishably meat-like in texture. Plus, the crunchiness is next level.
If it’s your first time coming, you can’t go wrong with the Sloppy Joe Sliders, but it’s hard to beat the OG Burger. You know that intangible burger-ness? It’s the thing that propels a burger into a category transcending that of any old sandwich. A mix of squishiness, crunchiness, and juiciness. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s the art of simplicity…maybe it’s just a damn good bite. This plant-based burger has that.
Eat Great, Even Late
GAB’s has the unusual operating hours of opening at 3:00 PM and closing at 1:00 AM Tuesday – Thursday, 2:00 AM on Friday & Saturday, and the early bird hour of 11:00 PM on Sunday. Sheesh! No wonder they’re closed on Mondays.
This isn’t merely an idiosyncratic quirk of theirs, though; the majority of their orders come in via delivery from 8:00 PM on. While that may seem counterintuitive, Talia’s explanation makes sense. “Atlanta is the entertainment capital and the entertainment business hours are late night,” she hypothesizes. “From the studios to the clubs to the students staying up late at night studying.”
And if you’re going to enjoy a late-night burger, why not make it a little healthier?
Big Things Coming for GAB’s
In case it isn’t obvious, Good As Burgers has turned out even larger and more successful than Cornoy and Talia had envisioned. “We’ve turned $10,000 into over a million dollars in this one location […] in under two years,” Talia excitedly shares. They’re even having “A Milli Party” (yes, like the Lil Wayne song) to celebrate.
As successful as the ghost kitchen concept has been, Cornoy is fully aware of its limitations. “It’s like you’re in kitchen jail because there’s no windows,” he says with one of those laughs that you can tell hurts a little. It presents a branding challenge to Talia as well. There’s no visible signage or brand personality, so she has to give GAB’s a voice by means of social media and other digital strategies. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” she concludes.
Luckily, they have several reprieves on the horizon.
One of the most logical steps toward a brick-and-mortar spot is a food truck, and soon Good As Burgers will have one of their own. You’ll be able to find them in Summerhill three days a week and then catering in different locations the rest of the week.
There’s one upcoming event in particular that has music-obsessed Cornoy and Talia pumped: catering for the Backstreet Boys. Doesn’t that just warm your heart? Maybe if the boys customize their OG Burger, they’ll say “I want it that way.” (don’t worry, I’m booing myself).
Their other venture will likely have a ridiculous impact on their brand’s popularity by placing them right on ATL’s hottest thoroughfare.
Beltline Market Place
Most regulars of the Beltline have a pretty clear idea of its layout and which bars and restaurants are where, but soon there will be a new lineup of establishments to familiarize yourself with, including GAB’s. This is thanks to the Beltline Market Place initiative, a pilot program offering affordable commercial spaces directly on the Beltline to minority-owned businesses. This program is possible due to the Kendeda Fund, a private grantmaking foundation focused on increasing “equity, vibrancy, resourcefulness, and resilience” in underrepresented communities.
Cornoy and Talia first discovered this opportunity from the Beltline newsletter, which they each read and then excitedly told the other about before applying. Talia recalls, “Within a couple of weeks we got an interview, which we nailed. They loved us.” Only six businesses were given the opportunity, Good As Burgers being the only restaurant.
They will be operating in a decked-out storage container-turned-restaurant, which Cornoy describes as “a food truck without the wheels,” right underneath the Freedom Parkway bridge (next to the skate park). Mayor Andre Dickens even came out for the ribbon cutting of this exciting new initiative to elevate minority-owned businesses.
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Cornoy and Talia are fully appreciative of this remarkable door being opened, yet recognize the daunting challenges that lie ahead. “We’re taking this opportunity as a way to increase our brand awareness,” Talia begins. After a six-month flight, the current plan is to rotate a new batch of businesses into the containers, but Talia has other plans. “We’re gonna kill it and they’re gonna want us to stay there.”
While the logistics of getting the physical containers in place as well as acquiring the proper permitting (the joys of municipal affairs!) are indeed slogging, the potential for GAB’s is sky-high. While they’re presently forced to pull customers in through online advertising and word-of-mouth, they now have the advantage of advertising by means of sheer visibility. Anybody walking on this particular stretch of the Beltline will soon be greeted by the enchanting sights and smells of Good As Burgers.
The Path Ahead for GAB’s
These moves are about more than natural light and better signage. They’re about organic brand visibility and operational expansion suitable for an exploding business. These aren’t one-off maneuvers, however; they’re the first few steps of a much larger growth plan.
The obvious next step is a standalone brick-and-mortar store. After that is national expansion, which they’ve already been approached about by several suitors. They also want to get into franchising, for the ghost kitchen, food truck, and full restaurant concepts. And ten years from now, they’re “selling GAB’s for $10 billion,” Cornoy suggests with a laugh.
They also plan to add more brands to the GAB’s parent company. Talia’s reasoning is simple: “the more brands you have, the more you increase your revenue.” They’re planning to ultimately expand to eight brands. These will include: the aforementioned Good As Chicken, a mac and cheese concept called Good As Mac (Cornoy: “I have the recipe 98% right”), a Mexican joint, and hibachi…all plant-based, all delicious comfort food. “If you have a million things on your menu,” Cornoy explains, “it confuses [customers]. So now we can expand our menu, but just make it different brands.” The fact that most of these menu additions use the same core ingredients is the cherry on top.
One Step at a Time
Before becoming a national brand or retiring to Maui as billionaires, Mr. and Mrs. GAB’s are focusing on what’s right in front of them. “All we know is the ghost kitchen business,” Cornoy explains. “We’ve never done a food truck before so that’s a whole different beast.” On top of that, the Beltline Market Place containers are completely uncharted waters for everybody involved.
Despite the steep uphill climb ahead, the duo remains undaunted. Talia reflects, “I always say it was meant to be. [Cornoy] manifested it and it had to happen.” Not only are they creating a vegan empire, but they’re “also giving the community another option for healthier eating.” It starts and ends with their GABians, the name they’ve given to their raving fans.
In addition to the platform they’re giving the plant-based lifestyle, they’re starting to plan events with an emphasis on music and fitness, so they can continue to serve their community and help them live healthier lives. “It’s a double whammy,” Talia says. “Helping the community and doing well for our family.”
This philosophy is best summed up by their motto…
Be better…eat GAB’s.