Iconic Southwest Atlanta restaurant adds James Beard award to long list of accomplishments

ATLANTA — If you are looking for the famous Busy Bee Café as you drive west on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, just past the Atlanta University Center, you easily could miss it.

The iconic restaurant sits in a small, strip shopping plaza by the road and is much smaller than you would think for a place so revered. However, if you go looking for a crowd lined up to get in, the Busy Bee is hard to miss.

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The Busy Bee has been Atlanta’s “Soul Food” restaurant since 1947. Over its rich history, the restaurant has hosted a “who’s who” of the Civil Rights Movement.

Owner Tracy Gates said Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could be found at the “Bee” on a regular basis. Most of King’s peers and friends could often be found at a table too.

Gates told Channel 2′s Berndt Petersen just looking at the photos on the restaurant’s walls still gives her the chills.

“All of them who were alive when I first got here have eaten here,” Gates said. “For Joseph Lowery, it was every Tuesday. Reverend Hosea Williams, every Thursday. Andrew Young it was for turkey wings in the back booth.”


Petersen visited the cafe shortly after it was named a James Beard award winner as one of America’s “Classic Restaurants”. Gates told him she was shocked to find out the restaurant earned the prestigious award.

“Did we actually win? Did we really win?” Gates asked. “I think I was more in shock. They were excited!”

“To hear that, it’s like your swan song! This validates it. What we’ve worked to do for so long has paid off,” Gates said.

Tracy is as proud as she can be. She wishes the original owner, Lucy Jackson, was around to see it.

“She was here during segregation. So I think she’d be blown out of the water. So excited and so happy!” Gates said.

For the regulars at this Atlanta institution, the award won’t change much. They’d come no matter what. Petersen asked diner Preston Steward about eating lunch at one of his favorite food spots.

“If you can’t get your mothers cooking, this is the next best thing to it,” Steward said. “Today I have turkey wings and dressing. Double order of collard greens, pinto beans, and mac and cheese. Sweet potato pie, and peach cobbler. Now, both of those desserts aren’t for me. Though I may end up eating both of them!”

Malaika Adero has been eating at the Bee since the 1970s. “It’s an Atlanta institution and a national food destination. It’s great,” Adero said. “The fried chicken is excellent as everybody knows.”

Petersen also met Vohne Yao, who was eating at the iconic location for the first time. The food spot was near the top of his list of things to do in Atlanta.

“We’re new to Atlanta. We’re from the Philippines,” Yao said. “It’s just our second day here.”

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Gates said she’s just proud to be a part of the growing number of African-American chefs and restaurants getting the recognition they’ve always deserved. She’s proud to have taken the business that Jackson started 75 years ago, struggled to survive through the era of segregation and become famous not only for its food, but for its place in history.

“Reflecting on the struggles and what they made possible for me, it’s an awesome experience to stand here in what they envisioned for us as a people,” Gates said.