Restaurant icon, owner of Buckhead's R. Thomas Grille, dies

ATLANTA — A fixture on the Atlanta dining scene has died.

Richard Thomas, who opened the health food eatery R. Thomas Deluxe Grill at 1812 Peachtree St. in Buckhead in 1985, died Wednesday, according to What Now Atlanta, which confirmed the death with his family.

Before opening the restaurant, he served as president of operations at Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, was also a founder of a Charlotte restaurant that eventually became the Bojangles’ Famous Chicken & Biscuits chain.

In addition to its menu of healthy items, which was before its time in Atlanta, R. Thomas is also known for being open 24 hours and for its colorful collection of parrots, flowers and plants outside the restaurant. The restaurant marked Thomas’ 350th venture in the restaurant industry when it opened.

After years working in the fast food industry, he said in a 1985 interview with the AJC that he “just didn’t want to do anymore fast food.”

“In my search for improved physical health, I found a parallel between what we have done to the outer environment and what is happening to our health,” he said in a 1998 interview. “I started reflecting on my career, and it dawned on me how dangerous I had been to the public (in my work), serving all the fatty foods I had been selling. I wanted to clean up my act.”

After getting out of the industry, he “spent a year and a half traveling around the country looking for some ideas and (R. Thomas) is what I came up with.”

Thomas, who himself was a trained chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of San Francisco, left most of the operation of the business to his children and grandchildren.

“I’ve been in the food business all my life, ” Thomas said in 1998. “But I’ve never had people come up and thank me for the style of food we are doing, like they do now. It’s rewarding.”

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