Especially The Wonderful Women of the A
I’m obsessed with the South. Always have been. Always will be. Back in the day, I almost moved to Mobile, Alabama (for a relationship of course but thank goodness I came to my senses, to be honest). Before I made the decision to move to Austin, I juggled between the idea of living in Austin versus Nashville. I didn’t know it at the time but the South had been calling my name for a long time. On a whim last year, I bought a ridiculously cheap flight to Atlanta for a random weekend in February, knowing damn well that I had absolutely no connections or friends out there.
But now I’ve made some of the best friends one could have. The Atlanta community took me in during that weekend, opening its arms to a stranger in their midst. When I first arrived, I walked around the Old Fourth Ward drinking coffee, standing in line at Staplehouse all while determined to eat at Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurant of 2016. I sat at their bar and had dinner by myself, chatting up the bartenders, who then sent me to Ticonderga Club down the way. On a busy Friday night, I wriggled my way into a seat at their bar, chatted with bartenders and patrons alike, and immersed myself in this enthralling scene of real Southern hospitality. This was just the first night, y’all.
I went back to T-Club the next night, to chat it up with Sarah Dodge and Julia Schneider (thanks for the intro, Hilary!) In the midst of Super Bowl Sunday madness, we chatted about the industry, why we love food, and Atlanta’s supportive community, all while eating deep fried pickles and foot-long hot dogs. I was totally enamored by these two and how they found their way into food and beverage.
Sarah went to school for psychology, working as a nanny and pre-school teacher, before making her way to grad school. In the midst of her program, she decided to take up a baker job and realized that she found more fulfillment in the industry rather than school. So, she dropped out and took baking to the next level. She’ll be the first to tell you that she didn’t know a thing about baking when she started out but after spending time at local staples, Holeman and Finch and Little Tart, she eventually made her way into the arms of Julia. The two met while Julia was working as the kitchen coordinator of Octane Coffee and have been friends and collaborators ever since.
Julia made her way into the Atlanta food scene after a brief stint in advertising, making the decision to go to the Art Institute of Atlanta for a year. During that time, she started working at Octane Coffee and worked her way into the scene, working on dinner series, supper clubs, and collaborations with Sarah. Their latest endeavor (that I was fortunate enough to taste!) was a breakfast pop-up, full of all the gluten and beautifully put together dishes that one can try to scarf down. (Still can’t stop dreaming about the savory french toast, y’all!)
And then, there’s Myrna Perez of LottaFrutta. I was introduced to Myrna on that fateful Super Bowl Sunday night, by Sarah. Her energy and vigor upon meeting had me hooked and I begged for her time before leaving the next day. “We’re closed on Mondays, mama,” she regretfully responded. I must have had such a look of heartbreak, because she changed her mind right away. My last day in the A was spent eating my way through the LottaFrutta menu, chatting about our shared love of South Texas (hey Valley Girls!), and the love of family that brought about Perez’s LottaFrutta into the Old Fourth Ward.
First off, what are the odds of finding someone else in Atlanta that’s from the same part of Texas?! Seriously. Myrna grew up in McAllen while my formative years were spent in nearby Brownsville. Her Mexican-American upbringing means a lotand you can tell as soon as you walk into LottaFrutta - it’s an homage to her roots. Her grandfather, a fruit chef, was known as “El Frutero”, who would carve intricate sculptures out of fruits. The leftovers would go to her grandmother, who would turn them into paletas (homemade popsicles) and she’d sell them to the kids in the neighborhood. It was what was the most familiar to her and what she didn’t know she needed when she moved to Atlanta in 2004.
LottaFrutta was Perez’s first website project in art school and she never thought it’d turn out to be what it is today. After eleven years at Univision (which took her from Dallas to Atlanta), she bought the building that’s in the Old Fourth Ward today. As soon as you step foot into the space, it’s as welcoming as any other fruiteria from the Valley. The colors are bright, the fruit paintings on the wall are all done by Myrna herself, and the air of the place is beyond welcoming. Old family photos are displayed to pay homage to her upbringing, Mexican candies that I hadn’t seen since leaving Brownsville are on display, and a plethora of fruit cups and Latino delicacies are up for grabs. Pair all of this with her captivating presence and you’ll understand why LottaFrutta is a staple for the food scene in Atlanta.
It was one of the best weekends I’ve had to date and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“We should go to Atlanta and do a pop-up dinner there. I’ve met some pretty amazing women in the food community and we just have to go back.” That was my opening line when I called my good friend Yana Gilbuena up, as soon as I got back from my trip. I spent the next two hours detailing my brief weekend in the city and its impact it had on me. By the end of the conversation, we were determined to get to the A.
We hosted two wonderful pop-up dinners, made all the friends, collaborated with Sarah and Julia, and cemented roots in the scene that has since captivated my heart. Atlanta’s diverse community is strikingly supportive and I wouldn’t have been able to make the connections and friends I have now, had it not been for its people. Thanks to everyone that helped us out back in April. I think of y’all fondly and hope to make my way back to the A soon.