We go into the mind of Aaron Mattison, the operator behind Bar Vegan, now giving ATL even more to enjoy with the additions of Excuse My French and the James Room.
You started your career on Wall Street. How did your interest in being a restaurateur begin?
It may seem like an unlikely or strange beginning, and in many ways it was. However, throughout my time on Wall Street and in consulting, I was exposed to some of the very best hospitality the world has to offer. From dining to hotels to events, I was always incredibly fascinated by how spaces and experiences are intricately crafted to evoke emotion and create lasting memories for people. Even going as far back as college, I was naturally interested in hospitality, business and the fusion of the two. This interest began to crystallize in a new way when I returned to Atlanta in 2018. I began to reconnect with friends who have been thriving in hospitality for over a decade. Shortly thereafter came the opportunity of a lifetime to collaborate with and learn from Pinky Cole, and working for and alongside her and her team has been incredibly enriching and inspirational.
How did Slutty Vegan and Bar Vegan materialize?
Slutty Vegan is wholeheartedly the brainchild of Pinky Cole and her steadfast belief that vegan cuisine can be fun, enjoyable and impactful to communities of color. Her story is one of triumph over tribulation and she is absolutely an unstoppable force in the industry. From its avant-garde approach to food and service to its compelling mission, Slutty Vegan is 100% a product of Pinky’s vision and relentless dedication. To that end, Bar Vegan was definitely born of much of this same ethos, with a strong emphasis on location and full-scale sit-down dining and, of course, unique cocktails. The vision of Bar Vegan was to be an atypical, reimagined vegan culinary experience. We wanted every customer to leave understanding our modern take on ‘dinner theater.’
Why do you believe they were both extremely well received?
I believe Slutty Vegan and Bar Vegan have been incredibly well received because, as cliche as it sounds, they were created ‘by the people, for the people.’ Both concepts were formed to intentionally fill gaps in the market. At the end of the day, we created the types of places we wanted to enjoy. They’re centered around memorable experiences and, ultimately, really good vibes.
Have you always been interested in vegan cuisine?
My interest in vegan cuisine is new, and definitely something I was introduced to through Pinky. While I’m personally not a full-time vegan, I do enjoy the ingenuity and artisanship that goes into curating delicious meat-free meals.
You also have a degree in business. Do you believe this has contributed to your effectiveness at executing creative concepts that haven’t been done?
My consulting and finance background has definitely contributed to my effectiveness in executing creative concepts. It is something I leverage daily, not only for operational efficiency, but to make both quantitative and qualitative decisions. Many captains of industry are visionaries, and that way of thinking has definitely rubbed off on me. I find myself asking a lot more questions centered around how something can be done rather than if it is possible. That framing is definitely a byproduct of watching so many prolific leaders create and iterate.
Why launch your concepts in Atlanta?
After attending Morehouse College for undergrad, I always knew I’d return to the city that played such a vital role in shaping me. Atlanta is a city ripe with potential, and the people here are willing to try new things and loyally patronize what they love. There’s such reciprocity and opportunity to both contribute to and receive from the vast network and community that exists here. And it goes without saying that Atlanta influences culture around the world. In my opinion, there’s nowhere better to create.
Why was Excuse My French an important concept to bring to Atlanta?
Excuse My French is such an interesting concept to bring to Atlanta because it is truly a fusion of several ideas combined into a very unique experience. The pop-up bar is housed within Citizen Supply, one of the anchor spaces at Ponce City Market. The goal was to support our neighboring tenant in welcoming patrons back to their store by sparking interest and intrigue. Our focus was on curating a menu that makes the discovery and delight of lesser-known French craft cocktails accessible in a relaxed and familiar environment. Our hope is that Excuse My French can be a pleasant, unexpected detour for casual shoppers and browsers in the space.
“We created the types of places we wanted to enjoy. They’re centered around memorable experiences and, ultimately, really good vibes.” –Aaron Mattison
What sets your establishments apart?
I feel like these establishments are distinguished by a few things, but most important is the people. As acclaimed businessman and restaurateur Danny Meyer said, ‘While I too love sitting in the captain’s chair, my greatest joy comes not from going it alone, but from leading an ensemble. Hospitality is a team sport.’ I am so incredibly proud of the team within and behind each concept. I feel very grateful to learn from and grow with these people every day. When all is said and done, nothing else about a hospitality experience matters if the service isn’t front and center. Our people are by far our greatest asset and what continues to set us apart. They’re the cornerstone of everything we do and our success reflects that.
Anything up next we should be expecting or you want to share?
I’m just incredibly excited about the hospitality landscape in Atlanta right now. It is growing and evolving rapidly and I’m looking forward to witnessing how it all unfolds. As we begin to emerge from a very challenging few years, so many people have their eyes on what we’re doing here as a city. I truly believe that, together, we have an opportunity to create a lasting impact with ripples far wider than we could ever imagine.
Photography by: Patrick Heagney