After four successful food concepts and two more in the works, Atlantan Restaurateur Michel Arnette tells all—the journey, the success and the secret sauce behind it all.
Glazed butternut squash, maple butter and toasted seeds from Arnette's Chop Shop
It all started when Michel Arnette was 15 years old working as a busboy and a dishwasher at Shoney’s. The rest, as they say, is history. “I was pretty smitten right away,” says Arnette of the restaurant industry. He spent the next seven years bopping around restaurants and bars, consuming the hospitality world before landing in Atlanta post-college, ready to start his career. Soon, he found himself working for Richard and Mary Lou Dorio at their mom-and-pop restaurant, Chow, in Virginia-Highland. “I just loved the fact that there was this great little neighborhood place where everyone in and around the area loved coming,” recalls Arnette.
Michel Arnette at the upstairs bar at Arnette's Chop Shop
“That spot was the inspiration for my very first restaurant.” And, after a 13-year stint with Buckhead Life Group, it was time for Arnette to venture out and open that restaurant, Haven (@haven_restaurant_), an upscale new American eatery, alongside chef parnet Matt Swickerath. "We celebrated 18 years last month," adds the owner.
The last two decades have been busy for the Brookhaven restaurateur, to say the least. Just a year and a half after Haven’s ubersuccessful opening, Arnette and team debuted Valenza (@valenza_restaurant)—a Venetianstyle Italian trattoria—three doors down from Haven, followed by Vero (@vero_pizzeria), a Neapolitan-style pizzeria sitting directly in the middle of the first two restaurants. “Everything worked perfectly; we were super successful… but at that point, I felt that we had done our part on Dresden Drive,” says Arnette. But he wasn’t done in Brookhaven yet. Not even close.
An assortment of sides and cocktails anchored by a 22-ounce cowboy ribeye.
“One of the things that’s always been important to me is listening to what my guests want,” shares Arnette. “For a number of years I had heard, ‘Brookhaven doesn’t have a steakhouse. Give us a steakhouse. We don’t want to go to Buckhead; we don’t want to go to West Midtown or Inman Park.’” So, Arnette did just that.
A Manhattan, One Way or Another and Boulevardier
And in spring 2018, he debuted his namesake steakhouse, Arnette’s Chop Shop (@arnetteschopshop), on Apple Valley Road, at the time just a sleepy, forgotten road. “I kind of looked at it and said, ‘You know what, there’s a neat little industrial park right in the heart of Brookhaven that no one knows about,’” recalls Arnette. “But if you do the right thing, if you provide the right experience, and if you do both consistently, people will follow you. And they did.”
Shrimp cocktail from the Chilled Beginnings menu.
Not wanting Arnette's to be a traditional, stodgy men’s club steakhouse, Arnette paid close attention to the chop shop’s design. “I love the idea that this building had a modern, sort of industrial renovation to it, so we decided to take this approach with the interiors,” he says. The result? A sleek, modern space infused with warm, cozy touches throughout its three dining areas, private room and covered outdoor bar-lounge area. Add in a menu designed designed by chef-partner Stephen Herman offering with dishes that are not just attractive to the male customer but that would draw female consumers as well—think smaller cuts of meat, a larger selection of seafood and shellfish, and more—and you've got Arnette's.
Wooden rib cage leads up the stairs to a bar, covered outdoor lounge and moody dining area at Arnette's Chop Shop
The savvy businessman also heads into the new year with some pretty enticing food concepts up his sleeve for the year. “Just as I listened to my guests about wanting a steakhouse in Brookhaven, I’ve also listened to them as they were voicing, ‘Hey, why don’t you bring us a great sushi spot,’” says Arnette. Insert Siren, a fusion offering of raw fish and shellfish incorporated into recipes with worldly influence. “So not only Japanese sushi recipes— you’ll see Mediterranean, Spanish, Mexican, French—a lot of different offerings and ways to present raw fish,” adds Arnette. “Crudos, carpaccio, pokes and sushi, but done not only in a Japanese vein.” But wait, there’s more: “We also add to that a robata grill that gives us even more latitude to grill meats like wagyu beef; lamb; chicken; proteins such as fish, shrimp and scallops; and vegetables, all grilled over a custom robata grill and served on skewers,” he shares.
And as a juxtaposition to your traditional restaurant concept, Arnette’s second new spot of 2022 is a private, members-only club dubbed The Associate. “A lot of our guests have been members of other private clubs, but this is giving them a more modern option—something that feels fresh and new and uber luxurious.” Members of The Associate can expect special private events, exclusive opportunities with live entertainment, and so much more to be announced closer to its spring 2022 opening.
With four restaurants under his belt, two more underway and 140 employees who are every bit a reason for his success—18 years is only the beginning for this restaurateur and team. "I always want to celebrate my business partners, Steve Rayman, chef Herman and chef Swickerath. None of this is possible without their loyalty, creativity, passion and amazing work ethic," shares Arnette. "We have a proven recipe for our success, consistent great food, humble and genuine service and loyal guests. We toss it in our mixing bowl every day and serve it up with grace!"
Photography by: Patrick Heagney