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How a Forsyth County couple transformed this longtime sports bar into an 'upscale' tapas restaurant
Michele and Bob Kehres bought Local Kitchen & Tap on Old Atlanta Road and turned it into SoFo Modern Cuisine & Cocktails, an 'upscale' tapas restaurant. - photo by Brian Paglia

The corner restaurant at Laurel Springs Village, across from Sharon Elementary School on Old Atlanta Road, had been through one iteration of a sports bar after another. First, it was Beef O’Brady’s. Then it was Halftime Grill. Most recently, it was Local Kitchen & Tap.

Michele and Bob Kehres had had enough. They live down the street, and they knew the area had plenty sports bars; it’s not far from Black Diamond Grill at the intersection of Sharon Road and Peachtree Parkway, and a Taco Mac at Mathis Airport Parkway and Peachtree Parkway.

Aside from a few popular ethnic restaurants nearby, like Thai Basil Kitchen and Indian Flavors, Michele and Bob saw a need for an upscale eatery.

So the couple did something about it. Last March, Michele and Bob bought Local Kitchen & Tap and shut it down in July. In its place, they opened SoFo Modern Cuisine & Cocktails, at 3590 Old Atlanta Road, Ste. 209, last month.

“We need a nice restaurant,” Michele said. “Not fine dining, but a nice restaurant.”

The Kehres didn’t go into the project with much restaurant experience. Bob started and managed Double’s Pizza for a few years (it’s still there today), but otherwise, he’s been a CFO or controller for the last two decades. Michele worked for IHG Hotels & Resorts, one of the world’s leading hotel companies, in accounting for 25 years.

But they love dining, and they leaned on Michele’s taste in food and restaurant environment to bring SoFo to life.

“I just kind of thought of what I like when I go down into Atlanta and what I think is fun and trendy,” Michele said, “and what I think isn’t around here is a tapas bar.”

They settled on the tapas approach to make the restaurant appealing to groups. Some of their specialty items are crab cakes; shrimp and grits; fried Brussel sprouts with a Thai chili sauce; meatballs made with beef, Italian sausage, veal and four kinds of cheese; and fried green tomatoes.

The menu also has some adventurous options, like the deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with Frosted Flakes cereal, as well as health-conscious items like the Green Goddess Brown Rice Bowl.

Yes, SoFo still serves a few sports bar staples, like hamburgers and wings, but even those Michele and Bob wanted to elevate, they said, under the direction of executive chef Tyrique Neal.

Their biggest challenge was reimagining the atmosphere of the restaurant. Little had changed over 17 years of sports bars in the space. The rock-themed décor, the carpet floors, the dated bathrooms, the corner bar had survived every iteration.

Michele and Bob Kehres transformed have of the old Local Kitchen & Tap restaurant on Old Atlanta Road into an 'upscale' linen-service dining area. - photo by Brian Paglia
Michele and Bob Kehres took the old corner bar at Local Kitchen & Tap and extended it across the restaurant's space and clustered flatscreen TVs above. - photo by Brian Paglia

Michele and Bob pulled out the carpet, redid the ceilings, took out low walls, remodeled bathrooms and divided the space into two parts: the bar and a linen-service dining area. The rock décor was replaced with reclaimed wood and infused the space with soft blue colors.

Out went the refreshment stand and the arcade room. The refreshment stand became another place for seating in the bar area, while Michele and Bob plan to turn the arcade room into a wine room.

And they took that corner bar and extended it across the space, grouped flatscreen TVs above and put Theresa Loudon in charge, formerly of Stack Kitchen in Johns Creek.

“It’s pleasant,” Bob said. “It’s not a dive. It’s bright and cheery, and if you want to watch a sporting event you can.”

The renovation took six months. SoFo had a soft opening in mid-January and is planning for a grand opening sometime this month.

Michele and Bob hope SoFo appeals to residents in nearby mega-subdivisions like Aberdeen, Grand Cascades and Laurel Springs. They’d like SoFo to become a meaningful part of the community, too; they plan to support Lambert High School athletic teams and other school programs (the Kehres’ two kids both attend Lambert).

Those are Kehres’ neighbors, after all, and they want to give them a restaurant experience they can enjoy right down the street.