* Soon owns South Main Kitchen and Butcher and Brew on the corner of S. Main Street (figures) and Milton Avenue, arguably two of the most popular eateries in downtown Alpharetta. South Main: the staple (it’s been open for three years). Butcher and Brew: the new hotspot (it’s been open for five weeks).
* “It’s simple at the end of the day. But constantly changing.”
* "I figured there are three basics: food, service and atmosphere. I’m a stickler about service. About everything, really, but that’s supposedly my forté.”
About this article
This article was originally published in the October/November 2016 issue of The Life-400 North, a publication of the Forsyth County News. To read the entire magazine, click here.
There are two doors. They sit next to each other on the same block, connected by the same circa-1902 building. Only one thing inside them is the same: the man behind them.
When Louis Soon has food in front of him, he tries each bite separately first. Red potato. Snow pea. Buttermilk and charred fennel sauce. Broccolini. Heirloom tomato. Zucchini. Fennel slaw on top.
Salmon. No knife needed, even with the sweet, crispy outer crunch. Then he takes it all in.
“I’m always about food. Like, I’ll eat seven times I day if I have to. I knew that I can’t do what these guys do in the back, but food is definitely my passion. I can do without alcohol. I can’t do without food. I go to restaurants every time and I order the entire menu. My friends are like, ‘Louis, stop it.’ I just simply indulge in the menu. Not to compare, just to enjoy it.”
Soon owns South Main Kitchen and Butcher and Brew on the corner of S. Main Street (figures) and Milton Avenue, arguably two of the most popular eateries in downtown Alpharetta. South Main: the staple (it’s been open for three years). Butcher and Brew: the new hotspot (it’s been open for five weeks).
Many who are so successful in the restaurant industry have some profound story that put them on that path. Like if he had grown up knowing he wanted to become a chef or start a restaurant or was inspired by someone’s food.
“I didn’t fall in love with the food more until I learned the craft and how the people go through it. I see the hard work and dedication and respect … [the chefs] put their hardearned sweat to create their dish. I love food more than anything in the world.”
It was 13 years ago that he decided to go to culinary school over becoming a photographer.
Even now, his practice of exploring a dish by individual ingredient before making sure it satisfies as a whole carries over to his style of running South Main and Butcher and Brew. The South Main menu is what Soon describes as kitchen-inspired. “The whole scene is focused
around the kitchen. It’s all about the food.”
The dishes at their root may be found on any new-American-Southern-comfortstyle menu at a nice night out in Atlanta, from the sweet potato fries that are probably the only item that was on there at the beginning (per the request of Soon’s business partner), to the top-selling Brussel sprouts and the standard proteins: chicken, fish, shrimp, pork, filet mignon, burger.
Where the difference shines is in the details. In each table, each bench, each bar top being reclaimed and handcrafted. No barcodes, Soon boasts proudly. It shows in the simplicity of the rustic bar. Bourbon, local draft beer, wine, but with standout cocktail names like Drunken Monk, Joan Rivers, Death Avenue Cowboy, and, of course, Smokey and the Bandito.
“It’s simple at the end of the day. But constantly changing.”
The difference comes in the servers who know the menu inside and out — and who listen to your preferences rather than upselling the menu.
“You’re sitting down having dinner with your friends and talking about the dish that you’re eating, [that] is probably what I aspire to. Like that’s my goal. I want four people that I have no idea [who they are], and I’m just sitting there watching them and just talking while they’re eating their food, like, what is this, did you taste that, my god that’s amazing, what is this, my god. When I go out with my friends, that’s what I do. We just sit down and we get after it.”
It comes when you walk out the massive wooden door from South Main, take about 15 steps and open the massive metal door into Butcher and Brew.
On the surface, it is a 360-change from South Main. Full-service bar with loud music and TVs playing sports. A simple menu. Boxes on the table containing silverware and paper napkins. Wood and rusticity nixed for metal and modernity.
But the mantra remains the same.
“When I opened South Main, I always knew I wanted this place … I had no idea at the time what I wanted to do, but I wanted to do something completely different. I figured there are three basics: food, service and atmosphere. I’m a stickler about service. About everything, really, but that’s supposedly my forté.”
Soon likes to take care of people.
You’re not going to go to either of his restaurants and feel like the next profit he’s making, the next tip for the server.
“This is my house; I want to make sure they have the best time of their life. Whether that’s ordering multiple drinks at the bar or getting food or one beer or just [the complimentary] popcorn and water. And then hopefully they come back. And then hopefully they tell their friends. And then they tell their friends and their friends. And then I have a full restaurant on a Friday night.”
On the other side of the Alpharetta City Hall, there are the beginning steps of a brand new mixed-use development. Restaurants. Offices. Retail.
Soon isn’t worried.
If he does his job well, the newcomers won’t be as much competition as a welcome addition to the revitalization of downtown.
“As long as my caliber of food and service and ambiance is up to par, yes, bring on more restaurants. Because eventually I think Alpharetta will become a destination.”
Soon is two doors ahead of the game, and he seems to be playing it well.
“Worry about one person at a time. Take care of them. Make sure they have a good time. Then go to the next person, and focus on them. Then you set the pace. Look at them directly in front of their face, and then tell them, ‘What do you like? What can I get for you?’”
TOP 3 TAKE 3: DOWNTOWN ALPHARETTA
* A hors d’oeuvre tour checklist to maximize your time, wallet and appetite. *
HOP ALLEY BREW PUB
25 S. Main St.
1. Beer flight. Choose a sample of four of Hop Alley’s six house-brewed beers, allowing you to explore the most of the menu without filling up.
2. Bacon in a jar. Quite literally that. Comes with honey and vanilla-whipped peanut butter.
3. Wisconsin cheese curds. Comes with “beer cheese” and Sriracha ranch sauces.
* Pro tip: Try the bacon with every sauce.
CRUST PASTA & PIZZERIA
131 S. Main St.
1. Martini Classico. A tweak to the traditional martini, olives are skewered between, not stuffed with, mozzarella balls.
2. Piccolo caprese. Comes with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil shreds and olive oil and balsamic glaze on top of toast.
3. Garlic knots. Handmade knots come with garlic butter and marinara sauce. A top-seller.
* Pro tip: Go for a game. There are plenty of TVs to make a family night possible.
BUTCHER AND BREW
3 S. Main St.
1. Ice cream sandwich. A hand-sized peanut butter cookie on either side of porter ice cream. It’s really, really good.
2. Snack. Seasoned popcorn is served complimentary and is a great side while perusing the menu (the cocktail list has names like The Don Draper, The Ginger Midget, Revenge Served Cold and even adult milkshakes).
3. Belly up. The point of this venue is community, openness and simplicity.
* Pro tip: If you can’t decide or need suggestions, ask. The servers know their stuff.