Making the rounds with restauranteur Michel Arnette through his fourth Brookhaven dining concept
Even with a heavy downpour on a Wednesday evening, Word Of Mouth Restaurants Group co-founder Michel Arnette still has a houseful to happily tend to in his newest of four dining concepts, Arnette’s Chop Shop nestled off Brookhaven’s Apple Valley Road.
Garbed in a blazer layered with a hoodie, jeans and Italian sneakers, Arnette, 55, is on the main floor, and gives a friendly wave to Executive Chef and Partner Stephen Herman. Chef and his staff are flirting with USDA Prime cuts and preparing fresh shellfish using a blazing hearth in a bustling open kitchen.
“We pride ourselves on offering a new twist to the steakhouse experience,” Arnette says after thanking a group of departing guests passing by. “We custom designed and built a wood-burning hearth to roast our seafood. Chef Stephen has created a menu that encompasses the classics for steakhouse dining, but gives it a fresh twist with seasonal side options, fantastic sandwiches and, yes, fresh seafood.” King crab legs, raw oysters from both coasts, and a crispy lobster BLT are just a few of the mouthwatering items on the extensive menu.
Arnette’s meticulous eye for décor is evident. He proudly shares details about the Shou Sugi Ban charred wood sidings, a large mixed-media painting of a Texas Longhorn skull designed by Atlanta artist Carrie Penley, and hand-blown lighting orbs made by glass sculptor Michael Allison.
Perhaps the most extraordinary attraction inside the 6,000-square-foot venue is not the sculpture of a massive steer’s rib cage enclosing the staircase, though it’s impressive. Arnette motions to ceiling-high square slots adjacent to the hosting booth; about half of them are hosting individual leather pouches. “This is Arnette’s Knife Club library wall,” he says. “We offer members custom knives for use while dining and special member loyalty benefits. We feel so blessed by their love and support.”
The intimate second floor boasts a swanky weathered zinc bar, and a lavishly furnished indoor-outdoor space warmed by firepits, and paintings of Arnette’s favorite rock stars, also by Penley, give way to conversation and bridges generations of people who love music, he says. “Centered on industrial modernism, this level gives guests an opportunity to drink and dine in a sexy and modern den-style environment.”
Finally getting a breather, Arnette orders a Scofflaw Basement IPA recommended by General Manager Scott Spilberg, and then discusses how it all began for him.
A native of Montgomery, Ala., Arnette’s first industry jobs were busing tables and washing dishes at Shoney’s when he was 15 years old. After majoring in engineering at Auburn University, Arnette moved to Atlanta, followed his passion to be a restauranteur, and gained invaluable work experience with both Peasant Restaurants and Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. He spent an “incredible” 12 years with the latter before venturing on his own in November of 2003.
“Brookhaven was a deliberate and easy choice, as my family had lived in Ashford Park since 1998,” Arnette says. “Every day while heading to Buckhead for work. I kept saying Brookhaven needs a great little neighborhood place, so why not here and why not us? After 15 years, we now operate four Brookhaven restaurants with the additions of Valenza, Vero Pizzeria, and now this, Arnette’s Chop Shop.”
So what’s next?
“Our plan is to open a concept called the Royal, a retro Americana diner-meets-roadhouse grill,” Arnette discloses. “It’s design will be influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s style. The cuisine will be a chef-driven culinary expression of diner style comfort food.” He laughs, and then says, “It will be outside of Brookhaven, but only by about 200 feet.”