kitsch, preservation and good food

We’d just flown in from a hot and sunny Caribbean island, we’d been floating in saltwater at noon and drinking rum punches, but were plunged into an already dark, cold and VERY windy Atlanta at 6:30 pm. Following our fellow beach-clad passengers off the plane we made a pit stop to layer up, shorts to pants, a cardigan, a fleece, and beachy scarves tucked tight in all the crevasses to keep the wind out. That is really irrelevant to what happened next except to say that it seemed like a good night to try the much-anticipated Sobban. While the rest of Atlanta was huddled at home on this Tuesday night, we’d slip in for some warming vittles before the kitchen closed at 9.

Sobban is the new venture of Heirloom BBQ chefs and owners, a Korean / Southern diner. This would normally have no relevance on this blog here but moments after we walked in the door (we did have to wait a few minutes for a table) I asked where the restroom was (I’d been holding it cause we were in a hungry hurry) and the hostess bubbled up with an apology masked by the enthusiasm of telling us that this was an old Arby’s and so the bathroom was outside on the back of the building.

Sobban, Clairmont Rd, Decatur, GA

Sobban, Clairmont Rd, Decatur, GA

the first Arby's, according to and from papaarbys.com

the first Arby’s, according to and from papaarbys.com

I personally don’t remember Arby’s looking like this, but that’s because this is one of the MOST HISTORIC ARBY’S, c.1969, and close to the 50-year historic mark. From their first franchise in 1965 to 1975, this building was Arbys’ standard, designed by W. C. Riedel. According to one informed commenter here, “the Raffel Brothers (R-Bs, get it?) wanted a building free of chrome and neon that would attract a more discriminating clientele.” So they built in the shape of Conestoga wagon, with rustic stone pillars and a tile floor with images of steers supposed to be drawing the conestoga wagon—there was so much symbolism in these early designs!

As with most fast food structures, it has changed hands many times over the years but escaped demolition. There is a lot of this in Atlanta, famously on Buford Highway, a corridor where a lack of development/demolition has allowed for immigrant entrepreneurism. The Arby’s on Clairmont was, most recently, a pizza joint, then Kitsch’n 155, and now Sobban. I unearthed a blog post by Lee Bey of wbez Chicago about Kitsch’n 155, he chronicles the rehab by the excited owners at that time:
the biggest revelation was finding and restoring an original lighted, curved ceiling hiding above a dropped-ceiling added after Arby’s vacated the building. The find makes all the difference.

In Lee Bey’s photos you can also see the linoleum floor that had replaced the original square-tile mosaic. Back to our excited hostess: they had just pulled up the linoleum and discovered that the original tile floor was still there!

original Arby's floor at Sobban, Decatur

original Arby’s floor at Sobban, Decatur

I would say that despite changes over the years and missing the iconic Arby’s hat sign (long gone) it still retains most of it’s historic integrity.

yes, I just used the words “historic integrity” in relation to a fast food building.

now, how will these mid-century chains fare in National Register nominations? historic districts? will we consider them significant enough to require preservation or will it be left to a passionate few to preserve them in the name of kitsch?

—–
To see more about the history of the remaining Arby’s structures go here.

<http://arbys.com/company-history>Arby’s company history.

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