Atlanta’s R. Thomas liberates Atlanta’s late-night munchies

Whether a late night is spent cramming for exams or even celebrating with friends, R. Thomas Deluxe Grill can always be trusted to satisfy all types of spontaneous hunger.

The Atlanta staple opened its doors in 1985 and quite literally, never closed them again. Dubbed R. Thomas after the founder himself, the Buckhead restaurant offers a funky, one-of-a-kind dining experience 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Healthy food with no bed time

Linay Thomas-Sheltra, restaurant heir and daughter of bird enthusiast Richard Thomas, fondly reminisces on the real reason her father made this fundamental business decision.

“It became a 24-hour restaurant when my dad lost the keys to the front door,” Thomas-Sheltra said. “We’ve been in the same spot for 31 years.”

Chill vibes and a unique atmosphere only just begin to describe the reasons why R. Thomas has won the hearts of Atlanta restaurant connoisseurs for over three decades. What really makes this little hole-in-the-wall so cherished by the locals is their trusty health-conscious menu.

No matter what time of day or night, R. Thomas serves up fresh, high-quality ingredients that all Atlanta residents can feel good about eating.

“No doubt, unquestionably, the quality of the food sets our restaurant apart from other restaurants in Atlanta. Our chefs [know] how to cook clean, organically, GMO-free as possible,” Thomas-Sheltra said.

From grass-fed beef and supergrains to organic produce and made-to-order juices—the menu goes on and on, seemingly endless, yet each item is carefully conceptualized with awareness to healthy consumption.

That is how R. Thomas proudly serves their food. There is no need to compromise a routine diet just because it’s 3 a.m. on Saturday and an empty fridge is bantering an empty stomach. In fact, Thomas-Sheltra said that some of the restaurant’s highest volume is actually seen during that specific hour.

“You should see this place on Saturday nights at 3:30 in the morning. It’s hysterical. It’s packed,” Thomas-Sheltra said.

Bringing superfoods to the southeast

At age 87, after a dedicated and fruitful life, the well-respected restaurateur, Richard Thomas, died on Jan. 25, 2017. Though the healthy impression he left on Atlanta will never perish.

“I think [Richard] brought awareness to Atlanta. I think he made people aware of the fact that there is a way to eat clean,” Thomas-Sheltra said.

In a land of Waffle House smothered hash browns and Zesto Chubby Deckers, the Atlanta community was simply unaware of the alternatives.

“Back in 1985, people were not thinking [health consciously] at all,” Thomas-Sheltra said. “[but] it’s the right way to eat. It’s the way God intended for us to eat. I don’t think He meant for us to have hormones and antibiotics and all that stuff in our food. I think it’s why we see so many heart attacks and autoimmune disorders. You can affiliate all of that to the chemicals in our foods.”

Although Thomas didn’t always invoke the concept “you are what you eat.” Prior to a mid-80’s self-revelation, he devoted the earlier half of his life to fast food.

An ambitious businessman, Thomas was the first president of operations for Kentucky Fried Chicken until the company was sold in 1971. He later became co-founder of the North Carolina fried chicken food chain named Bojangles’ with his business partner, Jack Fulk.

When the two fried chicken tycoons agreed to sell out in 1982, Thomas was under the impression he was headed into retirement.

Initially, he used the off-time to travel the country, until his journeys brought him to California. There he discovered a restaurant industry very different from anything he had seen before, especially in the South. It was a healthy food haven that was essentially nonexistent back home.

“After I sold Bojangles’, I didn’t do anything but wander,” Richard Thomas said in an article with The New York Times. “In San Francisco, I saw this little health food restaurant that I liked and I thought, maybe I’ll come back to Atlanta and do a kind of healthy thing.”

A self-made fried chicken millionaire, Thomas felt as if his fortune was made by poisoning the country with trans-fats and fried foods.

“Once I realized how important feeding America correctly was, that was my driving force,” Thomas said.

Thus, retirement was a short-lived thing of the past. He brought the health-haven home to Atlanta and created his own “oasis.” Tropical birds, ornate gardens and unique full patio dining—nestled all on Atlanta’s busy Peachtree Street at Thomas’s little hidden-gem.  

Three decades of family and friends

“We all knew Richard very well … He had each of us take part in how the restaurant is decorated and he got us all to contribute to the atmosphere of the place as a whole,” R. Thomas server Shawn Katz said.

An intermittent staff member since 1996, Katz began as a cook for the restaurant and has dabbled in many different duties since, such as working the kitchen’s Gravity Bar (which offers fresh to order juice options like the “Champ,” with organic carrot, apple, and ginger).

Katz said that whether it be the gardens, the birds or even the painted murals throughout the property—each contributor knows what Thomas would want going forward because they have all worked with him as employees and as family.  

“We have a family ambiance and we are accepting of everyone… I think our employees reflect that as well,” Katz said.

The family bond extends further than just the staff—some of whom have worked there for over 20 consecutive years. R. Thomas is an all-welcoming establishment that makes every Atlantan feel at home. As Thomas himself once said, carnivores and vegetarians are treated equally.

Thomas patron, Bella Wille, said that there was a period of four straight years in which she visited the restaurant almost every single day. It wasn’t the fact that she conveniently lived across the street nor was it the restaurant’s consistency in always providing the very best food and service or her all-time favorite menu item, The Thai Express (stir fried veggies and quinoa with cilantro and peanut sauce).

It was R. Thomas himself. He always lived up to his iconic reputation.

“He was so active in the restaurant and getting to know the community,” Wille said. “Always there to greet customers and build a relationship with the regulars.”

Thomas-Sheltra said that her father spent a lot of hands-on time at the restaurant. He took on many responsibilities and always made guests feel right at home during their visit.

“Richard did a lot of the planting and gardening and hanging out with customers on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings with the birds,” Thomas-Sheltra said.

Thomas’s compassionate character is forever embedded in the restaurant’s philosophy. Whether it be the property’s colorful gardens and décor or Sparkle, the 76-year-old parrot that squawks “hello!” as customers approach the restaurant. Thomas’s welcoming and corky spirit is felt by first timers and regulars alike.

Under his humble guidance, R. Thomas grew into what it is today—a solution to eating out and a friendly health food sanctuary among Atlanta’s high-rises and busy roads.

As Richard Thomas once said, “The miracle of the human body is deeply connected to the planet itself and the food supply that springs from it.”

Confused about the R. Thomas menu?

From breakfast to dinner, no need to be intimidated–here are some of their staple ingredients explained:

  • Quinoa: “The supergrain of the future,” is a gluten alternative that contains all essential amino acids and many antioxidants.
  • Kefir: Many of their made-to-order drinks contain kefir, a fermented milk with wonderful health benefits, such as probiotics that help with digestion.
  • “Range” chicken: Free range farming allows chickens full access to the outdoors, with the ability to roam freely and get exercise. Farmers refrain from giving chickens chemicals such as hormones and antibiotics.
  • Wakame: This “ocean vegetable” is an edible seaweed that promotes a healthy immune system and carries many beneficial vitamins.
  • Fennel: A member of the carrot family and a primary ingredient used in absinthe, fennel is a slightly sweet Mediterranean herb that can help with indigestion. It is also a great source of Vitamin C.

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