Several months ago, Atlanta magazine bet on three newcomers. One was Atlanta native Leslie Cohen’s Firepit Pizza Tavern on Memorial Drive. Part of the Larkin on Memorial development, the space has equal entrances from both sides and sputnik-style lighting that contrasts with the white brick walls. Front and center is Cohen, who cut her hospitality teeth at the Lenox Road Roasters prior to taking this entrepreneurial leap.
In the Oct. 5 article, Mara Shalhoup pointed to the extreme pizza competition in the neighborhood, but the others don’t have Cohen, who won “Cutthroat Kitchen” on the Food Network. The tavern is mellow, with a cross-section of families and a general ribbon slice of what Atlanta looks like.
The staff was upbeat without being too busy, and Cohen breezed by tables to make sure everyone was happy. This is an important sign of a good hospitality manager. The menu is not overly sophisticated, headed by 26 types of beer with names such as Emergency Drinking Beer and Scofflaw Hooligan.
“Roasters definitely prepared me for ownership. It takes lots of training to build a business from the ground up, and experience is critical to becoming successful,” Cohen said.
Jaffe: Atlanta magazine described Firepit as Detroit-style pizza and you objected. What’s your description?
Cohen: I wanted to bring something different to the Atlanta food scene, so our pizzas are not like any other style. They have medium crust, topped with three cheeses (mozzarella, provolone and sharp cheddar) giving it loads of flavor.
We make the sauce in-house. The honey pizza is our signature. The flavors compliment each other. The caramelized onions are also sweet.
Pizza has a lot of components and every one must be perfect. We hand-toss our dough to create a nice, round crust that is crispy on the outside, but chewy on the inside. We use high-end ingredients and bake it in an authentic brick oven.
Jaffe: Why did you select Grant Park?
Cohen: This location means a lot to me. The building is unique with a lot of the original construction still visible. Everything about the Larkin on Memorial being a family-friendly neighborhood establishment fit right in with my concept. It took about three years to complete after I found the location. It was worth the wait and gave me time to prepare.
Jaffe: What type of customers do you see?
Cohen: We have a mixed crowd of business professionals during the day, families and young adults at night. The beauty of Firepit is we offer an atmosphere for any occasion. Even though we are family-friendly, you can come in for a business meeting; travelers enjoy sitting at the bar; we are great for special occasions and cozy for a date night.
Jaffe: Where did you get the food “bug”?
Cohen: My family always had a love for food. We used dinner time to connect with each other. My dad was our home chef. My parents, Lynn and Steve Cohen, have been very supportive.
Jaffe: What was it like winning a competition on the Food Channel?
Cohen: The show aired in 2015. It was an amazing experience. The challenges were difficult, but fun. I had to make three separate dishes: biscuit breakfast, chicken nuggets and a shortbread cookie. I think my Southern cooking skills helped me win. If you want to watch the show: season 8, episode 10!