The Atlanta restaurant scene was not a big one in the sixties. Mary Mac’s was one of a handful of restaurants in the city. Most people were still eating at home or at their clubs(for the Buckhead and Ansley Park set.) But the 70’s certainly changed that.
Mother started to notice the pick up in business and expanded to the next store front in her building on Ponce de Leon. With that expansion, it gave the dining room 60 more seats.
Then in 1972, Mother’s landlord called and offered to sell her the building. Thrilled with the possibility, she approached a local banker and daily customer for a loan. Imagine her reaction when he rejected her request because she was a woman! Not to be daunted by his refusal, she tried another banker and customer and received the same response.
With that, she approached her two sisters, Sara Spano and Merle Lott for a loan. Aunt Sara had inherited some money from a cousin and Aunt Merle had invested wisely in real estate and stocks. I can remember Mom making the drive to Columbus to pick up the check from Aunt Sara and thanking her for her support.
The 70’s also brought a whole new energy and customer base to Mary Mac’s. Because Atlanta and it’s leadership had handled the issues of the Civil Rights movement with such dignity and respect(remember that Atlanta had no race riots unlike other southern cities) and were forward thinking on transportation issues, Atlanta appeared to be open to new possibilities and new kinds of residents.
Midtown Atlanta, where Mary Mac’s is located, became the hang out area for the hippie movement. Peachtree and 10th was filled with kids from all over the south who left their small southern towns to move to the “groovy” big city. Store fronts that had become vacant due to the move to suburbia became filled with head shops, poster stores and the like.
I fondly remember a fringe vest and pocket book that Dad and Mom had made for me by one of the regular customers.
Yet though they had left small town mentality for big city openness, they still craved the soul food they had eaten all their lives.
And unlike several other restaurants that did not want “those weirdos” in their establishments, Mother welcomed them into her dining room as she did Atlanta’s growing homosexual population. Like the hippies, young homosexuals from all over the south were moving to Midtown Atlanta to explore the acceptance of alternative lifestyles that was prohibited in their small town.Like their hippie neighbors though, they too craved a taste of the south which Mother was happy to supply.
Mary Mac’s had to have been quite the sight with such an array of clientèle. Office workers, business executives, drag queens, psychedelic hippies and more.
What a potpourri!
And it all worked because Mother and Dad truly welcomed all that came through the door. Their tolerance for people from all walks of life created such a vibrant energy in that restaurant. There were no pretenses, no judgements. It was all about creating a place for people to have good food with good company. And, I feel they succeeded beautifully with that plan.