More Than a Deli, The General Muir Pays Homage to Food, Family and Fulfillment

The owners of the West Egg recently opened their deli, The General Muir, in Emory Point.

When they opened The General Muir several weeks ago at Emory Point, Jennifer and Ben Johnson wanted to pay tribute to the delicatessen tradition.

The restaurant's menu features the staples of the quintessential New York deli: freshly made-by-hand bagels, lox, deviled eggs, corned beef reuben on rye, latkes, and of course, Dr. Brown's sodas, among other palate pleasers.

It even will offer a special Passover Seder dinner March 25 and 26. (See attached PDF.)

To be sure, it's decidedly a different departure from the Johnsons' other eatery, the West Egg Café on the city's west side.

But Jennifer Johnson, who, along with her husband, co-owns The General Muir with Shelley Sweet and Chef Todd Ginsberg, didn't just want to open a deli.

The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, she wanted to open living legacy to the sacrifices and hard work they and her mother made for her and her sister, following devastating personal loss.

Even the deli's name refers to the USS General C.H. Muir, the a refugee transport ship that delivered her grandparents and mother from war-ravaged Europe to New York.

The New York Daily News chronicled the Muir's arrival to New York in March of 1949 and captured an image of Johnson's mother, Getrude Yollek, as she leaned out of a porthole, clutching her doll.

"For me personally, it has been incredibly special to pay tribute to my family's story," Jennifer Johnson told Virginia-Highland—Druid Hills Patch.

She shared the story of The General Muir with Patch:

Q. What inspired you and your husband to open the restaurant and deli?

A. Ben and I are big fans of deli (when I use the term "deli," I mean what one would think of as typically New York Jewish deli) — when we would travel to New York, we would binge on deli and lament the lack of a larger deli culture in Atlanta. We started thinking about how we could pay tribute to the deli tradition and bring something different and elevated at the same time.

Q. Why did you pick Emory Point as the location?

A. We were approached by Cousins Properties, the developers of Emory Point, about opening a second location of our other restaurant, West Egg, at the development. Ben and I decided we were ready to take the leap of having a second restaurant, but were more excited about the prospect of developing this new concept than replicating West Egg. The Emory area is under-served when it comes to culinary options and we thought a neighborhood development like Emory Point would be the perfect place for a restaurant offering the amenities of breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, coffee and a bakery, with both a full service dining experience and a quick-service counter.

Q. You named the eatery after the ship that brought your Mom and grandparents to the U.S. following their survival of the Holocaust. Can you tell us why or how the ship resonates with you and why you wanted to honor that legacy?

A. We wanted to avoid a traditional deli name in order to signify that we weren't trying to recreate a classic like Katz's, although we hope our pastrami, which we cure and smoke in house, will come close! That while clearly rooted in the Jewish deli tradition, we also would provide meals and experiences that were a departure from tradition. As we brainstormed ideas, I recalled my grandparents' survival story (and therefore my mother's, who was born in a displaced persons camp after the war) and the fact that their post-war voyage from Europe to the U.S. was documented by a newspaper photograph from March 23, 1949 of my mother leaning out a porthole of The General Muir as it pulled into the harbor. That postwar period signified both the heyday of the deli and the beginning of its decline so it seemed appropriate to reference it. Of course, for me personally, it has been incredibly special to pay tribute to my family's story. Unexpectedly, we've had guests reach out to tell us that they had arrived on the same ship a few years later or had a family member serve on the ship aiding with the refugee transport! We've made some incredible connections with our guests.

Q. Have you always wanted to be a restaurateur?

A. Ben and I are both "recovering" attorneys (i.e., we both practiced for many years, but gave up the practice of law to open West Egg and now The General Muir). I don't think either of us necessarily set out to be restaurateurs, so much as to provide a great hospitality experience that just so happens to take place around food! So many of our fondest memories of places we have lived or visited involved eating; not necessarily the fancy places, but the places where you feel a sense of community and care. We are really proud to have joined up with our incredible partners at The General Muir — co-owners Chef Todd Ginsberg and Shelley Sweet — to make The General Muir that kind of place.

Q. What is or are the most valuable life lesson or lessons would you say your parents and grandparents taught you that you use in terms of your business life as a restaurateur?

A. My grandparents lost a lot in the war (most of their family, including a son), but worked hard and created a wonderful life for themselves and my mother in this country. My mother, in turn, worked incredibly hard to create opportunities for my sister and myself — to get the best education, see the world, etc. — even if it meant she was working in a profession that may not have been completely fulfilling to her. (Did I mention that my mom is a "recovering" attorney as well?) I consider myself incredibly lucky to be where I am, with the luxury of supporting my family doing something I love and I remind myself of that often. Ben and I tell our older son all the time how important it is to work hard and do your best — no matter what job you may be doing at the time. It's the little things — show up for work, do your work excellently, conduct yourself honorably. You will be proud of yourself and you will create opportunities to grow and thrive.

MG March 11, 2013 at 01:24 PM
Super excited for this deli. Wish there were more like it throughout Atlanta. Also good is Ruben's in downtown.


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