Two generations revive an Atlanta favorite at Wylie & Rum
The W&R brand was born from a combination of Lewis family histories. Tony (the father in this family duo) is a longtime Atlanta-based restaurateur; the former owner of Bridgetown Grill, a popular Caribbean restaurant that once lived where The Porter operates today in Little Five Points. Bridgetown Grill was a small space, with seating for just 85 guests, but it was immensely popular. On its five-year anniversary, the flagship location (the brand had expanded to five locations by the late ‘90s) served more than 1,100.
“Yeah, we’ve been in the business,” Tony says, coyly understating his restaurant credentials. A graduate of Cornell’s Hospitality and Restaurant Management program and former Marriott hospitality alum, Lewis also founded and expanded the in-office lunch brand Ashley’s Corner to 13 offices around Atlanta in the 1980s, in the years before he founded Bridgetown Grill. Even today, Lewis owns five Moe’s Southwest Grill locations throughout the southeast.
But for David Lewis, Tony’s son, Wylie & Rum marks the first foray into restaurant ownership and management. A former film industry drone videographer, David always had a hunger to follow in his father’s footsteps, and he thought his best path forward might be to rebirth the Bridgetown Grill brand.
“This concept is born of that idea. I based the look and feel on a Caribbean restaurant my father started over 30 years ago. I was so in love with that place and the food that I tracked down his old crew and we got to work,” David says.
But for Tony, it’s the differences between Wylie & Rum and Bridgetown Grill that matter more than the similarities.
“David came to me every month for about 20 years and said, ‘Let’s do a Bridgetown Grill.’ But you can’t just rebrand an old concept. So we did a more modern, more progressive take on tried and true Caribbean.”
That more modern take is exactly where the “unapologetically inauthentic” part comes in. The space is modern, with popular designer Brian Steely lending his look to the logo, signage and interior mural. And the space is at once new and lived in — an inviting reimagination of the old check cashing and tax services that once called the building home.
All together, W&R is a far cry from the approachable 85 seats at his dad’s old L5P haunts.
“It just kept getting bigger and bigger,” said David of his dad’s tendency to expand the Wylie & Rum vision outward from its origins as a sandwich shop or a Bridgetown redux into an expansive 2600 square feet. of dining, cooking, prep, to-go and bar space.
The food — where Wylie & Rum shares more in common with the former Bridgetown Grill than anything else — could be described as approachable pan-Caribbean. Less oxtail and stewed salt fish, more jerk chicken wings and Cuban sandwiches with a rum punch. The fare shines in the way a top cover band nails the hits, note for note, only to open up and showcase their talent levels when freestyling their way through the solo.
Take, for example, the Cuban sandwich. Cuban sandwiches are notoriously similar no matter the locale when it comes to ingredients; they are what make a Cuban a Cuban. And yet, the sandwich is endlessly debated for its intricacies. The pork. The bread. The pickles. The cheese. The mustard. All of it is up for debate.
The Wylie & Rum approach, while remaining completely faithful to the traditional ingredient structure, takes its own approach to sandwich construction.
“Here’s why this is the best Cuban,” Tony says, pointing to the layers in a halved sandwich on the table that has arrived at the conclusion of a well-researched dissertation on the sandwich, and the strengths and flaws of its various iterations around Atlanta.
“So when you make a Cuban, everybody puts the mustard down first, and then they’ll put the cheese on one side and the pickles on the other, and then the meats in the center to finish it up. But what we do – we don’t put the cheese on the bread; we put the cheese on the pork, so when we melt it, it seals in the juices. When you open it up, you get some gooey cheese, where others, the cheese fades away into the bread. Ours seals it in, which keeps well. If you like cold pizza, try ours as a cold Cuban the next day. It’s still fabulous, just like that.”
Is it the best Cuban in the city? How about the best Cuban the next day? The hottest new jerk chicken? The smoothest island cocktail? See for yourself at Wylie & Rum, the latest from Tony and David Lewis, now open in Reynoldstown.