Rock and (Sushi) Rolls
New restaurant makes home on landmark site

By Joel Hall


The original Pilgreen's Steakhouse, a landmark in Atlanta's West End since the 1920s, burned down six years ago. It's second location at 6335 Jonesboro Road in Morrow, which opened in 1981, closed its doors for good two years ago.

After a failed attempt by a previous tenant to make the Morrow location a sports bar, an entrepreneur from Jacksonville, Fla., is attempting to build a new legacy, not only with steak, but with sushi as well.

Sushi Rock, a new fusion restaurant incorporating Japanese, American, and Italian culinary traditions, had its grand opening on Jan. 25, and has been open for business since Jan. 28.

For owner Jay Lee -- who has been in the sushi business for 10 years -- this is his fourth and largest restaurant, as well as his first business venture in the state of Georgia.

Lee moved to America from his hometown of Seoul, Korea in 1972 and for the next decade, served in the U.S. Army, working primarily as a Korean translator. After leaving the Army, he followed some of his in-laws into the sushi business.

When Lee branched out to create his own restaurant, "Sushi Rock" was the name his family members came up with and the one that stuck.

"We wanted to come up with an idea that was a little different," said Lee. "We want to have different tastes, a different look, and a different style."

The differences at Sushi Rock are visible in the eclectic decor, the variety of menu options, and the diversity of the staff.

In the midst of Japanese motifs, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle greets visitors at the door, while pictures of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe line the walls.

The sushi menu offers more than 20 different types of nigiri (meat on top of rice) sushi, and about 60 types of specialty sushi rolls with names like "Jaguar Roll," "Dragon Roll," and "Rock N' Roll." At the same time, a buffet offers a range of international soups, salads, dishes, and desserts prepared by chefs imported from New York and Lee's other restaurants in Jacksonville.

In addition, unlike many traditional Asian restaurants, the servers as well the chef staff, come from a variety of non-Asian backgrounds.

"We don't see how we can have better service, if we don't have people of other races here," said manager, Angela Novansky. "We're on a landmark, so we are embellishing the building that once was. I want [visitors] to come here for the hospitality, for the food, and for the ambiance."

In addition to regular dining, rooms which seat seven to twelve people are available for private functions, as well as a ballroom which seats 75. In the near future, an adjoining lounge will offer a full bar as well as specialty nights for bingo, poker, karaoke, and live performances from local bands.

Lee said renovating the restaurant has taken more than six months of work. The large chandeliers in place since Pilgreen's heyday were covered in dust, and all had to be cleaned by hand. It took three months alone to replace the floors and walls.

The work, however, has been worth it, said Lee. "When I walked in here, it was a mess. I've been meeting a lot of people here and they've given me a lot of really good feedback. They've been looking for this kind of restaurant in the area."