"We're called APT 4B because we wanted to give the space the mood of your cool friend's apartment," says the chef.

By Aaron Hutcherson
August 05, 2020
Credit: Sim Walker

A new 4,800-square-foot, 130-seat vinyl bar has arrived in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood, featuring chef Dayana Joseph’s upscale, deeply personal Afro-Caribbean cooking.

APT 4B, which soft-opened July 24 for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, features dishes like caramelized oxtail atop chickpea hummus with toasted roti; roasted sweet plantain with Jamaican ackee and spicy sambal sauce; and roasted mackerel escovitch with pickled seasonal vegetables and coconut jasmine rice. The menu is divided into five courses, giving diners the option to create their own tasting menus or just select one or two dishes for a smaller meal. So far, "people are really taking well to it."

"The menu is basically a lot of things that you would grow up eating if you or your family's from the islands or from East or West Africa," Joseph says. "However, just kind of turned up a notch." Many of the ingredients are sourced locally, while others are imported from the islands "to give you that authenticity," including chocolate, honey, and coffee from Haiti, or Scotch bonnet peppers and oxtail from Jamaica.

"We're called APT 4B because we wanted to give the space the mood of your cool friend's apartment," she says. In addition to the main dining room, there are side spaces dubbed "living rooms" where guests can lounge with wine and snacks. The interior reflects that "cool friend" vibe with portraits by Hype Williams of Busta Rhymes and Wyclef Jean hung around the space.

"We have a huge music influence here,” she says. "On our walls, you'll see everyone from John Coltrane to Erykah Badu to Billie Holiday and Lauryn Hill." The restaurant plays from a collection of over 10,000 records acquired from an estate sale—with the likes of Donna Summer's "Bad Girls," the Annie soundtrack, and Nas's Illmatic.

Credit: Sim Walker

Joseph's path to Atlanta was a winding one. The Haitian-born chef moved to Florida when she was seven and then later to New York City at 20. After working in luxury fashion for about a year, she found herself unfulfilled.

"I wanted to find something that felt more purposeful, that helped me feel more fed and driven," she says, which is what led her to cooking. Joseph began freelancing as a private chef but soon sought training to hone her craft. Culinary school was out of the question because of the cost, so Joseph used her connections to get an interview with a high-profile restaurant group.

"I walked into the interview in a red suit, high heels, and super long nails—I was still a fashion girl," she says, recalling the chef asking, "'Why do you want to cook? You're so well dressed. This is a dirty, thankless job.'"

"I remember getting so choked up that I pretended to sneeze so he wouldn't see that I was crying because I really wanted the job," she says. "He decided to take a chance on me, and that same day I went to a nail salon and cut my nails. I haven't worn my nails like that since."

Joseph ended up working for the restaurant group for four-and-a-half years, but left citing a tough kitchen culture. "Guys would hit on me and if I didn't take to their solicitations, they would sabotage my mise en place," she says. "Although the leadership did as much as they could . . . I didn't like it."

Joseph then moved on to Spring Place, but departed after a while "because I just didn't feel like the industry had much to offer Black women." That's when she started her Dine With Day private events. "With my dinner parties I could be my whole self," she says.

Joseph moved to Atlanta in August 2019, after being courted to run a concept similar to APT 4B. She says she was told everything she wanted to hear, but "it turned into a nightmare." Her big personality was part of her draw, but "I was always being told to make myself smaller,” she recalls. She came to "feel like the angry Black woman." Joseph was let go that October after completely uprooting her and her partner's life for this opportunity. "I was devastated for a week," she says.

Having taken some time to heal, Joseph began consulting for a few different Caribbean restaurants in the area, and it was then that she was approached by the owners of Ms. Icey’s Kitchen and Bar in Decatur and Negril Village Atlanta and NYC to open APT 4B; she joined March of this year.

"I was afraid of being commoditized and tokenized yet again," Joseph says, expressing her wariness in accepting what seemed like another dream opportunity. So far, that dream has been reality, allowing her to focus on her deeply personal cooking.

Credit: Sim Walker

"I tend to season the way my mother taught me," she says. "So it's a heavy hand in seasoning. It's lots of fresh herbs. It's lots of round spices." This is how she gets to cook at APT 4B. Her food is rooted in the Caribbean, but reflects her fine-dining training with sprinkles of global influences here and there.

Joseph has waited a very long time to share this food with the world. "I was so sure that [COVID] was going to go away quicker than it did, so I was still conducting interviews wearing a mask," she says. Then, the full lockdown happened in Atlanta, and the team was forced to stop everything. As they had yet to build a client base, to-go orders weren't an option for them. Instead, "We just made sure that we continued to do the groundwork to get us open."

The team is constantly refining its social distancing and sanitation protocols, such as checking employee and guest temperatures and having cooks wear face shields in addition to masks. "We're not afraid," she says. "But we're also not 100% confident because we take the safety of our employees as well as the safety of our guests extremely seriously. And we think that right now, what best suits us is to operate at a limited capacity." In mid-August they hope to implement to-go orders as word of the restaurant starts to spread.

Looking towards the future, Joseph, who is turning 29 this year, isn't afraid to dream big. "I'm very confident that once we get our service under control, once we get our back of house under control—I'm so confident that we could possibly win a James Beard Award," she says. "I am looking forward to getting as much accolades and press for this space as possible so that we can continue to build and [be a great representation] of Black culture."

"My goal is to be representative of how kitchens should look, and how kitchens should run, with strong leadership that is nurturing and responsible and accountable for the way that staff is treated," she says. "I think that COVID really put in perspective some of the things that we were lacking in the industry. I think that the opportunity we have now as an industry is to right some of those wrongs."