Sweet Auburn Seafood owner Paul WIlliams didn’t grow up in Atlanta, but as a child, he read about Auburn Avenue. For decades, the “Sweet Auburn” area was known nationwide as a key commercial corridor where African-American entrepreneurs could thrive.
“This was the commercial hub for black businesses in Atlanta,” said Williams. “I really wanted my name, my family name, to be part of the resurgence of this area.”
The walls of the restaurant pay homage to this area's unique history. Diners can see photos of people like Alonzo Herndon, the former slave who went on to found the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, Herman J. Russell, who built a lasting legacy a leader in commercial real estate development in Atlanta, and of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birth home sits a few blocks away.
“We’ve tried to provide some sense of what the area used to look like,” said Williams.
Today, Sweet Auburn Seafood is the largest restaurant along the corridor, providing an upscale, white tablecloth dining option for those living in or visiting Downtown Atlanta.
Williams was a Wendy’s franchise for 20-plus years before he decided to create his own independent restaurant brand. He chose to serve seafood, partly to differentiate from the other restaurants in the area.
“We said, ‘Well, let’s do something different, let’s give the area something different,” he said.
And though he admits it’s been “challenging and intimidating” at times, his restaurant has now been in operation since 2014. Customers appreciate how the restaurant pays homage to the area’s history and provides delicious food with high-caliber service.
Invest Atlanta provided Sweet Auburn Seafood with a small business loan a few years ago to help them purchase kitchen equipment.
Williams’ advice for entrepreneurs: make sure this is really what you want to do.
“This is not the kind of business that you want to try and see if you like it,” he said. “It’s got to be in your blood because it’s going to test you over and over and over every day.
"You’ve got to be committed to it to be successful at it.”