After 14 years of being in operation, Justin’s Restaurant in Atlanta recently closed. Justin’s was part of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’s chain of high-end soul food restaurants.
Combs founded the restaurant chain, which was named after his first-born son, in 1997 in New York City. He opened the location in Atlanta one year later. The original restaurant in New York City closed in 2007, after 10 years in business.
But as celebrity owned restaurants go, Justin’s was open longer than most. After the initial publicity of a celebrity eatery wears off, many have not fared as well. “Justin’s was open much longer than most other celebrity restaurants and that is a positive reflection of Sean Diddy Combs’ staying power as a relevant artist over the years,” notes restaurant marketing expert Joel Cohen, founder of RestaurantMarketing.com. “However things don’t last forever – especially in the restaurant business. To succeed in the restaurant business in this volatile economy is a feat unto itself, but the fact is that customers are fickle. New restaurant concepts, all focused on the dining experience, open every day with each restaurant trying to “best” the other, if not in food, then in exterior and interior design and in the overall experience. At least every three to five years, restaurants need to refresh their look, introduce new menus, new products … Without a repaint and a strong marketing plan, a restaurant can easily be taken to its knees by the new kid on the block, offering something even just a little bit better.”
Steven W. Siler, author of Signature Tastes of Atlanta which featured Justin’s, agrees, “First of all, restaurants that are tied to a celebrity typically last as long as the celebrity remains current. In Justin’s case, the restaurant was successful, I think, in spite of the status of Sean Combs. He did provide the backing; however, the restaurant was open 15 years, an eternity in the business. Look at Morgan Freeman, Joe Namath, Arnold Schwarzenegger, et al…Even with their status, they closed rather quickly,” says Stiler. Obviously, Diddy is not the only celebrity involved with restaurants that failed–Jermaine Dupri‘s Café Dupri lasted just three years and closed in 2008; a wine bistro owned by Usher called The Grape closed in 2009; and Ludacris shut down his pan-Asian eatery Straits not long after it opened.
But Stiler adds the restaurant in Atlanta was plagued with problems toward the end—and it failed to recognize its target market was changing. “The clientele it was attracting was becoming more infamous for fights and shootings. Never a good publicity move,” explains Siler. There were several reported shootings in the parking lot of Justin’s Atlanta. “Second, the food was priced on the higher end. It’s difficult to sell a $25 meatloaf in a weak economy, even if Combs blessed it. Combs is a shrewd businessman; restaurants are not a shrewd business. Combs simply ran a cost-benefit analysis, and decided the typical 3-5% return wasn’t worth it.”
Both locations started out with much promise—they initially attracted a star-studded clientele. They were in the places to be seen. Kojenwa Moitt, now CEO and consultant for public relations firm Zebra PR, actually worked at Justins NYC as a waitress soon after it opened. “It was my desire to meet industry types and celebrities like Puff Daddy whose leadership I idolized… But the intense desire to learn soon quelled when Puffy never came and the cracks in the establishment began to show, especially to the waitstaff and all the employees who worked tirelessly to keep up appearances. I never forgot how the linoleum floors stood in stark contrast to the folded white napkins we donned over our forearms to communicate the white-glove service we were presumed to purvey. The trouble was, the management structure was in disarray, lacked sound leadership and rules implemented were either ignored or dismantled shortly afterward. And so, money bled from the system with poorly placed investments, which eventually caused the doors to shut.”
A statement from Combs’ Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group (BBWEG), said that BBWEG closed Justin’s Restaurant in order to pursue “other business ventures in music, television, fashion, fragrance and spirits.” And that BBWED was “actively exploring business opportunities in Atlanta…to have a strong presence in the region.”