Harold’s Chicken and Ice Bar is one of Atlanta’s most iconic and popular restaurants. Located in the popular Edgewood area, Harold’s is almost always packed every night. Though Harold’s is Chicago-based, Ice Bar owners Tarryn Rutherford and Bobbie Robinson have created a location that is unique to Atlanta. Unlike the Harold’s restaurants in Chicago, the Atlanta location not only serves mouth-watering fried chicken, but they also offer an ice bar with other menu options like hookah. These particular selections put Harold’s a step above, and allow the restaurant to compete with lounges in Atlanta.
The idea of a Harold’s with an ice bar was birthed from two old college friends who originally began their careers in the real estate business. After graduating from their respective colleges, Robinson from Jackson State and Rutherford from Tougaloo College in Mississippi, the two found themselves waitressing in a local Applebee’s, later moving to Chicago to work in real estate. Soon after the real estate market crashed, the women looked for their next venture.
Rutherford and Robinson sat down to talk with rolling out about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, their friendship, and how they took a business that took three years to open, and made it an Atlanta staple.
Here’s their story.
How did you ladies come together to establish Harold’s Chicken and Ice Bar here in Atlanta?
Bobbie Robinson: Well we were both living in Chicago, and we were both in the real estate business and that was during a time the the real estate market crashed. We realized we had to do something else because we realized the market wasn’t what it used to be. We put our funds together and decided to do the Harold’s Chicken franchise. We know how Chicago people are about Chicago food so we wanted to take it out of town. We did the market research and we found out Atlanta was a big area with a Chicago presence where they would support and appreciate the franchise.
Tarryn Rutherford: Six years ago. Actually longer than that, nine years ago. It took us a while to get open because of the market crashing. We’ve been open since June 28, 2012. And from there it was three years prior to that, that we made preparations.
How do you know each other?
TR: From college. I graduated from Tougaloo. She is a Jackson State graduate. I would see her all the time. From there, we just developed a friendship, pretty much after college.
How old is this friendship?
TR: We’ve been knowing each other since our 20s. [Probably circa] ’95 or ’96 because it was a year after college.
How did you develop the concept for the Atlanta Location?
BR: We instantly knew we wanted to do something different when we came here. We [even] talked about doing smoothies. We just knew we wanted it to be different and it would be in Atlanta.
TR: A lot of times different franchises cater to the different state, city and area. At first, we just said beer and wine. Someone said if it’s going to be done, do it all the way and just do alcohol. And that’s what we did.
Why did you choose this particular area, Edgewood?
BR: We did our homework and paid someone to do research and find the best market area. Whenever you do something, especially in entrepreneurship, you have to do your homework.
We knew what it was going to become. It’s good to get on something from the ground up. Just like here, we knew that if we got here in the beginning, we would be here at the start when it does get popular. We wouldn’t have to pay as much as others [who come after] because people try to come when it’s already booming.
TR: God. We were given a list of areas. One of them was Five Points, which is just up the street. But we wanted something that made us stand out. So we ended up driving into Edgewood and we said this is it. Keep in mind, there was nothing on Edgewood at the time. There was only a soul food spot and a flamboyant looking car wash.
When thinking about franchises, how did you choose Harold’s Chicken?
BR: With me being from Chicago and living in Mississippi, when everyone comes home, they hit the streets and go to their favorite places to eat. Harold’s was always the first on the list. I knew if we did Harold’s, it was going to blow up, because it was a staple in the community. We knew that if we just stayed true to the brand, it would do well.
In terms of your staffing and culture, how do you hire? How important is it to invest in your team?
TR: The one thing about Harold’s is that we are a work in progress when it comes to our employees. We believe in investing in our employees. We believe in investing and supporting our employees. One of the biggest things that we want is people that believe the mentality of the customer is always right. That’s very important to us. However, it’s hard to find those type of people because of this new [generation]. They don’t have the same mentality like when we grew up. We’re constantly wanting to find people that are happy and want to love their job.
BR: We also don’t want our employees to just [be] the cashiers and cooks. If they want to do more, we’re there to encourage and to help them build and move to the next level. But they have to want it for themselves. This should not be their last stop. This should be on the way to where they go.