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GSU's School of Hospitality Administration Marks 50th Anniversary of Herren's Desegregation

June 25,2013

Courtesy Georgia State University, Joshua Grotheer

Fifty years ago, just blocks from the growing campus of Georgia State University, hospitality history was made: Herren's Restaurant became the first restaurant in Atlanta to voluntarily desegregate.

Herren's has long since closed and the Balzer Theater at Herren's, home to Atlanta's Theatrical Outfit, has taken its place, but on Tuesday, June 25, former restaurant patrons and industry leaders will gather at that same address — 84 Luckie Street — to celebrate and remember a moment in Atlanta history that forever changed the local restaurant community.

Opened by prize fighter Charlie "Red" Herren in 1934, Herren's sat on Luckie Street, then downtown's "restaurant row." Herren's was the home of the original power lunch: politicians and civic leaders made deals over sweet rolls while legendary athletes and celebrities rubbed elbows a few tables away at what became known as "the restaurant of the elite."

Five years after opening, the restaurant was sold to the Negri family, who kept the restaurant on the leading edge of the business. In 1941 Herren's was one of the first restaurants to get air conditioning, courtesy of Carrier Atlanta. Owners Ed and Jane Negri also installed Atlanta's first live lobster tank in 1958.

But more notable than central air or shellfish was the owners' decision to voluntarily desegregate. On June 25, 1963, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, the Negris became the first restaurant owners to open their doors and invite an African-American couple, Dr. Lee and Delores Shelton, to dine in their establishment, bringing national attention to the restaurant.

The decision cost the restaurant more than $20,000 in sales and protests from patrons and the general public, but Ed Negri knew he was leading a movement within the restaurant industry.

The Negri family owned and operated Herren's for more than 53 years, until it closed on November 13, 1987. It sat vacant for many years until Georgia State alumnus Bill Balzer purchased the property in 2003 and donated it to Theatrical Outfit.

The June 25 event, put on by the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Administration and the Georgia Restaurant Association, will honor Jane and Ed Negri as trailblazers within Atlanta's hospitality community. The Sheltons, the first African-American couple to dine at the restaurant 50 years ago, will be among the guests in attendance.

A reception will follow at the Rialto Center for the Arts, where hospitality students will prepare and serve appetizer versions of Herren's classic menu items including shrimp arnoud and cedar plank salmon while listening to the sounds of the Georgia State School of Music jazz musicians.

To support the restaurant leaders of tomorrow, all proceeds will go toward the School of Hospitality's Culinary Learning Center in memory of Jane and Ed Negri, pioneers of hospitality and equality. For more information or to register to attend, click here.