Scene: The coffee landscape of Atlanta, Georgia—a city of 5.5 million, with a small-pond feel. Some beautiful coffee foothills, but few notable mountains. Atlanta market leaders like Octane Coffee, Counter Culture Coffee, and Batdorf & Bronson have cruised through the last decade comfortably, with only a couple of standout cafes to pose as any sort of competition. One such noteworthy shop was Decatur's Steady Hand Pour House, which came on the scene in 2011, introduced Atlanta to Chemex and syphon brewing, George Howell Coffee, somehow made a cursed 250-square-foot space work well for its near-cult following, then (due to a leasing snafu) abruptly disappeared in 2013.
There were promises of a resurgence.
Steady Hand devotees waited patiently, attending every pop-up, hounding owners Dale Donchey, Jordan Chambers, and Jamie Pair with “Where?” and “When?” and “Can you please get me some George Howell coffee?!” But the uprising never happened. At least not in the way anyone expected. The three owners went in different directions and their following eventually resigned to accept the death of Steady Hand Pour House. As years passed, Donchey took over the coffee program at Hugh Acheson’s comfy, yet chic, Atlanta restaurant Empire State South, and consulted on a number of projects for the beloved “celebrity” chef-darling.
In 2015, when word spread that Acheson would be standing behind Donchey to open Spiller Park Coffee—the only coffee establishment within the walls of the 2-million-square-foot Jamestown development, Ponce City Market, Atlanta was ready. It wouldn’t be another Steady Hand Pour House, but it would certainly carry the same hallmark and a lot of nostalgia. Spiller Park opened officially in October.
Behind the helm, Donchey has placed former Steady Hand barista Thomas Busby in a General Manager position and his familiar face and demeanor has attracted “Hey, aren’t you the Steady Hand guys?” on a daily basis. Spiller Park’s multi-roaster program is stocked like Steady Hand, with George Howell Coffee, Intelligentsia Coffee, and more northerly offerings from Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters and 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters. To acclimate to the extreme high volume and pace of Ponce City Market, Chemex and syphon brewing were eschewed for Kalita Wave as a pour-over option and FETCO batch brew for speed. Spiller Park has two two-group La Marzocco Linea PB espresso machines, both put to use during the madness of weekend crowds in the thousands.
“Steady Hand Pour House had its mark in time,” Donchey told me. “People still talk about it.” But as he worked to plan for a new shop, Acheson encouraged him to focus forward on “who you are and what you love,” said the cafe operator. In his research of the behemoth building that would be his new digs, Donchey discovered another man who had taken a similar task upon his shoulders: R.J. Spiller. In the early 1900's, Ponce de Leon Park—a minor league baseball stadium, home to the Atlanta Crackers—sat in the north shadow of Ponce City Market (then Sears, Roebuck and Company). When the stadium burned down in 1923, club owner R.J. Spiller rebuilt the field and it became known as Spiller Park.
“I like the string of poetic-ness found in life symbols,” Donchey grinned. “Ponce de Leon Park burned down, and this local family rebuilt what burned down.” He knew he had found his inspiration and his name, and he started developing his concept not around what Steady Hand was, but who he believes he is and what he loves. “Coffee is a vehicle for building community and fueling conversation.” Donchey pointed to the pill-shaped wraparound bar, studded with stools on either end, which encases Spiller Park’s island espresso station. “I didn’t want to be too cliché, so I went with subtle: A classic, Southern diner-meets-baseball-park feel.” Even as we talked, we watched Spiller’s baristas leaning into conversation with customers perched around the bar.
For Acheson’s contribution—outside of his moral, financial, and advisory support—he brought in a toast program. Without a kitchen, Spiller Park had to block off a small area of counter space for food prep, and use a single-burner grill to prepare a rotating menu of made-to-order toasts. Acheson designed a simple but vibrant avocado-lime toast, which can be topped with a yolky fried egg. Also on the menu are seasonal apple butter or marmalade toasts with ricotta. “We also have Sublime Doughnuts.” said Donchey, pointing to the “A” [for Atlanta] shaped Boston Cream doughnuts—a pairing which began in the Steady Hand days. “Because they’re awesome. And delicious with coffee.”