Friday, November 11, 2022

Broken Chain: Zesto, Piedmont Road, Atlanta, GA (BONUS: Disco Kroger)


Broken Chain: A business which, at some point in its history, had multiple, similarly-functioning, physical locations where a customer could purchase goods and/or services, and which presently has a significantly diminished presence and/or value as a brand compared to the same brand in its heyday. - Zap Actionsdower

A couple of months ago, my friends and I went on a road trip to Atlanta for Labor Day weekend. The hotel we were staying at was in Buckhead, and we traveled up and down the stretch of Piedmont Road near the hotel several times over the course of our stay. It wasn't until late on the evening of Sunday, September 4th, however, that I actually noticed this building we'd been driving past the whole time. Lit up in bright neon against the dark night, what caught my eye about this mid-century diner was its architecture and its classic Sprite logo on the façade. (For those of you who don't know this about me, Sprite is my favorite soda. I also may or may not have purchased a Sprite beanie at the Coke Museum the day before.) The place was open and advertised ice cream, so we made a U-turn further down the street and decided to check it out.

Patio and mid-century diner architecture

Vintage Sprite logo. Also check out the super awesome icicles and flames (for ice cream and hot food)!

It wasn't until we got in the parking lot that I realized this wasn't just any mid-century diner -- this was, in fact, a Zesto, one of few surviving locations of a long-broken chain. You'll recall that the term "broken chain," as defined above (at the top of the post), was created by Zap Actionsdower, the author of his namesake Broken Chains blog. Sadly, Zap has since retired from blogging -- one of two great losses in the retail blogosphere of late; the author of ACME Style, who had already retired several years back, this year completely removed his blog from the internet -- but thankfully, Broken Chains (for now, at least) continues to remain up, and of course Zesto was one of the many restaurants that Zap highlighted during his tenure. You can read his full post here (please do -- it's a great read), but for the sake of giving a quick history on Zesto, I've also included an excerpt below:

In the optimistic postwar environment of 1945, inventor and entrepreneur Louis Austin Merritt “LAM” Phelan, whom I can only picture as a living, breathing, wacky cartoon inventor, was in charge of the Taylor Freezer company and looking to create a market for his latest creation, the Zest-O-Mat frozen custard machine. Zesto, a chain of franchised frozen custard stands which had the exclusive, and mandatory rights to use Zest-O-Mat machines, was the result. The chain expanded nationally during those prosperous years. Following a tumultuous decade, however, Taylor Freezer management, unaccustomed to retail businesses, and ill-equipped to deal with an ever-expanding base of franchisees with their own concerns and complaints, abandoned the Zesto brand, forcing franchisees to operate independently. Many newly-independent Zesto owners kept the Zesto name, and many surviving Zesto operators began offering hot food in addition to ice cream ... The Zesto name would end up under the control of the Wahoo, Nebraska-based TJ Investments who sells the rights to the Zesto name and logos, though the food offered at the original and new Zesto locations open for business in Indiana, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, and South Dakota seems to have a high degree of variation between locations.

Road sign in the parking lot

Side view of the building

Detail close-up. I love the numerous patterns in the tile and brickwork!

Indeed, the Atlanta-area Zestos no longer bear any relation to any other surviving Zestos except in name. The website for the Atlanta locations gives a bit more of a detailed history of the chain's origins, including the fact that corporate oversight lasted an exceptionally short time compared to many other broken chains: founded in 1945 and having grown to 46 states by 1949, only ten years later -- in 1955 -- Taylor Freezer Corporation "had completely abandoned the concept and left the remaining franchisees to fend for themselves."

Heading inside. Sputnik lights!

UFO lights!

Counter seating!

In Atlanta, the original franchisee was John Livaditis, who opened a store on Peachtree Road in 1949. At the time Taylor Freezer Corporation jumped ship in 1955, the franchise had grown to five locations in Atlanta, with a sixth to follow in 1959. Livaditis, like many other now-rogue Zesto franchisees, helped keep his restaurants in business by expanding the menu to include hot food items like hot dogs, fried chicken, french fries -- and, of course, a double-decker hamburger, a very hot-ticket item at the time. Initially called the "Fat Boy," a lawsuit brought on by Shoney's Big Boy led to a renaming contest that resulted in the new moniker for the burger and its mascot, "Chubby Decker."

These guys disapproved of the "Fat Boy." 

Chubby Decker mascot

Pick-up counter...

...and order counter. This place was pretty packed for a Sunday night at 9PM.

The Atlanta-area Zestos reached their peak in the mid-1980s, with a total of ten locations at that time. John Livaditis retired shortly thereafter, in 1988, handing the business down to his sons, Jimbo and Lee. The Piedmont Road location that my friends and I visited had been in this spot since 1971.

As you've been able to see from all of the pictures so far, this place really was something special. Either everything inside is original to 1971, or it has been very authentically replicated in later renovations. There was a fun retro vibe to all of the interior furnishings, from the colors of the chairs and booths, to the stonework on the walls, to the various signage including those for the "Pick-Up" and "Order" areas above and the "Skyline Patio" below.

Dining room overview

Note the many different seating styles

Booth close-up

My friends do know about my hobby, and are particularly fascinated by the concept of a broken chain, which reinforces my idea that this sort of interest can extend beyond just our weird little retail niche in this corner of the internet. While here, I thought it would be most authentic to try just a basic vanilla ice cream cone, but sadly they were out of vanilla and I want to say they were out of cones, too. So I got a cup of chocolate instead, which they also included hot fudge with, and let me tell you -- I'm not normally a fan of hot fudge, but it was darn good on this ice cream. The ice cream itself wasn't anything particularly special -- not bad by any means, but not mind-blowing, either -- but the great experience I had more than made up for that, and made this one of my most fun broken chain explorations yet.

My chocolate ice cream, with hot fudge, in a nondescript cup. Zesto did not have custom branded serveware...

...but they did have custom branded paper hats, much like you'd find at Steak 'n Shake or Krispy Kreme. Naturally, I grabbed one.

In fact, all three of us did. And took a selfie in them. Which is now hanging on my fridge.

After we got back from the trip, I was randomly looking up store closures -- as I often do, just to keep up with the latest -- when I was saddened to see that the very Zesto we visited on Piedmont Road was closing, and worse, had already closed down by the time I saw the article. As it turns out, the restaurant's final day was September 18, 2022, a mere two weeks after our visit. Owners Jimbo and Leigh Ann Livaditis sold the property, noting also that "the Piedmont Road location struggled over the last year with labor shortages and issues with people loitering around the restaurant," deterring patronage. "It pains me," said Jimbo. "We like to think we fought the hard fight."

The round glass piece with the Chubby Decker advertisement is actually a screen covering a one-way window from the kitchen. If you look close enough, you can see a chef behind the window.

Close-up of Chubby

Nighttime wide view of the building. I was very happy with how this one turned out.

If nothing else, that explains the absence of vanilla ice cream -- either that was indicative of the challenges the location had been facing, or it was already gearing up for its impending, albeit as-yet-unannounced, closure. (The announcement only came a few days before, on September 15.) As noted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article breaking the news, "The couple does not have special events or promotions planned for the restaurant's final days of service. 'We're sad we can't do this Piedmont location the justice it deserves with the fanfare, but we are spread very thin,' said Leigh Ann Livaditis. 'It will be a quieter closing but we still expect a lot of goodbye visits — and hope we have enough ice cream to serve everyone!'"

Patio fencing detail. I think the "balloons" were permanent fixtures.

The brick fenceposts also were topped by Zesto cones, which I had seen before in research of other Zesto locations and am pretty fascinated by. Kinda reminds me of Sheridan's, another broken chain.

Front view of the building. Note the V-shaped roofline, and how the location was branded specifically as "Zesto on Piedmont."

I'm very glad my friends and I got to visit this Zesto before its final day. It's still crazy to believe that we were here so close to its closure. Maybe it was fate that brought us here. Even though I'm in no way a local, I still feel like it's appropriate to say that this restaurant had a longtime special connection with the community, and it's very sad to see it go. 

Down to just five Atlanta-area restaurants by 2021, a Zesto in the Little Five Points neighborhood was damaged by storms in May of that year and never reopened. With the closure of this location in Buckhead, only two Livaditis family-owned Zestos remain: East Atlanta and Forest Park. ("A franchisee operates a third location in Tyrone," per the AJC.)

Road sign, one last time. The Splash Laundromat and Fiesta Foods store in the background were also included in the sale of the property; it is not clear what is going to happen to any of the three buildings.

Parting shot. I love all the various food items advertised on the signs. "Zesto Broasted Chicken"?!

I'm sure this won't be our last trip to Atlanta, so maybe we'll get the chance to check out one of those other remaining Zestos, and a Chubby Decker sandwich, one day. Or, who knows, maybe we'll even encounter another Zesto somewhere else in the country, and get to see how its operation compares to its long-separated brethren in Atlanta. That "broken" component is what makes broken chains fascinating, after all. And it is worth noting that we did in fact encounter another Zesto on a different road trip earlier in the year, although we did not stop inside...

Much newer-looking Zesto in Omaha, NE, completely unaware of its onetime siblings in ATL


Y'all may have seen a Kroger sign in the background of a few of those Zesto photos. While not that specific location pictured, there is another Kroger elsewhere in Buckhead that's relatively famous -- you might know of it as the "Disco Kroger." The store got its name from the neighboring Limelight nightclub, a popular place in the 70s and 80s whose patrons would often end up wandering into the Kroger next door. Though the Limelight closed in 1987, according to this article, its legacy is preserved in the disco ball inside the Kroger store as well as the large "DISCO" mural painted on another building in the shopping center, shown below.

Naturally, I had to make a quick stop to visit such a famous store -- especially since its fate, much like Zesto's, has been sealed. It was announced in summer 2021 that the property owner will be redeveloping the shopping center, and a new grocery store will be replacing the longtime Kroger anchor (which has been open since 1976). The mural and disco ball will be preserved, but Kroger will be exiting the dance floor. It was further confirmed last month that the store's final day will be December 9, 2022, which is less than one month away.

The store is branded as Kroger Fresh Fare, and features the accompanying late-2000s interior décor package. Though the package was upscale at the time, the fact that it has not remodeled since then might indicate that the store wasn't performing as well in recent years, and thus it may have been an amicable decision to leave rather than a one-sided lease termination.

I didn't get a full tour inside, just a few quick shots here and there -- mostly to say I at least visited the place before its demise. Above, you can see the store's local flair fresh fare mural -- a common feature to these stores -- as well as a fresh fare clock, which is something I'd never seen before! (The time was not accurate, but still.)

Along the back wall, we find the fancy hanging light fixtures and aisle markers, as well as a very deluxe-looking meat and seafood service counter. This décor package focused a lot on impressive-looking visual elements rather than text; notice that all of the department "signs" are pictographs, with no actual spelled-out names in sight.

This was my first time seeing a fresh fare wine department. I really like the hanging trusses -- echoed in the produce department (second image above) -- as well as the gooseneck signs, which I'm assuming are original. Sadly, we did not enter or exit through the main vestibule, so I didn't get a shot of the disco ball, but you can just barely make it out in the background of the first image above, directly above the Kroji sign.

The bakery and deli were very large in this store, which speaks to the fact that one of the initial selling points of the fresh fare concept was the focus on service departments and, especially, hot and prepared food options, which at the time seem to have been more of a deluxe feature in grocery stores. Now, those features are commonplace, and the distinction and draw of the fresh fare concept has been rather diminished. (For more information on fresh fare as well as a full tour of one such store in the Memphis area, check out my flickr album here.)

A quick look at the "thank you" sign along the front end, followed by some more exterior views. The exterior of this store has some very nice-looking architecture to match its upscale interior. The italicized font and green and black colors, respectively, for "fresh fare" and "Pharmacy" also look nice.

Like I said, my tour here was pretty quick, but I have it on good authority that this isn't the last you'll be seeing of the famous Buckhead Disco Kroger. You didn't hear it from me, but you might just want to keep your eyes peeled for a future post on a certain blog from a certain author...


While it's sad that both of the subjects of today's post will no longer exist by the end of this year, I'm still very grateful I got the opportunity to visit and photograph them, and to share them with y'all today. It is Veterans Day as I write this, and I'm thankful for the service of all of our current and past military men and women. Thanksgiving is coming up soon as well, and I'm extremely thankful for the friends I went on this Atlanta road trip with, and I'm thankful for you guys as well for continuing to stick around both here on my blog and on my flickr page, even as my content has become less frequent. If I don't write again before the new year, I wish you and yours a fun, safe, and healthy holiday season. Until next time and as always, thanks for reading, and have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Retail Retell


  1. Great shots and nice to see a restaurant review on the MSRB! Now I would like to note, Acme Style has as of now simply gone private, which means it has not been scrubbed from the web entirely. South Texas Retail on the other hand is one that has been erased entirely. I still lament the disappearance of all retail blogs though and hope some of them return.

    I would also like to note how the Disco Kroger has the round, red-bordered emblem whereas most of the Olympic Spirit format just have the wordmark.

    1. Thanks! And yeah, I'm aware ACME Style isn't erased entirely, but given that I don't think access is being granted when requested, it is still inaccessible. I was not aware of South Texas Retail disappearing, that's sad to hear.

      Good catch. I rarely see the actual oval logo on regular stores -- seems like it's only on those with special designations (Marketplace, fresh fare, etc.)

  2. I really can't think of any other word to describe the Piedmont Road Zesto location other than "groovy"! Weather authentic or reproduction, I like all the funky fixtures inside the Zesto restaurant, especially the lights. That's sad to hear this restaurant closed so shortly after your visit, but at least you made the decision to stop here in time, and had such a "far out" experience!

    Fresh fare certainly looks like Kroger's attempt to be upscale. Even though it's probably a bit dated to most, the decor itself is nice and well designed, and it's sad to see this store fall so much from grace. I'm also curious to see what Publix plans to do with that disco ball once they take over the old Kroger building.

    1. Ha, "groovy" is definitely a good word for it! I agree, all the funky fixtures are great, and yeah, it was sad to hear it closed so soon after our visit, but at least we got to visit it at all.

      Agreed, it's sad to see the store reach the point it's at today. It certainly didn't feel run-down or unloved, but it would seem business must not be as strong for it not to have been remodeled any sooner and for Kroger to either agree to leave or not put up a fight about being kicked out. And I guess I had forgotten it had been confirmed Publix was taking over! I know I'd seen lots of rumors about that, and even recent articles seemed to suggest that it has not been confirmed, but at least according to this source, it has been:

  3. Wow, it is almost like our blogs are converging before our eyes: The Sing Oil Blog visits Louisiana and Mississippi one week, then The Mid South Retail Blog visits Georgia the next! I've driven down that stretch of Piedmont several times on various trips, and I've even been inside "KroBar" (the colloquial name for the Kroger behind the Zesto) before, but I never once took note of the vintage diner there! I'm glad you were unknowingly able to document this broken chain mere days before it disappeared forever.

    As far as Disco Kroger goes, let's just say that I know a guy who may write about that store too . . . It is definitely one of Atlanta's better-known Kroger monikers so I'm glad you got to see it before it met its demise. The one Kroger that I'm sort of sad (but also sort of glad) I missed out on was Murder Kroger. That store closed around 2016 and was rebuilt as "Beltline Kroger", but I'm sure the old name won't be shaken easily!

    1. Yep, it's as if we traded places for a minute, lol! That's cool you've been past this area so often, even if you never paid attention to the Zesto. As you read, we drove past it several times before noticing it, too -- but I'm glad we did ultimately take note and get to experience it before it went away!

      I'm glad I got to see the Disco Kroger as well -- that one wasn't on my mind as a must-do while in Atlanta, but once I realized we were so close I did wanna do my best to stop by, especially knowing its closure was so imminent. And ha, yeah, that store is gonna be known as Murder Kroger forever, I feel like!

  4. Anonymous in HoustonNovember 12, 2022 at 9:53 PM

    This isn't the Disco Kroger that I think of when I think of Disco Krogers! Of course, the one that I do think of, the Houston one, was far less interesting, less nice looking, and is as dead as the Atlanta Disco Kroger will be in a few weeks. Oh well. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the Atlanta Disco Kroger, but I must admit it'll be strange getting Kroger information, something with the actual Kroger name on it especially, from the My Florida Retail blog! That would be a bit like getting Publix information from the Northwest Retail Blog! Nonetheless, there's always something to be said about unexpected blog posts...even though now I'm expecting it. Well, you know what I mean, lol.

    The Fresh Fare decor does look quite dated now at the Disco Kroger, but it does still look pretty classy if nothing else. It hasn't held up as well as Safeway Lifestyle v2, but at least it isn't as boring as Kroger's Script decor (not that I minded Script, it just looked out of place in warehouse-like stores). Chances are, if Kroger updated the Disco Kroger in the past, it probably would have ended up looking worse (Remix!) or it would have looked like a generic Bountiful store. Granted, in some ways, a 'disco' store deserves something a bit glitzier than Fresh Fare and Bountiful, eh?

    Zesto is a new one to me! I'm glad you were able to visit it before it unexpectedly died. The place reminds me of an 1950s alien-themed restaurant I once ate at in Niagara Falls, ON. Actually, this is neater and that was weirder, but the food was good at that alien-themed restaurant. Now that I think about it, I have no idea why I chose to eat there. Huh!

    According to Wikipedia, the Sprite name was the brainchild of a Coca-Cola bottler in Houston! Who knew? I sure didn't, lol. I suppose Minute Maid isn't our only Coca-Cola connection! That Sprite logo on the cap is probably what Sprite should go back to today!

    It might be a bit early, but Happy Thanksgiving! I'm glad to see the blog alive and kicking as we head towards 2023! On top of that, a Mid-South Retail Blog post doesn't seem complete without something related to Kroger so this seems like a very complete post!

    1. That's right, there was a Disco Kroger in Houston as well! I forgot about that. Crazy how there were two of them. The ToNeTo ATL article I linked to in my reply to AFB above also mentions that "other" Disco Kroger. As for that future post being on the My Florida Retail Blog, yeah, I guess it will be strange to see a current Kroger store on there! Although I have written a post about past Kroger stores on there as well...

      I agree about fresh fare -- it's definitely not current, but it's still classy for sure. And I also absolutely agree that script was boring! The term I've used to describe it is "inoffensive;" it's perfectly nice and well-done, but it doesn't really excite me at all. It just kinda "is." Anyway, good point about what this store could have looked like had it had any later remodels. I'm glad it kept fresh fare, as bountiful was way overdone at the time (although now I miss it dearly!)

      I'm glad we got to visit Zesto, too! While Zesto certainly wasn't alien-themed, it did seem to have some interesting light fixtures that were reminiscent of that sort of thing. That's interesting you ate at an alien-themed restaurant in Niagara Falls! In Hernando, there's an AWESOME ice cream shop called Area 51, which is named after the nearby Highway 51 and of course also features alien theming. If for some reason you're ever in town, I absolutely recommend trying it out, it's the best I've ever had!

      Wow, I didn't know that about Sprite, either! The more you know... As for the logo, I actually like the current wordmark and shape, although I'm still not totally sold on the new packaging where the two are separated from one another. I also miss the green bottles, but I can understand why they were phased out.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you as well!! Thanks for always reading and commenting, it's always great to hear from you!

  5. found this blog looking for a picture of the "ive been krogering" sticker, was pleased to see that you still update. very sad about murder kroger and now disco kroger closing. atl is changing!

    1. Glad you found us, and yep, happy to still be updating the blog (even if it is less frequently than before)! Atlanta does seem to be changing indeed...


Have any info to share, or simply want to join the discussion? Please feel free to leave a comment! Comments are welcome on any and all posts so long as you adopt a username and do not post any malicious links. Comments are subject to moderation before being approved, so please be patient if your comment does not appear automatically. Please remain civil in your comments. If we decide your comment is inappropriate, we reserve the right to delete it.

Disclaimer: The Mid-South Retail Blog exists solely for educational and historical purposes. This blog claims no ownership of, or relation to, any organization, retail or otherwise, whose property may be featured in pictures or in links within posts. We are not affiliated with, or endorsed by, any entity featured on the blog. However, we do claim ownership of our content, unless it is credited otherwise. If you find any inaccuracies in our posts, please let us know in the comments or via email so that we can make any necessary changes. Information on the blog may be frequently updated without notice.