By Baker Ellis
Joyce Sato can most often be found behind the scenes. The Korean-born, Ohio-raised former fashion designer spends the majority of her day out of the spotlight, helping to create some of the best meals that can be found anywhere in the city of LaGrange.
The meals she is concocting come from the kitchen of 505 Eats, one of the most popular lunch options county-wide. From an ever-changing weekly specials menu that has included Chicago mini dogs, black bean roasted corn burritos, adult grilled cheeses to prosciutto, brie and arugula paninis, 505 Eats has established itself as a unique yet essential element of LaGrange life in a short time.
The building the restaurant is located in has housed 505 Eats for nearly two years, and moved there after the operation began to outgrow its old home, the adjacent gas station. While the restaurant has developed a loyal client base over the last few years and has a story worth telling, that story cannot be told apart from the story of its owners.
Joyce and her husband, Ken, both moved to the United States at a young age from Korea. Most of her childhood was spent in Ohio, and after graduating from the University of Cincinnati, she moved to New York to pursue a career in fashion as a designer, while Ken graduated with a degree in industrial design. After the Sato’s had their first child, Hannah, they moved to New Jersey, and Joyce traveled into New York on a daily basis for work, an hour and a half commute each way.
In 2006, the Sato’s were approached by Joyce’s uncle, Michael Chung, about an opportunity to move to Georgia and purchase a gas station in LaGrange.
“He came to us and thought that purchasing the gas station was a good opportunity,” Joyce said. “We have relatives down in this area, in Newnan and Atlanta. We thought that it might be good to be close to them as well.”
Tired of the commute and looking for a change, the Sato’s decided to take a step into the unknown. At that time, the Sato’s had no intention of opening up what has now become one of the most popular eateries in town.
“No,” Joyce said, when asked whether or not she wanted to open up a restaurant. “We came down to be close to family and for the (gas station) business.”
A long-time food connoisseur, Joyce developed a desire to begin serving meals out of the gas station as well, soon after arriving. What started out as normal convenience food offerings began to grow into sandwich choices, and the menu began to expand, taking up more of Joyce’s time.
Eventually, the Sato’s made a decision to invest in the space adjacent to their gas station, a space they had rented out sparingly since moving to LaGrange. After renovations and construction were finished, 505 Eats was born.
With kind, intelligent eyes and a winning smile, Joyce’s designer background shows itself in the restaurant space she has created.
The interior wood finish and community-style seating areas give the space a unique, youthful feel. The name itself was chosen for a combination of reasons. One of those reasons came by way of inspiration, while another was a purposeful branding decision.
“505 is the address of this place,” Joyce said. “One of the police officers called this place ‘505’ instead of the Shell (station). I thought that was a cute name, and I didn’t want to call it a café or anything like that.
The restaurant offers an everyday menu alongside unique and ever-changing weekly specials. While the name of the restaurant is literal in one sense, it was also chosen, in part, for the ambiguity and the wiggle room Joyce felt it gave her in an attempt not to pigeon-hole her new venture into being perceived as only serving one genre of food.
“I didn’t want to have the connotation of being a Thai restaurant or a Korean restaurant or an Italian restaurant,” she said. “I didn’t want to limit myself to one type of food with the name. If I wanted to Thai I could do Thai, if I wanted to do anything else I could do that too.”
The decisions and recipes Joyce has made and created since starting have paid off, as the new location is closing in on its second full year of existence. While the past is an encouraging harbinger for what the future may bring, Joyce, like all business owners, has an eye on the future.
When the question is asked, she smiles. It’s an obvious question, but one that can be hard to focus on during the day-to-day grind of sustaining a business.
Five years from now, where does she see 505 Eats going? What does she want her restaurant to turn into? Would she ever consider opening another location?
“It’s never a ‘no,’” Joyce said with a smile. “It’s really time-consuming. If you really are passionate about your food and the way it comes out, you have to be there. You have to be focused and be present. It makes it hard to think about the future, sometimes.
“Hopefully, five years down the line we’ll have dinner, maybe we will have Saturday brunches,” she continued. “Hopefully above all we’ll still be here.”
While there are no sure things in this life, this, at least, seems like a safe bet.