ROSWELL, Ga. – Ryan Pernice is a restaurateur who has helped make Roswell’s Canton Street the trendy place to be in North Fulton. But his decision to opt for a mural on the side of his restaurant Table and Main has put him afoul of the city’s Historical Preservation Commission.
Sitting down at a table, he explained how he was just trying to marry the elan of Canton Street with the appeal of street art.
“Table and Main will be six years old next week. That is about middle age for a restaurant. We wanted to give the place some fresh appeal,” he said.
Pernice says he knows the restaurant business having learned it cooking at Fred Castallucci’s restaurant The Roasted Garlic when he was just 13.
“I realized early on I would not be good enough to be a chef, but my dad who had been in revenue management told me I could go to school and learn about the business side of running a restaurant,” he said.
So that is what Pernice did, and Table and Main has been the result. With his brother, Daniel, they operate Asteria Matone, also a restaurant on Canton.
“This is my baby, but like any business, restaurants have a life cycle. I have to do what I can. After six years, it is no longer new. It’s not fresh.”
Pernice says he sees public art as a way to keep the vitality of the business flowing.
“You have to keep being relevant. Public art is a way to do that.”
The city has already embraced public art with installations in parks and in front of buildings.
“I understand it has to be something culturally appropriate. I was inspired by what they’ve done at the Roswell Mill,” he said. “I understand there has to be standards and things should be tasteful. But something bright and pretty adds interest to the space.”
It is a way to get people to look at the building in a new way. Pernice admits he didn’t go through the Historic Preservation Commission for permission, but then he didn’t think he had to.
“I realize now I should have gotten a certificate of appropriateness from the HPC. But I am just applying one of the approved colors to the side of my building,” Pernice said.
“There is no stipulation for exterior paint to be certified.”
Meanwhile, he wants to give the people new and fresh reasons to come to his establishment.
“My job is to seek attention and exploit a vacuum. This is an exciting time and place,” he said.
Pernice said he would like to see a public art commission that would support public art and act as the final arbiter over what is appropriate and what isn’t.
“If we had such a committee, I would go in front of it and accept whatever decision they gave,” he said.
While Pernice is trying to keep his business successful, HPC Chairman Tony Landers said there is a board to look at mural appropriateness.
“It is the entire membership of the Historic Preservation Committee,” Landers said. “Murals are subject to review by the commission as a whole.”
Landers pointed out a temporary mural was approved last year on Go With the Flow’s wall during Black History Month. He said that mural was “extraordinarily well done” and was appropriate for the district.
“They came to us prospectively, told us what they wanted and when they would take it down. We don’t have a problem with murals. But the HPC does have oversight,” he said.
Pernice put up his mural and then came asking after the fact, Landers said.
“We didn’t feel the mural had any historical reference or context. It was not appropriate,” said Landers. “To assert HPC only chooses permitted colors is just not true. He says the HPC should encompass public art. It does. But maybe he ought to discuss the guidelines first.”
And while Pernice has his opinion about what should be permissible in the district, that is a layman’s perspective, Landers said.
As the city is set up, only the HPC is the arbiter of what is correct for the district. Should the City Council set up a public art commission, then the HPC will gladly step back, Landers said.
“Everyone is open to making the process better. Everybody is pursuing excellence for the district,” he said. “Most of the people who have seen [Pernice’s mural] can’t say what it depicts.”
Landers said he wished Pernice had come to the HPC first before putting up the mural.
“It might have produced a result he would have been happier with.”