COVID claims Agatha’s dinner theater, leaves owners ‘battered’

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Back in November, LGBTQ-owned Agatha’s A Taste of Mystery was on the brink of permanent closure amid COVID-19 restrictions on business. In April, the pandemic finally pushed the popular eatery over the abyss after three decades of mystery and meals.

“More than 30 years swept away in 13 months and gallons of tears,” said Ricky Warren, who co-owned the interactive mystery dinner theater with Cat Angerami. “Battered and bruised we are, healthy and hopeful we remain.”

The LGBTQ business partners felt the loss in a personal way, Warren said.

“All my life, I’ve had to swim against the tide to keep my head above water,” he continued. “In spite of all the obstacles, humps and bumps we made it happen. It instilled a sense of pride in what we had accomplished unlike anything else we’ve ever experienced.”

“Not even COVID-19 can take that away,” he added. “Hence the sense of loss is unlike any we’ve known.”

Fixed costs over and above the tony Peachtree Center rent – which building owners waived for a year – were in the neighborhood of $5,000 pe rmonth. A crowdfunding effort raised about $10,000, federal relief funds are long gone, and a grant Warren applied for with a plan to reinvent the restaurant was uncertain.

He knew the end of Agatha’s was a reality in a meeting with his landlords. He gave them a timeline of reopening that hinged on that uncertain grant. It wasn’t enough.

“The landlords had been very generous with rent concession thus far, but were unwilling to extend them past April 1,” Warren said. “That meant slightly more than $10,000 was due immediately. In essence, the landlords did what I was not able to bring myself to do.”

That is, pull the plug.

“Yet another thing of many in the past 13 months that was totally out of my control,” he added.

Lasting legacy

In addition to the proprietors being LGBTQ, longtime Agatha’s waiter Tarik Berbey is also gay. He already moved on to a job at Costco, but the restaurant was something special that Atlanta will miss, he said.

“Going to Agatha’s has never felt like work,” Berbey said. “It feels more like going to a magical dinner party every night.”

Warren gives staff and customers much of the credit for that memorable “magic.”

“Our incredible actors, writers, directors, wait and kitchen staff loved what they did and it made a lasting impact, Warren said. “Many of our staff had been with Agatha’s for years. That in and of itself had a huge part to do with our success.”

“Thousands of birthdays, anniversaries, marriage proposals and celebrations of all kinds made for an evening not soon forgotten,” he added. “I truly loved going to work every day as you never knew what our treasure trove of customers would contribute nightly.”

Warren also had a message for people who gave to last year’s crowdfunding effort.

“Agatha’s had the most incredible family of customers, and I would like them to know that I gave it my best shot at returning,” Warren said. “Sometimes even your best attempt can’t get you where you need to be.

“Thanks to all who were fans of our special theater,” he added. “Without them we would not be having this conversation. Thank you all from the top to the bottom of my heart.”

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