Noni’s staff quarantined together to make partial reopening safe

Add this share

“Honey, we are dyyyyinggggg to open our doors wide open and have a dance party again, but we aren’t even close to that yet,” said Ryan Buchanan, general manager of Noni’s.

That said, the business they do have at the LGBTQ and allied Edgewood bar and deli is safer thanks entirely to the tenacity of the staff, up to and including standing up to management at one point, Buchanan told Project Q.

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, the course for Noni’s was as clear as it was devastating to business, he said, and the reality was not pretty.

“We knew the only way to stay healthy in the first couple months was to remain completely closed, no take out, no delivery, c – l – o – s – e – d,” he remembered. “Thankfully, our owner applied early and as soon as possible for every single loan, grant, exemption, Pizza Hut personal pan pizza coupon, whatever that became available.”

Management immediately made jumping through unemployment hoops a top priority, and figuring out everything for themselves became a fulltime job for the bosses, Buchanan said. Noni’s staff “got off easier than most with dealing with the shit show that is Georgia’s Department of Labor,” he added.

“We quickly had to become [unemployment] experts and dedicate every waking moment to making sure each of us had food, money for rent, and most importantly – not getting sick,” he said. “It was fucking traumatic. …It was a struggle and kinda still is.”

By May, with state guidelines for reopening in hand, tentative plans came together for dine-in service, but it wasn’t enough for the staff. Buchanan said that he and Owner Matt Ruppert were grateful for their feedback, since after some thought they realized that Gov. Brian Kemp’s restrictions on restaurants and bars were irresponsible and inadequate.

“Thankfully, our staff actually came together, outside of management, and essentially unionized our asses,” he said, half-joking. “By utilizing their collective power, they created a list of demands that went against the unjust pressure to put themselves at risk. This was inspiring, and these demands became the underpinnings of our current operating structure.”

Buchanan said he worries about food service industry employees who are in unsafe situations and don’t work for bosses willing to listen and pivot. He recommended @ShiftChangeATL on Instagram as a starting place for anyone who feels ignored by management.

“Businesses need to realize we only exist because of the labor of our workers, and their safety and livelihood is the only priority we should have,” he asserted. “We will only move forward and adjust our reopening phases as our entire staff collectively feel safe.”

With staff feedback, Noni’s management went back to the drawing board. This time, they came out with better guidelines, including a list of expanded guidelines created by Old Fourth Ward Business Alliance members.

Love, isolation and booze

In addition, Noni’s staff quarantined together in order to resume takeout service. The setup was a blessing and a challenge, Buchanan remembered.

“Luckily we actually love each other’s company and were able to form small, safe and responsible isolation cells, plus with our large an available selection of booze helped a lot,” he said.

These days, Noni’s exceeds state guidelines to ensure the safety of its employees and patrons. The popular eatery and bar is still predominantly take-out with some outdoor seating available for a picnic vibe.

Morale is higher than it was in the spring, but a lack of certainty is still tough for everyone at Noni’s, Buchanan said.

“To be honest, keeping our spirits up is a daily struggle because there is no certainty to any kind of economic security in the future of our industry,” he said. “All we can do is try to serve safety and make sure no one has a chance of spreading and catching this invisible monster.”

Noni’s will consider dine-in service when Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms moves the city to phase three of its reopening schedule. (Bottoms shifted to phase two earlier this month.) In the meantime, they are considering a COVID Era version of the drag show Misc. Edgewood.

Until then, customers can help by patronizing Noni’s under its new normal.

“Come to our back patio, order online or in person for food, cocktails, wine, fernet or even a Noni’s T-Shirt,” Buchanan said.

What else can the LGBTQ-ATL be doing in the meantime? That’s easy: Stay abreast of the bigger picture and get involved, Buchanan said.

“Black trans lives still matter. Ask yourself what are you doing today to be anti-racist? Join SNaP4freedom. You can easily donate time or money to help effective on-the-ground work to protect our community,” he said.

Noni’s Deli is at 357 Edgewood Ave., SE. Visit to order or look for them on your favorite food delivery app. Photos courtesy Noni’s.


Defining our own LGBTQ love stories beyond marriage

Younger. Older. Coupled. Single. Any and all LGBTQ subcultures. Wherever you stand, you may notice an odd phenomenon: the polarizing notion that same-sex couples should get...

AIDS Walk canceled but fundraising continues for HIV groups

The coronavirus pandemic forced the cancelation of the 30th annual AIDS Walk Atlanta, but that hasn't stopped fundraising for the event’s beneficiaries.Organizers decided to...

The best LGBTQ things to do in Atlanta this weekend

Movies and parties meet you online, while venues welcome you back with socially acceptable distance. LGBTQ Atlanta events beckon with downtime options through Sunday.Friday,...

Running scared from that other ‘L’ Word: Love

Q: My girlfriend is getting too close for comfort. She says my past heartbreaks are obstacles to me feeling the same way about her as...

WSB’s Jorge Estevez’s secret to surviving the pandemic? Snacks

Jorge Estevez moved to Atlanta to start his new job just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic hit, then racial justice protests unfolded and a...




Index, ring fingers tell the secret of your penis

The next time you’re cruising Mr. Right Now, take a gander at his index and ring fingers. The difference between the two predicts what you’ll find when the package gets unwrapped. Less is more. Really.
Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium 2020

Massive expansion of ‘Church’ bar finally open after 2020 plot twists

Grant Henry’s vision is always unique, his dreams always big, and the quirky results always undeniable. Patrons see that dynamic in action again with...

Georgia LGBTQ leaders endorse Biden as pro-equality ‘champion’

Eleven LGBTQ leaders from metro Atlanta joined some 300 others nationwide to endorse Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, calling them “the most pro-equality ticket...

WSB’s Jorge Estevez’s secret to surviving the pandemic? Snacks

Jorge Estevez moved to Atlanta to start his new job just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic hit, then racial justice protests unfolded and a...