In 1947 the Paschal brothers, Robert and James, originally from Thomson, Georgia opened Paschal’s Sandwich Shop at 837 West Hunter Street in Atlanta. Located in the black business district in proximity to downtown, the luncheonette had no kitchen space; Robert prepared the food at his home and sent it by taxi to the shop, as the brothers did not own a car. Only sandwiches and soda were on the menu, and the house specialty was a 52-cent fried chicken sandwich which was Robert’s own recipe. The following year, the brothers acquired an adjoining property to bring seating capacity up to 75.
With Robert serving as head chef and recipe developer, the restaurant became known for its soul food menu. The restaurant was noted for being a place where whites and blacks were welcome. It was one of the first to seat black and white customers at the same tables, in an era when segregated seating was the norm. Although Paschal’s had “colored only” business and liquor licenses, the brothers openly disregarded the law and served white and black clientele alike.
The restaurant was the unofficial headquarters for the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders frequently convened here for strategy sessions, planning their protest marches, sit-ins, and voter registration drives. Activists decompressed at Paschal’s after arrests, death threats and beatings. The Paschal brothers kept the restaurant open all night as a safe haven for black activists returning from jail and as a meeting point for their families. They also posted bond and served free meals for activists. Strategy meetings also took place in the restaurant among white politicians, including Ted Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton.
In 1967 the Paschal brothers erected a six-story, 125-room motel on the property, completing their vision of providing “food, drink, merriment, entertainment, and a place to rest up for more all within the confines of one complex”.The $2 million motel – the first African-American owned and operated motel in the city – had banquet space for 350, another 160-seat dining room, and a swimming pool. Upon the motel’s opening, Room 101 was permanently set aside for Martin Luther King’s use. During his 1968 presidential campaign, Robert F. Kennedy maintained an office in the motel and also slept there. Jesse Jackson initiated the planning sessions for his 1984 presidential campaign at the motel. A 1975 article reported that the motel had 92 percent occupancy most of the year.
The restaurant, lounge, and motel were closed in 1996. The property was sold for $3 million to Clark Atlanta University, which converted the motel into a student dormitory and conference centre named The Paschal Center. The restaurant’s recipes were included in the sale, and Robert’s fried chicken continued to be served in the restaurant to students and the public. The university closed the restaurant in 2003 and planned to demolish it, but public outcry led to a $100,000 congressional grant to save the historic structure. In 2004 plans were announced to open a Busy Bee Café at Historic Paschal’s.
Paschal’s is still a thriving restaurant today.