Rich Clark got his start in the Atlanta restaurant business in 1988 as a captain at the Ritz-Carlton. He eventually transferred to the well-known Buckhead-based French eatery, Brasserie Le Coze, under Maggie Le Coze, owner of the world-famous Le Bernardin in New York. The Brasserie Le Coze kitchen is where Rich Clark and Jon Schwenk first began their friendship.
In 1994, Clark temporarily parted ways with Schwenk to run the Blue Ridge Grill in Atlanta. He stayed at the Blue Ridge Grill for a year and a half before taking over as general manager of the Atlanta Fish Market in 1996. He worked there for six years as part of the influential Buckhead Life Group. “I got a lot of good experience at the Fish Market,” says Clark. “I learned how to do volume preparation there, and it was a good education, but I’d much rather have a smaller place where I can pay closer attention. That’s what I want C&S to be.” In 2002, Clark became a managing partner at the Atlantic Seafood Co. in Alpharetta, GA. Atlantic was another learning experience for Clark, but he eventually felt like he had too little say over the comfort food-oriented menu.
Over the years, Clark and Schwenk remained friends. They discussed starting a place of their own and traded ideas over what the menu would be like. Finally, at the beginning of 2007, they felt ready to strike out on their own and made that vision happen. “I looked around Atlanta and saw a need for a really good old-school restaurant,” Clark says. That restaurant would become C&S Oyster Bar, specializing in classic New York and Paris brasserie-style cuisine. Clark possesses a passion for French cuisine and claims that it comes from the French’s appreciation for balance. Their focus on vegetables, fish, and meat as the primary vehicles of flavor allow for emphasis to be placed on the freshness of the ingredients. With the continued success of C&S Oyster Bar under their belts, Clark and Schwenk set their sights on potentially opening another concept. They batted ideas back and forth and eventually agreed they both wanted to do something casual and family friendly with a mix of New Orleans and Southern American themes. From these ideas, they originated the concept for Hugo’s, which they opened in Roswell, GA in 2013. While Clark focuses more on the front-of-house operations at C&S and Hugo’s, their continued partnership remains strong as the menus for both properties are designed collaboratively by himself and Schwenk.
Rich Clark is a resident of Roswell, GA where currently lives with his wife and daughter.
Jon Schwenk, like Rich Clark, started his career at Brasserie Le Coze in Buckhead. A native of Long Island, NY, Schwenk comes by his passion and knowledge of French cuisine naturally; his grandfather was a French chef and owned a fine restaurant on Long Island where Schwenk helped out as a young man.
While Clark moved around to many different operations in Atlanta, Schwenk stayed at Brasserie Le Coze and remained true to his beloved French cuisine under the guidance of Maggie Le Coze. Clark and Schwenk stayed in contact and, over the years, dreamed up their perfect restaurant. They eventually decided that 2007 was the year that they would make their dream happen. Like Clark, Schwenk left his job at the beginning of the year to focus all his attentions on bringing C&S Oyster Bar into reality. The successes of C&S Oyster Bar led him to eventually open a second restaurant with Clark; the more casual restaurant concept, Hugo’s, opened in Roswell, GA in 2013.
Schwenk’s insistence on quality demands that everything must be made in-house from scratch, even the cocktails and sauces, no matter how much extra work that may mean. It is far more important to him to craft the perfect meal for his guests than to make it easier on the kitchen. He also makes sure that almost every ingredient in the kitchen is certified organic and locally grown. “I want the customers to be able to taste the earth in our vegetables,” Schwenk says. “A lot of people think that because French food is rich that it’s not healthy, and that’s absolutely not true. It’s fresh, heavy on vegetables, and the rich stuff is used in moderation. We feel it’s important that it’s organic, too.”
Schwenk handles the back-of-the-house operations for C&S and Hugo’s, focusing on the food and helping with the beverage side of the restaurants. He, of course, makes sure that both ends of the shops run smoothly; a task that isn’t too hard, considering that he and Clark are old friends and continue to share the same vision and passion for quality food.
Jon Schwenk is a resident of Cumming, GA where he lives with his wife, two sons and one daughter.