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Meet John Ferrell of Mary Mac’s Tea Room in Midtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to John Ferrell.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was raised in the Tallahassee, Florida area on a farm and learned very early the benefits of planting, raising and finally enjoying a fresh garden and of course the many meals with a favorite relative that would always have a favorite of mine on their table. The area I lived in was mostly farms and very rural, so the art of sharing your crops among friends was instilled very early.

My Grandmother operated a couple of Motor Courts in the Pensacola, Florida area. I definitely recall helping her as a child and would show travelers to their rooms, assist them with their luggage and get ice for their room and if I was lucky, I may receive a quarter. This is one of my favorite childhood memories along with enjoying a family meal at a favorite relative’s home where you were always made to feel welcome, and they always had something that was a favorite, from fresh fried chicken, freshly caught fish, farm-raised vegetables fresh from the garden and homemade bread and desserts, I was destined to be in the Hospitality Business.

I attended Florida State University Dedman School of Hospitality and found that truly great hospitality always begins with the host. I became the 3rd Owner of Mary Macs in 1994 and was so proud that I would have an opportunity to continue the legacy of great southern cooking, service, and hospitality at one of Atlanta’s landmark dining destinations.

Mary Macs Tea Room is designed to duplicate this down-home feeling, where you are always welcome, can sit down and enjoy an authentic taste of the South and always with a side of true southern hospitality.

Mary Macs routinely serves 1600-2000 diners a day our classic southern favorites, and many recipes date back to our founding in 1945!

In 2011, the State of Georgia House of Representatives named Mary Macs “Atlanta’s Dining Room” and honoring our legacy of great southern food, service, and hospitality. Even more thrilling for me is that Mary Macs has several key team members that have been with us over 4o years, and proves to us day after day, that traditions matter. Mary Macs and John Ferrell are all about Traditions!!

Today our staff continues to honor our legacy of time-tested recipes, many made from scratch, sourcing fresh and local ingredients whenever possible. We wake up every morning, receive our fresh deliveries and our staff begins the process of shucking the corn, snapping the beans, bringing the chicken, and rolling out the dough for our fresh breads.

The Atlanta Journal named Mary Macs the BEST FRIED CHICKEN IN ATLANTA in 2017, as a result of their subscribers vote. Additionally, Mary Macs has been featured on many television shows, including ABC THE CHEW, Emeril’s THE ORIGINALS, Travel Channel, SOUL FOOD PARADISE and we are honored that there are more to come.

In 2017, John Ferrell received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Restaurant Association for his years of providing examples of exceptional restaurant ownership and was recognized for his vision and leadership in our industry.

Mary Macs is operated today by John, his Partner, Hank Thompson, their son, Matt Thompson, who is the Director of Operations and Matt;’s wife, Elizabeth. Mary Macs and our team are honored that we will soon be celebrating our 75th Anniversary and will be rolling out a Special 75th Anniversary Commemorative Cookbook to honor this incredible accomplishment.

Mary Macs is experiencing an all-time high in popularity and would like to thank our many fans worldwide that have visited us, along with the City of Atlanta for creating world-class convention facilities, transportation and the Georgia Restaurant Association for promoting our amazing culinary options statewide.

You can learn more about Mary Macs at our website,

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The Restaurant industry is extremely challenging. You have to be prepared to be knocked down, but always get back up, dust yourself off and get on with the business at hand. My experience was possibly a better road than most since I acquired a business that was operational and was fortunate to have so many families that Loved Mary Macs and assisted us in our success.

Through the years, it is safe to say, that hiring the right staff continues to be a priority. So, if you are reading this and are interested in working in a fast-paced service environment where your employer is recognized as a Leader in its industry, please do contact Mary Macs to discuss your interests and qualifications.

Please tell us about Mary Mac’s Tea Room.
Mary Macs Tea Room was founded in 1945 by Mary McKenzie, There were originally 16 Tea Rooms founded in the Atlanta area during the WWII era, many had been widowed and decided as a female entrepreneur that the word ” tea room” was more gentile than the word, restaurant used primarily by their male counterparts.

Mary Macs Tea Room is the only remaining establishment from this era of tea rooms and we are extremely proud of our legacy of always providing a great dining experience, offering many time-tested recipes, made from scratch, by knowledgeable team members, many of whom have been with us for over 40 years.

Mary Macs is experiencing all-time highs in popularity, and we are humbled and grateful that so many families from Atlanta and the Great State of Georgia consider Mary Macs their home away from home.

The State of Georgia Special Resolution in 2011 naming Mary Mac’s “Atlanta’s Dining Room” is a highlight along with the 2017 Georgia Restaurant Association naming John Ferrell, it’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

Mary Macs is recognized by many for our award-winning southern fare, service and southern hospitality,

Our greatest accomplishment may be that our children, Matt and Elizabeth Thompson have decided to be involved in our family business ensuring that our legacy is in good hands and provides insurance that a new legend of fans are sure to be made in the upcoming years. Long live Great Traditions, Great Food, Great Service and Outstanding Hospitality!

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
A good friend and mentor of mine, Steve Nygren, once told me, don’t be afraid to hire someone smarter than you. Although at the time I didn’t clearly understand his advice, it is clear as a bell now, good people are hard to find, and every entrepreneur, business owner needs quality people around them to assist in the daily operations.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 224 Ponce de Leon Ave NE
    Atlanta, Georgia 30308
  • Website:
  • Phone: 404-876-1800
  • Email:

Sav Seafood Cookbook

Image Credit:
Debra Lellewyn

Getting in touch: VoyageATL is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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