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the Southerner Online

An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

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School board focuses on innovation growth in district
Penelope KeenanFebruary 29, 2024

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Ponce Zesto closes doors on 60 years of open mouths

The news that the property at 544 Ponce de leon Ave. was closing brought Cynthia Wyatt and Penelope Glass to the 1950s-themed eatery for one last ice cream cone. The two church friends frequented Zesto, which resided at that address from 1954 until Sept. 20.

“We come here a lot for lunch after choir rehearsal,” Wyatt said. “This is our lunch spot. Now we gotta find another lunch spot.”

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Wyatt (left) and Glass (right) enjoy their last of many ice cream cones at the Ponce Zesto.

After 60 years of serving up comforting fast-food fare like ice cream, burgers, hot dogs and fries, the trustees of Zesto sold the property to Cook-Out, a north Carolina based burger chain. The staff were some of the most surprised by the news.

“We all looked at each other, and we were just speechless,” said Cherlyn roberts, a 21-year veteran of Zesto’s kitchen. “We were just shocked.”

Roberts, her sister, Ellen Roberts, and co-worker, Olivia Moses, were managers of the Ponce Zesto at the time it closed. They have worked there a combined 84 years.

When asked about their plans going forward, Moses replied, “We’re going on vacation.”

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Moses (left) and Cherlyn Roberts (right) prepare onion rings to feed an exceptionally large closing-day crowd.

The memories of the managers contain the location’s rich history, such as the many celebrities who visited over the years: Tyler Perry, Maynard Jackson, T.I. and many others.

“Walt Frazier [a hall-of-fame NBA player for the New York Knicks] worked here,” Jimbo Livaditis, who co-owns Zesto with his brother, Lee, said. “He used to love to eat all the shakes.”

Zesto’s story began in 1945, when the Taylor Freezer Company launched it as an ice cream-only chain restaurant to compete with Dairy Queen. Jimbo’s father, “Big” John Livaditis, brought the franchise to the Southeast in 1948, opening a Zesto in Columbia, S.C. He opened a Zesto on Peachtree road in 1949.

At that point, Zesto franchises were operating in 46 states. Then, in 1955, Taylor Freezer abandoned Zesto and granted its franchises autonomy.

Livaditis then moved the operation fully to Atlanta and began expanding Zesto’s presence.

Zesto’s menu underwent a gradual evolution Livaditis orchestrated. He introduced hot dogs, French fries and “broasted” chicken, a midwestern fried chicken preparation, along with other fast-food specialties.

When John retired in the mid-1980s, he left his two sons, Jimbo and Lee Livaditis, in charge.

Jimbo Livaditis has worked at Zesto most of his life, beginning in the eighth grade. After graduating from Davidson College in 1980, he came back to Atlanta to work for the family company.

Jimbo Livaditis, Zesto's co-owner, points out pictures of former locations as he recounts the history of his family's business.
Jimbo Livaditis, Zesto’s co-owner, points out pictures of former locations as he recounts the history of his family’s business.

Jimbo oversaw the 1991 renovation which resulted in the neon-lit, chrome-paneled establishment Atlantans recognize today, and which Cook-Out promised it would not change drastically.

He began by researching diner and drive-in designs extensively, amassing a personal library of about 30 to 40 books. he then worked with Atlanta architect Dennis Dubey to put his ideas on paper.

“The neighborhood loved [the design], and my father thought we were crazy,” Jimbo said.

Zesto unveiled its new design in 1991, and in the same year the Atlanta Urban Design Commission gave it the first place award for architectural excellence.

“So really, that kind of put us on the map,” Jimbo said.

The facade that won Zesto an architectural award in 1991. The neon "Zesto" sign has been removed since the closing.
The facade that won Zesto an architectural award in 1991. The neon “Zesto” sign has been removed since the closing.

Some Ponce employees will continue to work at other Zesto locations, and Jimbo said he would oversee the writing of recommendations for others.

As Jimbo looked around the Ponce Zesto in some of its final moments of operation, speaking with its customers and recounting its his- tory, his love of Zesto and his devotion to the company were evident.

“It’s gonna leave a hole in our hearts,” he said.

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Ponce Zesto closes doors on 60 years of open mouths