ATLANTA -- On the surface, Ria's was a diner-- maybe, just a diner. But a diner that impassioned its patrons.
"The brisket. If that was my last day on earth, that's what I'd eat," said J. Christopher Arrison, a patron.
"My favorite was the french toast," said Kimberlynn Oliver, who works in a nearby salon. "Once I had my first dish, I was hooked."
The diner owed its flavor to its namesake. Chef Ria Pell lent a larger-than-life personality to Ria's Bluebird Café -- and to an entire neighborhood. Her restaurant set the stage for this community's resurgence.
"I think it's amazing she took this street, which is not the most inviting place, it's gray and industrial, and she made a place where everybody likes to go and feels at home," Arrison said.
"This was like an anchor in the community. And all this sprung up all around it," said Thomas Pearson, a patron.
At age 44, Ria Pell died suddenly Sunday of natural causes. Her friends and patrons showed up at Ria's restaurant much of Monday with flowers and bottles and record albums and other items left in tribute -- to an Atlanta chef who took a brief star turn on a reality TV show -- and to a friend who saved the sugar coating for dessert.
"You wouldn't think of Ria having rules, but there was a moral barometer there that was so strong that everyone tried to live up to," said Grant Henry, a friend who says Pell inspired him to open a bar on Edgewood Ave.
"You know what? She told the truth. And if you didn't like hearing the truth, sorry. That was her being your friend," said Lauren Janis, a friend of 20 years.
For more on Ria Pell's impact on the community, click here.