Alongside the North Oconee River in East Athens, Georgia, sits Weaver D’s, the soul food spot with a striking lime green paint job and a slogan that inspires. “Automatic for the people,” reads the sign out front, a phrase that the local-band-gone-big R.E.M. used as the title of its Grammy-nominated 1992 album.
Athens is both a music town and a college town, and generations of University of Georgia students have patronized the spot, which opened in 1986 and became the town’s go-to for platters of pork chops, fried chicken, and macaroni and cheese. “Even before the album, there used to be a lot of bands frequenting here,” says Weaver D’s owner, Dexter Weaver.
Weaver remembers that in the 1990s, R.E.M. band members, especially the vegetarians, loved his squash casserole. The group named their album after the restaurant’s slogan, which worried Weaver at first. “When the album first came out, people said it might not do well,” he says. “I prayed, Oh Lord, why did they name an album after me that might not go real far?”
But when the album skyrocketed to fame, R.E.M. brought Weaver to the 1994 Grammy Awards. “Being at the Grammys and Radio City Music Hall with Whitney Houston…” Weaver recalled in an interview with the Southern Foodways Alliance, “That song Whitney sings, Give Me One Moment in Time—sometimes we need that, yeah.”
Back home, Weaver welcomed tourists from around the country, and Bill Clinton even dropped an “Automatic for the people” during a speech at UGA. Weaver later wrote a book, Automatic Y’all: The Real Story Behind “Automatic For the People” and catered R.E.M’s record release parties.
Over the next decades, however, the crowds trickled away. In 2013, Weaver announced rising costs and declining sales would force him to close. “We’re looking for miracles,” he told The Red & Black at the time. Galvanized, students organized “Automatic Saturdays!” to drive sales.
Weaver hung on. He befriended local suppliers to negotiate deals on ingredients, and kept afloat by catering nearby church events. He started a GoFundMe to make repairs and improve the restaurant. The pandemic has been a surprising high point for the restaurant, which Weaver attributes to people who are sick of cooking at home. Now, he says, “we can’t even keep up.” For generations of UGA students, Weaver D’s persistence means more than good food. It’s an anchor in an evolving college town. Tuesdays through Saturdays, Weaver will be there, serving mac and cheese, sweet potato souffle, cornbread, and that classic, inspirational squash casserole.