Local restaurant owners share their business stories.
Who: Rodney Billups, Co-Founder of Herman’s Soul Food and Catering,
Nathan Lindley, Founder of Public House Chattanooga, and
Mindy Benton, Founder of Mindy B’s Deli
What’s your story?
Billups: Herman’s began when a friend and I used to have weekend fish fry events. We stopped doing it, but everyone wanted us to continue. We eventually decided to open an establishment on Tunnel Blvd. and began to offer other foods as well. Our most popular entrees were and still are our chicken and dressing, fried whiting fish, fried chicken wings and fried pork chops.
Lindley: I started working for famed Southern chef Frank Stitt at Bottega Restaurant in Birmingham in 1994. I learned what real food looked and tasted like — and that a restaurant that was serious about food could also be a lot of fun.
I helped my friend Keith Richards launch the first Taziki's in 1998, and learned about creating a concept and targeting a customer base. I started my first restaurant, St. John’s, here in Chattanooga in 2000. In spite of my inexperience and immaturity, the city was eager for a more modern dining experience and supported the restaurant until it developed into something great.
I registered Public House Chattanooga in 2005 after selling St. John’s with the hope of someday opening the restaurant, and in 2009 I did.
Benton: Growing up, my mother worked in the food industry, and I always loved getting to try new things. When my high school brought in college reps to talk to us, I learned that The Art Institute of Atlanta had a culinary program, and my mind was made up: I would be a famous chef. Of course reality kicked in once I completed the program, but hey, I’m actually using my degree and doing what I love — so I suppose the fame can wait.
My first business, Meals By Mindy, was a personal chef service which eventually morphed into Mindy B’s Deli.
What makes your restaurant unique?
Billups: All our food is homemade with our own recipes that have been handed down for generations. We also strive to provide a comforting family type of experience for our customers. And I think we have — we’ve been around for 26 years and we have customers who have frequented our restaurant for 26 years.
Lindley: When Public House opened, the approach to a refined meat and three, or elevated Southern cuisine, wasn’t new but was fairly novel. As that has become a national trend, our focus has been to stay true to both serving the best possible product every day and to cultivating a caring staff that represents the restaurant and our city well.
Benton: Attitude! We want everyone to be comfortable and well-fed. We like to say that each sandwich comes with a free side of snark. Our weekly specials keep things interesting. We’re not boring and our food isn’t either.
What is the vision for your restaurant?
Billups: The vision for Herman’s Soul Food & Catering is to provide delicious soul food to Chattanooga and the surrounding areas through dine-in customers, call-in orders and catering both locally and to surrounding cities. We also aim to continue providing jobs in the Chattanooga area. We’re delighted to have the ability to do that.
Lindley: From the beginning, Public House has tried to serve the best possible products, true to the region and season, using simple and skillful preparation in a warm, casual environment.
Benton: I want Mindy B’s to grow into a local institution — there are some great restaurants in Chattanooga that seem to have always been here and we assume they always will be. I would love for Mindy B’s to join those ranks. The Volunteer Building is home, but we hope to eventually add a second location to expand catering options as well as introduce another part of town to our quirky environment and food.
What’s in a name?
Billups: The name Herman’s came from my father. His name was Herman. I learned so much from him about the food industry, and he was a major influence on my career in the food industry.
Lindley: The restaurant follows the intent of a Public House that would have existed in each town in Great Britain – a place where anyone could get a good honest meal.
Benton: Since I was a personal chef before opening the deli, it made sense to build on that momentum. I didn’t have a following yet, so I had to work with the only recognition I had, which was me. But it’s important to me that I’m the face of the business —I’m Mindy B and I work at Mindy B’s, and I hope for that to always be true for my business.