Chris Grant started cooking when he was 11 years old.
The Belzoni native and owner of Nola Restaurant in Indianola started gaining a reputation for his culinary skills back in the early 2000s, but he said his love for the kitchen started years before that.
“I’ve always had a passion for it,” Grant told The E-T recently. “When I was young, I would go into the kitchen, and I would pull stuff out of the refrigerator and pull stuff out of the spice cabinet. I would just play around. I’ve been doing that since I was 12 or 13 years old.”
Grant, the son of a catfish farmer, said his parents would often leave him at home when they went on the road with his sister for sporting events.
“When they would go off on basketball trips and stuff with my sister, I would stay at home, and I had to take care of myself, so I cooked for myself,” Grant said. “I always got into trouble when my momma got home, because I loved to cook, but I didn’t love to clean.”
Grant could easily have gone down the path of many agricultural families in the Delta and eventually taken over the family catfish farming operation.
But as fate would have it, the industry in the region began to decline by the early 2000s. At the time, Grant had taken a job at a Greenville restaurant called Fermos, working as a dishwasher, while helping prepare some food dishes.
“When my dad realized that he wasn’t going to be able to come back from what was going on in the catfish industry, he told me I needed to stay there and not come back to work on the farm,” Grant said.
That launched his career in the food business.
He would eventually go to work at The Warehouse in Cleveland, and built a solid reputation as a cook.
That’s when Chuck McCarty, then owner of Nola called him up and asked him to meet him at the Indianola restaurant.
McCarty had grown Nola into a solid restaurant, but he was looking for a partner, someone he could hand the business to when he was ready to sell.
“I was kind of on his mind,” Grant said. “He wanted me to come in and train as a chef and see if I wanted to take over where he was leaving off.”
Grant said that just about every chef wants to eventually own their own restaurant, and he was no exception.
“I guess if you’re a cook, in the back of your head, anybody who gets in the restaurant business, if you have the drive, you’re going to want a restaurant,” Grant said. “My dad put me to work when I was 12 years old. I have never been without work. I’m not one to settle for following somebody either. I want to be the one in charge.”
Grant joined McCarty’s crew in July of 2010. This is his tenth year at Nola and his fourth overall as owner.
“I’ve had support from Indianola since day one,” Grant said.
Grant said that support has been even greater since the restaurant industry as a whole has taken a hit during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The amount of support and the amount of love and the amount of people - it has just been overwhelming quite honestly,” Grant said. “I’ve had people text me and tell me they’re praying for me. I’ve got people who are buying stuff just to buy stuff. The town has been overwhelmingly supportive, because they really enjoy eating here, and they do want to see us succeed.”
Grant said since taking over Nola, he’s not only gotten support from locals, but also from the entire region.
“It’s the entire Delta too,” he said. “It’s not just Indianola. Indianola supports us too, but we’re getting customers from Greenville, Greenwood, Cleveland and Belzoni. Inverness supports us.”
Right now, Grant said the toughest part of the current social distancing guidelines is not being able to interact with his customers.
Although he does a lot of the cooking at Nola, Grant said the restaurant would not be the success it is without his kitchen, most of which has been there the entire time he has been.
“I have an amazing kitchen,” he said. “You’re not going to be the best unless you work with the best. My kitchen folks who work with me have been here for years. My guys in the kitchen are top-notch. I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Grant said his staff, including his manger Sylvia Hernandez, have allowed him to be as successful as he’s been in the location.
“The success of this restaurant is not Chris Grant,” he said. “I may be a vital part, but I’m not the only part.”
Grant is married to Alison Grant, also of Belzoni, and they have two children, Calli, 7, and Marley, 5.
Grant said his daughter Calli says she wants to be a cook and one day take over the Nola operation.
“She’s always interested in cooking,” Grant said. “She tells me all the time she wants to learn to be a chef and she wants to take over NOLA one day and work with her daddy one day.”
If she does go down that path, she’ll be learning from one of the best, and she stands to inherit a great restaurant.