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Jun 13/13

Hall of Flame: Celeb-owned Southern Restaurants Posted by: Dan | 0 Comments

There’s something about striking it rich that lights a fire under your ass to get even richer. That flame is why actors start (terrible) music careers, celebutantes slap their names on clothing lines at Kohl’s, and Kim Kardashian is mysteriously loaded for apparently contributing nothing to society.
There are countless things you can capitalize on when you’ve got superfluous start-up funds in your pocket, but our favorite is food.

It’s also many celebrities’ safe bets. I mean, no one may appreciate your line of offensively titled (and scented) fragrances as much as you do, but everyone loves food — as long as it doesn’t violate health codes. Recognizing the South’s voracious appetite, several celebrities have brought their delicious businesses to the Southern restaurant scene. No childhood — or adulthood — is complete without a pilgrimage to Dollywood, with its 28 restaurants and food carts — including Aunt Granny’s All-You-Care-To-Eat Buffet in all its fried, starchy glory — and chances are you’ve heard of a little franchise called BB King’s Blues Club.

These are two examples of celebrities cashing in on our appetites, but sprinkled throughout the South are several small businesses owned by big names. Here are a few of our favorite celebrity restaurant ventures in the South, from the completely unexpected to the flat out delicious.

O’Leary’s
Location: St. Louis, Mo.
Proprietor: John Goodman
Goodman invested in his hometown with this Irish bar and restaurant he co-owns in the Sunset Hills neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri. The apparently ill-fated restaurant suffered a massive fire in 2006 and was hit by a tornado on New Year’s Eve in 2010, but it’s still going strong. It even served free meals to tornado victims that year and raised funds to help rebuild the neighborhood. John Goodman supported the efforts by giving a local news outlet a phone interview. It melted our hearts. You go, Goodman. Cheers to not forgetting the little people.
Try this: Fried Pickles. O’leary’s will NOT stop bragging about them.

Ground Zero Blues Club
Location: Clarksdale, Miss.
Proprietor: Morgan Freeman
Freeman was born in Memphis, so it’s no surprise he’s a fan of the blues. And he reportedly lives nearby in the Mississippi Delta, where he opened this blues club with entertainment executive Howard Stovall and attorney Bill Luckett in May 2001. Clarksdale, Miss., is the purported “ground zero” of the Delta Blues, and the club is located in a historical hotspot, Blues Alley Lane, next to the Delta Blues Museum. Its mission is to showcase the “real deal,” local talent playing in the tradition of blues forefathers, like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Charley Patton. The menu is about as Delta as it gets: tamales, “sammiches,” barbecue and catfish.
Try this: Mr. Turner’s Hot Tamales. Tamales are a big deal in the Delta … probably about as big as they are in Texas on Christmas.

Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
Proprietor: Gladys Knight
How many more times do we have to subtly say that Gladys Knight owns a chicken and waffles restaurant in Atlanta before you get the picture of how awesome this is? If you love soul food — and if you don’t, stop lying to yourself — get thee to a plate of Gladys’ salty, crispy, syrupy, buttery, chickeny goodness. Because who wants to choose between breakfast and dinner when the options are fried chicken and waffles and you don’t have to choose?
Try This: Gladys Knight’s Signature Chicken and Waffles, because it’s chicken and waffles.

Walton’s Fancy and Staple
Location: Austin, Texas
Proprietor: Sandra Bullock
Everyone wants a bite of Austin, Texas. Even Sandra Bullock. She helped conceptualize and open this upscale flower shop, deli and bakery in 2009. Bullock — or whomever she hired to do the interior. We’re not sure — has good taste; the exposed bricks, wooden beams and natural lighting blend well with the bohemian Austin atmosphere, and we hear the swirling aromas of coffee, sweet treats, fresh flowers and Bullock’s own line of candles, named Bessence after Bess’ Bistro, the other Austin eatery she owns, is unforgettable.
Try this: Lonestar Whoopie Pie. It’s a sweet potato whoopie pie with cream cheese filling. Enough said.

Honorable Mention: Southern Hospitality
Location: New York, N.Y.
Proprietor: Justin Timberlake
Ok, so it’s culturally about as far North of the Mason Dixon line as you can get, but J.T. deserves credit for bringing the South’s best reputation to those notoriously crabby Yankees in the big city. And they should thank him for bringing Memphis-style barbecue their way. And for serving sweet tea, because we can’t imagine sweating out their smoggy summers without it. That would just be cruel.
Try this: Memphis-style Spareribs, served wet or dry, with an extra side of napkins.


When she’s not writing, Stacey Bowers is hiking, climbing and exploring her home state of Arkansas and (poorly) planning her next adventure. She is currently the associate editor at Little Rock-based AY Magazine.


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