From burger joints and barbecue, to raw bars, English pubs and even a pie bar, Chattanooga's food scene is full of local choices. Unique restaurants dot the neighborhoods we frequent, and as individual as they may seem, many of them are owned by the same raging restaurateurs. These dining dynasties own and operate multiple unique restaurants, anchoring Chattanooga's food scene with fun and flavorful choices. We decided to get to know some of these kitchen kings (and queens) a little better this month.
"When I opened an English pub, I had to do things that made sense in our environment," he says of his first restaurant venture, Hair of the Dog, which he opened in 2005. "I think identity is important, you know who I am A to Z." Simplicity is the rule for Lewis, who keeps his message and vision obvious at his restaurants. "You have to know who you are," he says. "There has to be a balance. You can't do everything well."
His restaurants: "Honest, neighborhood, classic with a modern element," he says. "This is a pub, I can't put Asian fusion on the menu."
Always in his fridge: "Guinness beer. It's multipurpose. I can cook with it, or at the very least, drink it," he says. "Also, breakfast cereal. No really, I like to cook pasta dishes, so we always have that, and we make our own sauce."
Favorite local eatery: "That's hard. Easy Bistro because I am an oyster fan and they have good beer," he says. "They have a good vision and they do good things with food and drinks."
Favorite meal: "I would put two cheese Krystals up against a $100 a plate dinner, as far as something that will consistently amaze and impress you," he laughs. At midnight, Lewis reaches for the crunchy comforts. "I'll go eat some Wheat Thins," he says. "I like the crunchy texture, and I think they are healthy for me. Don't tell me otherwise." Lewis also goes for comfort, like grilled cheeses or crunchy peanut butter for snacks.
Mike and Taylor Monen, who own Taco Mamacita, Urban Stack, Community Pie and freshly opened Milk and Honey, met in the restaurant business. As Chattanooga natives, Taylor says that she always knew she wanted to get into the food business, but it wasn't until she met Mike that she knew how. Once they opened their first Taco Mamacita in 2008, they knew they'd been bitten by the bug. "It's not a question of if we can do it," says Taylor. "It's what's next." The Monens credit their strong staff of managers, operators and other employees for making their restaurants successful.
Their restaurants: "Fun, fresh, unique," Taylor says. "We take something, whatever it is - pizza, burgers, tacos - and present it in a way that no one else has."
Always on hand at their home: "Honey, funny enough," Taylor says. "My kids love honey; I'll catch them in the jar on the counter eating it by the spoonful, so we keep a lot of it around. I also am not a big sweets eater, but I keep dark chocolate and sweetened coconut flakes to snack on. And lemons! For whatever reason when I am at the store I feel like I need to buy like six lemons at a time. I can do anything with them."
Favorite restaurant spot in Chattanooga: "I'll say this, our favorite spot is Sushi Nabe; we eat there at least once a week or more. All of us love it. My kids have been eating sushi and seaweed salad as long as I've been able to strap in their seats at the sushi bar. It's a great quality of sushi, and my husband and I have been going to the place since we started dating and it was on Lee Highway."
Taylor's favorite meal: "My grandpa makes the best waffles and he calls them 'awful waffles,'" she says. "He was a chef in the Navy, and he used to make them and say they were 'awful good.' We might even have them at Milk and Honey one day."
Her sour snack craving: "Pickled anything! Pickled you-name-it, I love it," Taylor says. "I'll even take home a jar of Sushi Nabe's pickled ginger and eat it, and we'll make homemade pickles at home," she adds.
Mike Robinson, owner of Brewhaus and Fork & Pie, grew up in Chattanooga and has worked in restaurants his entire life. He opened Brewhaus with his business partner, Hunter Hart, in 2011 at an ideal location on Frazier Avenue. "There were restaurants there that kept failing," Robinson says of the location. "I thought it would be a great way to fill that void for German food here ... and who doesn't love beer?" Though Robinson started with a catering company, his unlikely start was in nursing. "I was a nursing student at UTC... but I opened a restaurant," he says. "If you're choking, I could help you out there."
His restaurants: "Fun, unique, different," he says. "We saw a pie restaurant as a trending food item and thought, why isn't there a cool pie place in Chattanooga," Robinson says.
How he cooks at home: Robinson always has spices and seasonings handy and makes use of produce. "Fresh produce and garlic. Anything can be good with that," he says.
Favorite local food spots: "I like Tremont Tavern... Champy's, and Social and Public House," he says. "I like local and supporting everyone. There's Lamar's on ML King, it's straight out of the 1960s, and I feel like it's random hours, but it's a Chattanooga gem, you could say"
His favorite meal: "Chicken and waffles, and let's just leave it at that," he laughs. "I like the crunchy and the salty, and then the sweetness. That's what I go to late at night."
Lawton Haygood thought he was retired when he convinced his wife Karen to open Canyon Grill on the "backside" of the mountain 16 years ago. "Really, this was where a restaurant shouldn't be, but it was successful beyond all belief," Lawton says. But the success of a 30-seat restaurant and a dedicated staff was just the first seed of the Haygood's local empire. Next came Boathouse Rotisserie & Raw Bar, a waterfront locale that took patience to build. After that, when Lawton told Karen he just wanted a barbecue restaurant, she couldn't say no, so now two versions of Sugar's (downtown and on the ridge) round out the couple's menu.
Their restaurants: "We think they are classy, local and dedicated," Karen says. "We used local products before it was cool, and we grow a lot of our own stuff."
Eating at home: Karen says they reach for fresh fruit, nuts and homemade peanut butter. "Really, we use that Vitamix blender and we'll never buy peanut butter again."
Favorite local dining spot: The Haygoods are reluctant to name a favorite local spot, instead they say they value and enjoy local independent restaurants. "We have gotten to know a lot of owners around here and go to a lot of places because we like to support them," Lawton says.
Favorite meal: Karen says it comes from a memory that her husband can recreate time after time. "On our honeymoon we went to Mexico, and we had chilaquiles. Now Lawton makes them for me with a fried egg on top. With a coffee or beer, it's a Sunday thing," she says.
Go-to snack: For a satisfying crunch at night or whenever she needs a pick-me-up, Karen says she'll keep pistachios on hand.