In Greek mythology, Calliope is the "Chief of all Muses" who presides over eloquence and epic poetry. To Chef Khaled Albanna, who was born in Egypt and raised in Jordan, Calliope means beautiful voice, and when he wanted to open his own restaurant, Calliope was the name chosen.
He will open a new version of Calliope in late August along with partners Raven Humphrey and Clecia Joi Mason. The three are working to open the 93-seat restaurant in one half of Proof Bar & Incubator on M.L. King Boulevard.
All three have extensive experience in the bar and restaurant scene both locally and nationally, and in the case of Albanna, internationally.
"My mother was in hospitality, and she was a chef in Egypt and Jordan. I grew up in restaurants, and I loved it," he said while seated in the still under-construction Calliope space. The entire Proof space has been closed for renovations for about a month, but Proof co-owner Mia Littlejohn said it will reopen with Calliope.
Proof opened in 2020 and operates as a food and beverage incubator and resource center for chefs and makers and seeks to give the opportunity to develop their unique culinary ideas.
Past tenants have included Chef Chris Greer of Lil Oso, who recently opened his own location on Station Street called Boneyard. Recently, the "Restaurant in Residence" was Neutral Ground led by Chef Kenyatta Ashford and featuring New Orleans-style food with influences from West Africa. During his two years at Proof, Ashford won recognition for his cooking as a contestant on the TV show "Chopped." Neutral Ground left Proof in June to focus on opening a first stand-alone location at Stoveworks off of Holtzclaw Avenue.
Littlejohn said that she and partner Michael Robinson are close to signing a deal with another restaurant for the other half and that "Proof will continue to operate at the same address in the capacity we always have — as a resource center for food and beverage entrepreneurs.
In the commissary side, Littlejohn said, Poppytons Patisserie, Other Milk and Bad Wraps will be operating their businesses out of the shared kitchen.
Albanna said he loved being in the kitchen and around older people with a variety of experiences and stories, and it helped him grow up faster than some of his contemporaries. He moved to Chicago at age 17 and attended the University of Alabama and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he studied civil engineering.
The restaurant business pulled him back in, however, and he started picking up shifts around town and eventually traveled around the country finding jobs as a cook, gaining more and more experience.
When he came back to Chattanooga, he worked at the Fairyland Club as the chef de cuisine and then helped open the restaurant at the Edwin Hotel, where he was executive sous chef and then executive chef.
That's where he met Humphrey and Mason, and the three began talking about partnering in a venture of their own. Albanna opened Calliope at Flora de Mel in September of 2021. That closed Sunday.
Both Mason and Humphrey have extensive backgrounds working the front of the house, and Humphrey will handle the bar and event planning at Calliope. Mason will manage the restaurant and provide her passion and knowledge of wines to the restaurant.
Traditional wines along with Lebanese and Portuguese wines will be offered to complement the rich and flavorful Levantine dishes, and the bar will also bring these Levantine flavors to drinks with rose, nuts, Turkish coffees, aromatics and more.
"I have a real passion for managing bars," Humphrey said. "I've worked as a bartender since I was 18, and I can't wait to have my own thing and do it they way I want to."
For Mason, Calliope is the result of a lot of conversations between the three partners and seeing it coming to life is exciting.
"These are all of our ideas coming forward," Mason said. "It's exciting to see the progress that we've made and build on that."
Albana said he will be working with the two to pair the wines and cocktails with his menu. It will feature Levantine cuisine with bright flavors, exotic spices and fresh ingredients, including seafood, vegetables and lamb. It will include some of the favorites patrons to the Rossville location have come to love, he said, and it will blend the foods he grew up eating and loving while living in the Middle East with locally sourced produce and proteins.
"We will do the lamb sausage, but also hummus topped with local items that are seasonal. That's what Calliope is all about. My heritage and experiences mixed with Chattanooga and the community."