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Church Street Family Recruits Executive Sous Chef from Miami

It is a strategic move resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Executive Chef Kannon Swaris

Huntsville restaurateurs Matthew and Stephanie Mell of the Church Street Family Group worked with New York-based celebrity chef Jimmy Canora to conduct a nationwide search for a new executive chef who can help them navigate through unprecedented times for the food and beverage industries.

Officially stepping into the position this week, Executive Chef Kannon Swaris has moved to Huntsville from Miami where he was most recently the Executive Sous Chef at Nobu Miami. He opened Nobu as a junior sous chef, working under Nobu Chef Thomas Buckley. 

He was senior sous chef of Terra Mare at the Conrad Hotel and opened Isabelle’s, an Italian-American restaurant at the Ritz Carlton.

Swaris will oversee all culinary aspects of Church Street Family’s six Huntsville restaurants, supervise menu and restaurant development and direct the hiring and training of the culinary staff at all six venues.

The Church Street Family owns the Church Street Wine Shoppe, Purveyor at the Avenue Huntsville, Mazzara’s Italian Kitchen and Pourhouse at Stovehouse. They are also planning to open two venues: Catacomb435 in September and The Corner Pour in October.

According to the Mells, the challenges of the pandemic on the restaurant and entertainment industries require teamwork and exceptional leadership in order to not only move their company forward, but to raise the hospitality bar and increase tourism and travel to Huntsville during these challenging times. 

“We are extremely excited to introduce Chef Kannon,” said Stephanie Mell. “One of his first undertakings is the redevelopment of menus at all locations where he will infuse his own style and talents into each dish. We feel honored to have him on our team.”

In the meantime, Canora will continue to work with the Mells to further develop the CSF brand. An award-winning cookbook author and corporate consulting chef at Delmonico’s Wall Street, Canora honed his skills at the Tribeca Grill in Manhattan, owned by actor Robert DeNiro. Canora’s latest cookbook Italian Family Traditions with a Twist is due out in October.

Sit Down with Success: Restaurateur Stephanie Kennedy-Mell

After she spent more than 20 years in the fashion and apparel industry, Stephanie Kennedy-Mell and her husband Matthew Mell opened the Church Street Wine Shoppe in Huntsville.

Now their Church Street Family owns Purveyor at the Avenue, Pourhouse at Stovehouse; Mazzara’s at Stovehouse; and, in spite of the uncertainty of COVID-19, they are about to open Catacomb 435, a speakeasy in the basement of Downtown Self Storage at the corner of Jefferson Street and Clinton Avenue.

Four restaurants and a fifth on the way – aren’t you facing unprecedented challenges?

I look at it as a time to work on your bobbing and weaving skills. The alternative is to get overwhelmed by it and it’s easy enough outside of COVID for small business to get overwhelmed. We take things as they come at us. Adjust, ask questions, prioritize, and handle things as they come at us. Bobbing and weaving all the time and repeating our mantra #keepmovingforward.

How are you getting through it?

We live in an amazing community. It is so supportive of small business and we feel very lucky for that.

We are extremely cautious with our customers and our employees, thanks to relationships we have with people at the hospital.

They have guided us on how to sanitize our restaurants properly and thoroughly; how to deal with positive cases, and how to follow protocols so we can stay open and keep people safe.

They provide us with quick testing, so all our employees are tested for the virus before they are hired on at the Church Street Family. It must come back negative before they can start.

What advice would you give someone getting into the hospitality business right now?

I’m not sure it’s the best time to start a new business, so if you are not already established, I would advise them to hold off.

If they are already established, I say giving up is not the answer. Go slow, be cautious, do your due diligence, and market yourself using social media to reassure people you have survived and are following protocols and guidelines.

How are things at Stovehouse?

It is a great socially distanced space, mostly outdoors, and the tables are socially distanced. It is a comfortable place to go right now to eat and drink, play bocce ball and enjoy music. It is very popular and still growing. The tenants talk to each other daily and have conversations about what is working and what is not; and what we can do together.

And the future?

It is all about attitude. This too shall pass, so keep your chin up. Have a plan and execute your plan. You may have to alter that plan but stay with it.

Church Street Wine Shoppe Moving to the Historic Humphreys–Rogers House

Church Street Wine Shoppe made history by starting the first sitdown wine club in Alabama.

But, now with 600 members, the shop is overflowing at its original location on Church Street downtown.

Owners Stephanie Kennedy-Mell and her husband Matthew Mell are moving the shop, the wine club and their entire Church Street Family restaurant headquarters into the historic Humphreys-Rogers House on the corner of Gates Avenue and Fountain Circle. It will be known as Church Street on Gates.

Chef Kannon Swaris, executive chef for the Church Street family of restaurants.

Built in 1848, the Humphreys-Rogers House has been moved and saved from demolition in recent years and is the only historic house in downtown Huntsville’s business zone.

Listed on the Historic Register, the two-story, 4,000 square-foot mansion is a welcomed expansion from the business’s small location on Church Street. The ground floor corridor, foyer, and formal living room will house the bottle shoppe, serving wine and craft beer. A private room will be dedicated to wine club members.

Upstairs will house the Church Street Family headquarters for all five restaurant venues: Pourhouse and Mazzara’s Italian restaurant, both at Stovehouse; Purveyor at the Avenue; and the new Catacomb Speakeasy opening before Labor Day in the basement of the Downtown Self Storage at 100 Jefferson Street.

“There will be plenty of parking with the city parking garage right across the street,” said Kennedy-Mell. “Pre-pandemic, our Church Street location could only seat 40 people, which was already problematic for our wine club, which meets once a month. We were holding 13 separate wine club meetings to accommodate our 600 members, and during the pandemic, we had adjusted that to 20 meetings of 20 people.

“We also had to close the bottle shoppe down to the public during the meetings, but we will no longer have to do that.”

The Church Street Wine Shoppe wine club is the only wine club in Alabama to offer five-course, sitdown wine tastings with chef-prepared food pairings and guest speakers, sometimes flown in from wine country around the world like California, France, and Argentina. They will also offer first estate wines.

While the Church Street location is only open for dinner, the new bar and bottle shoppe will be open for lunch and dinner, and will bring back popular customer events such as Wine Love Wednesday. They can also hold larger tasting events like the ones they hold twice a year at Purveyor.

Kennedy-Mell will hold a press conference at the landmark location in October, with tours of the new premises as a prelude to an expected December opening.