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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.

Something Delicious is Cooking at Stovehouse

In case you haven’t noticed, there is something moving around over at the century-old Martin Stove Factory, and we are sure it is not the ghosts of Charles and W.H. Martin, transitioning wood-burning stoves into electric ranges and cast-iron skillets.

However, there is definitely something cooking in the old stove plant at 3414 Governors Drive in west Huntsville that promises to satisfy that itch you often get – you know, the one where you are craving something out of the ordinary to eat and a unique atmosphere in which to enjoy it?

Danny and Patti Yancey purchased the old Martin Brother’s stove plant facility in 2016 to preserve its rich history. Danny is a Huntsville history buff and 30-year veteran of construction and finance. Together with Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate Group, they are developing the 200,000 square foot building situated on a 10-acre property into a thriving large-scale food, office, events, and entertainment complex surrounding a hub of eclectic cuisine that showcases the talents of local restaurateurs and chefs.

“Stovehouse will blur the line between modern and historical, work and play, and small-town culture and high-tech urban energy,” said Yancey. “The food garden is the heart of Stovehouse. It’s where the city can mingle, enjoy live music, play games, and experience some of the best food Huntsville has to offer.”

Several local restaurateurs and chefs will be opening unique dining concepts in the food garden, beginning with Kamado Ramen, Oh Crêpe, Pourhouse, and Mazzara’s Italian Kitchen.

Kamado Ramen and Oh Crêpe are Japanese-inspired eateries, both members of Huntsville and Madison’s I Love Sushi restaurant team.

Coincidentally, Kamado means “stove” in Japanese and they will feature several bowl options that include various noodles, sauces, vegetables and meats. All sauces will be made in-house and patrons can enjoy dishes that showcase pork belly, chicken breast, kimchi, deep fried pork, and Japanese soft-boiled eggs.

General manager Chao Fang said, “Kamado will be hyper-focused on creating the highest quality ramen dishes in the area. A lot goes into creating exceptional ramen and our goal is to be the place everyone immediately thinks of when someone mentions ramen in Huntsville.”

Jim Xue, partner at Kamado Ramen and Oh Crêpe, said, “Huntsville is very progressive when it comes to accepting new and exciting restaurants to the area. When it came to selecting a site, Stovehouse fit our needs on every level. We are very excited to be a part of it.”

Oh Crêpe will offer a fun spin on traditional crêpes using Japanese flavors and ingredients like banana, green tea ice cream and chocolate, or savory selections like lobster, chicken and spinach. The crêperie will also offer Taiwanese-style shaved ice cream along with several toppings.

General manager Yituan Wang said, “You can completely change the look and taste of crêpes depending on what flour you use. Oh Crêpe will use Japanese rice flour, and pay special attention to the presentation. We can’t wait for people to see how beautiful our crêpes look and discover how wonderful they taste.”

The creators of Church Street Wine Shoppe and Purveyor have committed to opening Pourhouse, an eclectic upscale bar; and Mazzara’s Italian Kitchen at the Stovehouse Food Garden next year as well.

“We like to think that if Purveyor had a little sister, Pourhouse would be in her place,” said Stephanie Kennedy-Mell, the pub’s co-owner and creator. “Pourhouse will be a bohemian, laid-back, upscale and ‘comfortably swanky’ bar with unique touches not yet seen in Huntsville. Customers can grab a drink and enjoy the rooftop deck or one of our heated outdoor patios, complete with fireplace. It will be at the center of everything at Stovehouse.”

Pourhouse will serve a wide selection of wines; domestic, international and local craft beers; spirits; and handcrafted cocktails. Although no food will be served at the bar, guests are welcome to bring food from the eateries over to the Pourhouse area and enjoy their meal with their favorite Pourhouse selection.

Serving fresh, made-in-house pasta, sauces, and other traditional Italian fare, Mazzara’s Italian Kitchen will feature primarily Mazzara family recipes. They have been passed down for generations to owner Stephanie Kennedy-Mell, from her great-grandparents, Stefano and Carmela Mazzara, who were Italian cooks from Sicily.

“Mazzara is my family name and our menu may feature favorites like chicken parmigiana and lasagna as staples, but my great-grandmother’s eggplant rollatini will be something everyone will be watching for,” she said. “Service and quality are our trademarks at the Church Street Family and this will be fast, casual service with the high-quality food our customers have come to expect from us.”

Managed by Chef Rene Boyzo of Purveyor, Mazzara’s will also feature Guistino’s Gelato, a made-from-scratch gelateria created by Huntsville local, Justin Rosoff.

Rosoff took classes in Bologna, Italy, to craft artisanal hard and soft-serve gelato, pastries, and gelato pops. All gelato will be made in small batches on premise, so guests can watch Justin create the desserts in person. Patrons can also enjoy seasonal sorbets, biscotti, rainbow cookies, almond cookies and Italian coffee. Dairy- and gluten-free options will be available.

All four eateries are scheduled to open in March 2019.

“Stovehouse is the perfect backdrop for these new concepts from Matt and Stephanie,” said Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate Principal Wesley Crunkleton. “The Food Garden will allow guests to experience delicious authentic food from different destinations around the world, and the Church Street team has a proven track record of success when it comes to creating concepts that Huntsville embraces.”