Editor’s note: This is the first article in an interview series with Black-owned restaurants that will run weekly throughout February.
One of the many business lessons that Ebony Austin learned early was how cultivating a fervor for delivering top-notch customer service mattered. This has been instrumental in her success as a Black restaurateur of Nouveau Bar & Grill with two locations in the metro areas of Atlanta. Specializing in African-American soul food & New Orleans Creole cuisines. Additionally, and just as importantly, her specialty food item, Stone Ground Grits is sold online and shipped across the U.S. with all of the proceeds donated to HBCU students in the form of scholarships, gifts, and cash prizes.
With her achievements vividly demonstrating entrepreneurial resilience, passion, and a dedication to giving back, I wanted to know more. Last week, I sat down with Ebony Austin, and below are highlights from our conversation.
What made you decide to open a restaurant?
When I was a teenager, my mother had a takeout restaurant in Chicago with lines around the block to order her chicken, burgers, and tacos. From that experience, I knew it was what I wanted to do. After witnessing first-hand my mother’s dynamic customer service skills bringing authentic relationships with everyone who came to the restaurant making sure they left with a smile and their appetites were satisfied. At Nouveau Bar & Grill, we enjoy serving people and providing a delicious and memorable experience.
How did you raise the capital to launch the first Nouveau Bar & Grill?
It took me three years to find the right location and that allowed me to save money from my real estate business. As a result, I was able to fund the majority myself. And, knowing the importance of showing financial stability in my business, I opted to pay my rent for the entire year in advance. By doing so, I was able to focus on designing the restaurant, fostering an empowered and cohesive team, and building out the menu which meant adapting to evolving customer dietary and new food trends.
What is your biggest tip for others who want to open their own restaurant?
Saving is essential when starting a business so I recommend every owner set aside a certain percentage of their salary and put it in a “ghost account” which you know is there but you also know not to touch it. And, when you do this, it is easier to bet on yourself and that is what it takes. Every business journey, especially in the restaurant industry, is filled with ups and downs and you need to be able to get through both the good and the bad times.
What have you learned about staffing and retention?
We know when employees feel valued it can increase profits, operations, and service performance for restaurants and bars alike. That is why we have training programs, regularly scheduled staff meetings, organize outside team-building events, and have incentive and bonus plans. I want to ensure that my team is extremely valued and that they understand that we are a family. Essentially, I cannot build brand trust by myself, and having our committed workforce believe in our restaurant and social impact mission, has been inspiring to us and our customers.
Tell us about your product line and give-back donation program.
Nouveau Creations, is our line of stone-ground grits that comes in three flavors: Original, Garlic & Herb, and Jalapeno & Cheddar. These grits are a heartfelt tribute to my beloved grandmother and an embodiment of her culinary legacy. By sharing them through online ordering, we are letting the world taste a piece of what I grew up on because we know how food can transcend generations. All of the proceeds are donated in the form of scholarships to students who are studying at HBCU’s. Giving back to the community is a responsibility that I take to heart because I want to create opportunities not just for myself but for those who need a hand. 100 percent of the proceeds from Stone Ground Grits go toward funding college scholarships because I believe education is the pathway to empowerment and through this measure we strive to transform countless lives.
What are your growth plans for Nouveau Bar & Grill and the Grits line?
We are planning to open two more locations in Dallas, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee. Our grit line is now in 55 grocery stores and we are looking to be in 300 by the end of the year and we are super excited about that as well
Tenyse Williams is an award-winning Brand Strategist, an Adjunct Instructional Specialist at Columbia University and George Washington University, and Founder & Chief Communications Officer of Verified Consulting, leading a team of digital marketing professionals amplifying awareness for their clients. Follow her on LinkedIn.