Durham chef and restaurateur Matt Kelly (Vin Rouge, Mateo Bar de Tapas, Mothers & Sons and the now-closed Saint James Seafood) has purchased Nana’s, a beloved North Carolina fine dining destination from chef-owner Scott Howell.

Kelly, a four-time James Beard semifinalist, plans to renovate the restaurant but keep the name Nana’s and offer a menu inspired by what Howell served for more than 25 years: Southern cuisine executed and influenced by European cooking techniques. Nana’s, alongside Magnolia Grill, Miller Union and Highlands Bar & Grill, was a standard bearer of that culinary tradition in the South.

Howell, an eight-time semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southeast, closed Nana’s in 2020 due to the pandemic. When Kelly first approached Howell about buying the restaurant and keeping the name, Howell says: “I asked him, ‘Are you sure? Don’t you want to make it your own?’ But Matt’s all about the tradition of Nana’s. I wouldn’t want to come behind me there. If anyone can do it, it’s Matt Kelly.”

“I think people are ready to come back to dining,” Kelly says. “I’m at a point where I’m lucky enough to get to express myself via the food I cook. I think Nana’s is a really great canvas for that. I love French cookery. I appreciate Italian cookery. Being able to do that in the kitchen I want and in the dining room that is well known is exciting.”

Kelly hopes to open the new Nana’s by the spring 2023. He plans to offer dinner service five nights a week. The bar program will include classic cocktails crafted from small-batch distillery spirits and a food-driven wine program that includes Old and New World wines from small producers in the Americas and Europe. 

Kelly will be the restaurant’s executive chef and owner. A business partner in Nana’s will be chef de cuisine Nate Garyantes, the longtime chef at Kelly’s restaurant, Mateo Bar de Tapas. Garyantes came to North Carolina a decade ago from Washington, D.C. where he worked as chef de cuisine at Jose Andres’ minibar, the avant-garde restaurant that only served 12 people a night, 30 courses each. Minibar is the creative testing grounds for all of Andres’ restaurant concepts and projects all over the world. 

Garyantes also worked for prolific D.C. restaurateur Ashok Bajaj of the Knightsbridge Restaurant Group at Ardeo+Bardeo. Before that, Garyantes owned and operated restaurant 821, a fine dining restaurant in downtown Wilmington, Del. Garyantes’ food has been praised by both Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan and Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema. About the chicken soup at Ardeo+Bardeo, Sietsema wrote: “It’s unexpected – and marvelous. The deep bowl of tender chicken, hominy, sliced avocado and green chili broth pulsing with heat is both beautiful and deeply

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