James Beard-nominated Chef Greg Collier and Subrina Collier (the two are business partners and life partners) opened their new restaurant concept, Leah & Louise, right smack in the midst of the tumultuous spring 2020.
The much-anticipated addition to Camp North End (and the first eatery to open there) overcame the odds, and now sits at 1800 square feet with a signature juke joint flare, and provides a dinner service that delivers the Colliers’ and their team’s take on Memphis cookin’.
Their Mississippi River area-inspired eatery is a nod to the Colliers’ roots, but with their own well-honed modern twist. Every item in the restaurant, from the food choices to the pews, the steel cage bar storage to “the couches our grandmas wouldn’t let us sit on”, is a nod to the fact that both Colliers were born and raised in Memphis, a place known for its history-steeped BBQ and a flavor profile Chef Collier describes as “sweet, smoky, acidic, and salty.”
Expect dishes like oxtail and dumplings, tilefish, smoked chicken, and slow-roasted cabbage.
The two will split their time, with Subrina and head chef Oscar Johnson running the couple’s other restaurant, Uptown Yolk, and Greg will be cooking at Leah & Louise every night with his Sous Chef Tchnavia Carter, Pastry Chef Jasmine Macon, and alongside general manager Jessica Riley.
“Leah & Louise is a celebration of black women,” Greg notes. “It’s Southern food by way of the Mississippi River, and these women are the stewards of that ethos.”
Why did you choose to set up shop in Camp North End?
We have always loved industrial spaces. Camp North End is also in a historically African-American neighborhood, which is important to us and it is also very diverse. There are four Black-owned businesses here (Dupp & Swat, Blk Mrkt, eXplicit Salon, and Macfly Fresh Printing Company).
What’s your personal favorite dish on the menu?
If I had to pick, probably our Catfish stew. My goal as a cook is to speak directly to my heritage and my foodways. Fish and grits is quintessentially Southern. Catfish stew and blackened catfish both speak to my roots.
Who is heading up the bar program, and what can we expect?
Justin Hazelton, formally of 5Church and Sophia’s Lounge. The bar program will include riffs on classics, a strong use of local ingredients, and very technique-driven cocktails that will still remain approachable. There are also local beers on draft and a solid wine selection.
What sets Leah & Louise apart?
When I took over at Loft & Cellar (the Charlotte restaurant where Chef Collier previously cooked), our food was very expressive of black foodways. We got a Beard nomination while there and Subrina hadn’t built the space. [Now] with her design, Justin’s drinks, blues music, and my food, we will offer a singular experience. We are Black business owners so it’s important to us to find and promote black talent as much as we can. Subrina and I believe that creates an environment for inspiration and a family atmosphere.
Leah & Louise will serve a “Family Meal.” Can you tell us about this concept and how it came to be?
We put the family meals on the daily menu now. We will change those with the season and will do a Sunday Supper after Phase 3 starts in North Carolina.
Will you source any food locally?
Always have, always will. We work with Freshlist (a local food-sourcing business that was created to “rework Charlotte’s food system and to build a better food community”) and we have our own planter boxes for herbs.
What are your goals for the first year of the restaurant and beyond?
Obviously our biggest goal is to create a healthy environment for our guests. We hope we can continue to push forward the culinary scene. Hopefully, we will have promoted staff and highlighted more African-American talent in the city.
Opening a restaurant is an incredible undertaking during “normal times.” Can you just talk to us a bit about the process of opening this year, and what it means to you to be able to open finally?
We don’t see a lot of spaces created for young Black folks in the city, places where you can have a great meal, a great drink, and listen to some good music. We think we have created that and more. It feels amazing to be able to welcome everybody into our world, our home! Honestly, COVID was hard but Subrina and I didn’t start with SBA loans, and we don’t come from money. We borrowed 15 thousand dollars from her parents and had to figure sh** out. The pandemic is different, but not much different than trying to navigate through racism.