By Emma Kent
James Beard nominated chef Cole Ellis and his restaurant, Delta Meat Market, has the eyes of the food world on Cleveland. We talked with Ellis about starting the restaurant and his favorite things to do in the Delta.
Delta Meat Market is a lot of things: Butcher shop, restaurant, grocery, and for owner Cole Ellis, the successful result of some risk-taking. It all began when Ellis decided to stop studying accounting after two years at Mississippi State University and move to Charleston, South Carolina in the early 2000s.
“I didn’t want to sit behind a desk for the rest of my life,” he said.
He lived with a friend in Charleston, working in restaurants, and ended up staying and attending culinary school there.
Ellis opened Delta Meat Market in 2013. Ellis and his wife had been living in Nashville and were expecting their first child. Ellis was working at a hotel, and they were also maintaining a 66-acre farm and cattle ranch. With so much on their plate, they just kind of felt like something had to give.
“It just felt like a lot of letting one thing down to take care of another,” he said.
Knowing what the restaurant business was like in Nashville at the time, Ellis decided that it would be easier to start their own somewhere else. So, they sold their house in Nashville and used the money to move to Cleveland and set up shop in the city’s downtown area.
Delta Meat Market started with Ellis’s idea for a small butcher shop and grocery store combination, and it’s grown from there one step at a time. When it started, Delta Meat Market was just two meat counters and a small grocery area.
“We didn’t even have tables and chairs,” Ellis said.
About seven months in, they decided to start cooking three days a week. They did that for a while and then expanded to catering. Since then, Delta Meat has begun serving lunch Monday through Saturday and hosting happy hour every Friday night with live music, craft beer and food specials.
The key, Ellis said, has just been to look for needs to fill in the local food scene and try new things.
“So many things have shifted and changed,” Ellis said, noting that with each development, his goal remains to broaden people’s horizons and make them excited about high-quality food and dining.
The next step for Ellis and the Delta Meat crew is a move across the street to the Cotton House, a new five-story, 95-room boutique hotel.
The restaurant will be located on the hotel’s first floor, where they’ll begin serving up three meals a day, a new venture for the Meat Market. Ellis also has plans to open a rooftop bar at the hotel, Bar Fontaine, which will specialize in craft cocktails and Southern European fare.
Get to Know Cole Ellis
Q: What are your ties to the Delta?
“I was born and raised here.”
Q: What is it that draws you to cooking and food?
“You get that weird sense of gratification when people enjoy something that you make.”
Q: What would your last meal be?
“I think I would want to take one more trip through the line at Arnold’s meat and three in Nashville.”
Q: Where do you get your meats and ingredients?
“We try to stay regional. All of the seafood we try to get from the Gulf. We’re a little bit off the beaten path in Cleveland, so it’s hard to get some things, but we do try to stay true to the region, even with the groceries.”
Q: What is the most popular item on the Delta Meat Market menu?
“People love our pastrami. We change the menu every week, so it’s hard to say one particular thing.”
Q: What is it like being a small business owner in Cleveland?
“You almost feel like the odd man out at first, but then everyone warms up to you and it’s a good community.”