Todd Minor admitted it was frightening that the COVID-19 outbreak struck the state just three months after he opened his Kent restaurant.
“That was really scary to have a small business just launched,” Minor said about the tough economic challenges as he stood outside of Nana’s Southern Kitchen, 10234 SE 256th St., on a recent sunny day.
But it didn’t take Nana’s long after it opened in December to develop a reputation as a place to go for soul food. Minor said they were “busy right away.” Those customers have helped keep business steady since the pandemic started.
“The first couple of weeks was not bad,” Minor said after COVID-19 hit. “It was similar to when we just opened. This community and Kent rallied around the restaurant. People were coming in from Covington, Black Diamond, Enumclaw and then Seattle. There was a big emphasis to support Black-owned businesses in the first week of June. That created awareness about Nana’s in other communities. People wanted to try something new.”
Minor, a Microsoft sales manager, decided he wanted to try something new when he opened Nana’s. He’s kept his day job, but opening a southern food restaurant became one of his goals after moving to the Seattle area in 2009 from Hamden, Connecticut.
“I love terrific Asian cuisine, Hispanic food and of course the great seafood, but I missed this,” Minor said. “And food is such a big part of my family’s legacy. We gather around food. I miss Virginia-style southern food. It’s not like the deep south that you would find in Louisiana or northern Florida, it is middle of the road southern, lightly breaded catfish, fried chicken and shrimp. I just missed that type of food.”
The restaurant gave Minor an opportunity to honor his great-grandmother Myrtle Henderson, who was born in Goshen, Virginia and later moved to New Haven, Connecticut. The restaurant is named after Myrtle and features a large photo of her on an inside wall when she worked at a diner near Yale University in New Haven. Many of the recipes are from Nana.
“It was called Clark’s and she worked there for 40 years,” Minor said. “She would welcome everybody and teach life lessons. There were newspaper articles about her hospitality.”
Minor’s grandfather, grandmother and mother all came from the East Coast to Kent after plans were decided to fulfill the family dream of owning a restaurant. Todd and his wife Tanieka Minor, co-owner of Nana’s, live on the East Hill with their five children. Mercedes Minor, their oldest child and a Kentlake High School student, works at the restaurant.
“She runs this place on the weekend,” her father said.
Besides the main dishes, Nana’s offers sides of potato salad, green beans, mustard or collard greens, cabbage, candied yams and macaroni and cheese.
A sampling of online reviews includes:
• “Great customer service as soon as your walk in the door. I immediately felt the Southern hospitality. Crispy golden fried chicken wings, and excellent sides to accompany your meal. I definitely will be back to visit Nana’s again!”
• “The seafood options are the best. Something about the catfish and shrimp and how they fry it, it is killer. The fried chicken is simple but so tasty you don’t need the hot sauce! It’s a great taste all by its own. It really is what you crave cause the pork chops are also simple but super tasty. Go with friends to sample it all!”
• “Yummy. Huge chicken wing tender and juicy while still crunchy. Perfectly done. Excellent Mac n cheese and collards. Again tender and flavorful.”
Minor wants Nana’s to play a big role in the community. He’s hired 14 employees and a couple of them already have gone on to start their own small businesses, an eyelash business and a beauty salon.
“With the current social environment, it’s more important than ever to have difficult conversations and bring people closer together,” Minor said. “Through hospitality, we are able to create that space and understanding. We welcome everyone and I’m really proud of our diverse customer base.”
Minor ran unsuccessfully for the Kent City Council last year, but serves as a member of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission and the city’s Diversity Task Force. The Kent City Council just approved his appointment Sept. 1 to serve as a non-law enforcement representative on the Valley Independent Investigation Team that investigates officers’ uses of deadly force by Kent and other area police departments.
Nana’s Southern Kitchen
• Open for takeout: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
• Main entrees: $10, side dishes: $5; combos also available
• Entrees: fried chicken, pork chops, fried shrimp, catfish
• Sides: Candied yams, potato salad, mac & cheese, cabbage, string beans, collard greens