Mooresville isn’t all about tank tops and blue jean shorts, according to Chris Boukedes.
The Iredell County town that’s steeped in history but at times tainted with a redneck reputation is beginning to emerge as a new hotspot for foodies and those tired of the Charlotte dining landscape. On The Nines, a new restaurant within the Mooresville Golf Club, is helping reshape the town’s image.
On the Nines is an experience of Southern hospitality wrapped neatly in a French bistro image, and that’s exactly what co-owners Boukedes and Tara Creedon were going for when they teamed up with executive chef Steve Jordan to open the restaurant in September 2017.
Originally, the team considered setting up shop in a renovated house, much like the restaurants lining the streets of Charlotte’s Elizabeth and Dilworth neighborhoods, but the property they had in mind needed extensive work, to the point where razing and rebuilding would make more sense.
Before they could decide on whether to dive into such a complex project, the pair caught wind of the property on the green of the golf course. The city owned it, and officials wanted a fresh twist and a new vision.
“When [the town of Mooresville] wanted to update this place, they were looking for a restaurant partner that wasn’t a chain, that wasn’t going to [serve] an average club sandwich with a pitcher of Arnold Palmer,” Boukedes said.
After the team cooked up a concept, officials gave the green light almost immediately. Boukedes and Creedon got to work on the menu, a cocktail and wine program and revamping the dining room interior.
“The town is very forward-thinking, but it still has an old history to it and we’re embracing that,” Boukedes explained, pointing out the different black-and-white photographs of grape vines, farmhouses and crop fields hung around the dining room.
With one foot in the agricultural history of Mooresville and another in the town’s development, the atmosphere at On the Nines encapsulates the best of the past and future. Large-format photos displaying the quaint and rural images of Mooresville pay homage to the town’s history and agricultural roots, while the cuisine is a twist of Southern and French.
The menu is the brainchild of Jordan, who started his culinary journey in Charleston, South Carolina. After graduating from the since-closed Charleston, South Carolina, campus of Johnson & Wales University, he continued his training at a French bistro there.
Jordan’s experience with creating Southern staples and classical French dishes is apparent in the menu. His style marries the two worlds of cuisine with dishes ranging from buttermilk confit to fried chicken and Provencal-style shrimp.
“It’s taking mixtures of both cultures and putting it on the plate,” Jordan stated.
Boukedes exalts the chef’s skills in the kitchen, noting that it can take a long time for a chef’s passion to shine through in a restaurant’s food, but Jordan executed it easily.
“What he’s done is he’s infused soul into a brand new restaurant that takes decades to instill,” Boukedes said. “He’s got it from the very beginning.”
As a proclaimed purveyor of fresh ingredients and local resources, his artistry on the plate is a reflection of his everyday life.
“It just comes from what I’ve eaten, what I’ve smelled, what I drive by, when I go to the grocery I see something new and just take it from there,” Jordan said. “And I take it from old menu items that I’ve seen and other places I’ve eaten.”
Boukedes sees Jordan’s work as an art.
“My biggest happiness is watching him paint this canvas,” he explained. “That was a blank plate 10 minutes ago. An artist says, ‘What am I feeling? What is my emotion? What do the people want?’ And then he creates his artwork.”
Of course, On the Nines is more than a quick trip or an Uber away — that is not lost on the owners. However, they believe that Mooresville is on its way up, and they’d rather not blend into the hundreds of restaurants packed within the I-485 belt.
For Boukedes, that just means they have to deliver the best culinary experience they can.
“Up here, you don’t have as much competition, but you also don’t have as many people to pull from,” Boukedes said. “I know that we’re making waves. We just have to get the word out to the rest of them.”
It starts with perception. Many may think of On the Nines as being a private dining club, exclusive to those with golf club memberships. Not the case, Jordan explained.
“It’s a restaurant on a golf course, it’s not a golf course restaurant,” he said.
As I sat down with Boukedes and Jordan on a recent Wednesday evening, the bistro began to fill with patrons, many of whom came over to say hello and shake hands. The two knew almost every person that walked into the place.
They’re purposeful about building connections with the locals, whether through jovial conversations or by simple customer service.
“Can’t do this overnight,” Boukedes said. “It’s not Charlotte where you can do one drop and 10,000 people know about it in the instant because you paid for it. Because you have to touch each person one by one. And that takes time.”
He’s not just about the locals, however. Boukedes believes one trip to his restaurant can convince Charlotteans to make the escape from the city a regular thing. If not for the food, at least for the cocktails.
In the way that Jordan uses fresh ingredients to create in-house dishes, bar manager Melissa Frost is constantly updating the cocktail and wine program to reflect the changing tastes of customers.
“The trends are changing and so is the taste of this area. A lot of people are trying new things, and ordering things that they normally [wouldn’t like],” she said.
In addition to an extensive bloody mary bar available for weekend brunch, Frost created a twist on a classic French 7. Her new take on a Negroni or a smoked old fashioned brings a classic, yet fresh, program of drink mixtures to the menu.
Frost listens closely to feedback, which helps her dictate what the next program version will look like, daring customers to stray from simple gin and tonics.
“I wanted to add something adventurous but that people are also going to enjoy,” Frost stated.
Although it’s a mini-road trip just to get to the humble, up-and-coming town of Mooresville for a visit to On the Nines, the restaurant has certainly figured out the best blend of culinary styles and cocktails to entice folks south of the county border who are tired of the same old food scene.
In the end, the blend of direction from Boukedes and Jordan brings a new restaurant to the forefront of Mooresville, and the duo can see a positive future for both the town and the restaurant.
“With Steve and I, we’re two totally different birds in the business but we feed off of that,” Boukedes said. “From the front of the house to the back of the house and vice versa, we’ve got some good momentum and there’s good things to come with this place.”