When Greg Biggers gets up, he is ready to rock and roll. Throughout the day, the chef’s mind is constantly racing with thoughts of how to make his concepts better. By simultaneously running restaurants in Nashville and Chicago, Biggers has become an ace at multitasking, decision-making, and choosing the right team. The chef knows that it takes an army—and one you treat well—to accomplish your dreams without losing your mind. Currently, his day job is as Executive Chef a Chicago’s Sofitel Hotel’s Cafe des Architects where he has worked since 2011. On the weekends, he leaves the Windy for Music City where he recently opened Fort Louise. Co-owned with childhood buddy Jessica Bower, a lifestyle boutique owner and fellow Florence, Alabama native, Fort Louise calls itself “a friendly spin on American comfort food.” After years of laboring over million-course meals, Biggers no longer wants guests to feel as though they need a rulebook to enjoy their dinner. By rebelling against his fine dining background and returning to the less pretentious fried chicken and dumplings of his youth, he is also getting back to his roots. The award-winning chef may have internationally recognized establishments on his CV however, at Fort Louise his goal is simple: serve damn good food that can be equally enjoyed with a craft cocktail or a Miller High Life. (His preferred choice of beverage.)
How do you balance running restaurants in two different cities?
GB: I get up at 530 every morning and devote the first part of my day to answering emails, making lists, and making sure everyone has what they need. It’s a matter of hiring the right people and checking in often enough to know what’s going down. It’s a little hectic but I’ve found a way to make both work. I think. (Laughs)
What attracted you to Nashville’s culinary scene?
GB: I used to live in Charleston, which similar to Nashville, also took off in recent years as a world class dining city. In Chicago, so many restaurants open every year that it’s harder to make a splash. Fort Louise felt like the right concept with the right people at the right time. Everything worked out as it should.
Could you give us a brief description of what to expect?
GB: Our goal was for people to think they were walking into a dinner party. There’s an ornate fireplace, mirrors on the wall, and playful, comfort food to match. We really diners to feel like they were hanging at a friend’s house.
Why did you want to ditch fine dining at your new joint?
GB: I wanted to see if I could make meals differently. While I still love preparing a thirty course meal for my guests, it’s also awesome to create something unique and low-key with baby back ribs.
Can you tell me a bit about some of your first restaurant jobs?
GB: My first gig was in high school as a dishwasher at a massive steakhouse. I was a 90-pound, 5’2″ kid carrying garbage bags as big as me. Next, I worked at a Chuckee Cheese before getting a scholarship for photography at the University of Alabama. While I ended up dropping out, I still see food the same way that I looked through the camera lenses. Next, I got the opportunity to work with renowned chef Matthew Wood and that was all she wrote. From there, I moved to Charleston, which is when my career really kicked off.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
GB: Instead of wasting all of your money on school, get your butt kicked for a while at a busy restaurant. Only there can you learn the real life curveballs of balancing strong personalities and the intensity that you face in the kitchen. Find the chefs you know kick ass and do everything that you can to work with them.
At what point in your career did you think, I have the prowess to lead a team?
GB: When I realized that I was really good at controlling chaos and keeping calm in the midst of madness.
What is your secret to keeping your cool?
GB: Realizing that we are just cooking food. It’s really easy to get hyper focused on perfection but you’re not always going to achieve it. Even if you don’t, you still have to push forward. Humility plays a huge hand in being able to withstand the pressure. The rest of my day is spent managing, teaching, and trying to help my team achieve work-life balance. They should have lives outside of the kitchen.
Why did you and your business partner Jessica decide to work together?
GB: We are similar as far as our hustling abilities and career goals go however, she is into crystals and wellbeing and I love motorcycles and punk rock. We’re two dynamically different people with the same drive.
What is your number-one goal for Fort Louise?
GB: To flip comfort food on its head yet, make it easy to understand.
What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
GB: I’m really loving teaching lately whether its cooking techniques or how to run the numbers. At age 41, it’s really exciting to mentor the younger parts of my crew and watch them go on and do other great things.