As the successful owner of Nana’s Chicken-n-Waffles in McDonough, Georgia, and the author of Kooking With Kelli, it’s safe to say that Kelli Ferrell is leading the charge of Southern culinary tastemakers in the industry. One might even assume that such talent is purely innate.

Ferrell proudly stands on the shoulders of the mighty women who’ve come before her and helped instill her culinary passions. As she continues transforming the lessons ingrained in her by her mother and grandmother into profitable endeavors, there’s so much more than meets the eye. 

EBONY chatted with Ferrell to learn more about her passion for cooking and her entrepreneurial endeavors.

EBONY: Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a successful chef and entrepreneur, as well as what sparked your passion for cooking? 

Kelli Ferrell: I think the passion came from cooking with my mother and my grandmother. Being a little girl, I just watched them cook in the kitchen. Enjoying family time and just kind of seeing that from start to finish really inspired me—how you can take something so small and turn it into something unique. That’s where my passion came from. 

In regards to being a successful chef and entrepreneur, I don’t even feel like I’m all the way there yett. I feel like there’s so much more for me to do. The journey has been absolutely amazing, and I think being able to open up two restaurants, publish a cookbook, be on television shows are amazing, but I have so many things to accomplish.

Nana’s Chicken-N-Waffles has become a beloved destination for foodies. What do you think sets your restaurant apart from others? 

Clearly, the food [laughs], but I think also the warm and friendly environment. When I first started the restaurant, I wanted people to feel like they were at home, like they were at their nana’s house. It was important for me for it to be intimate, for it to be small, and for it to be extremely welcoming and to have amazing food. I didn’t want to have a very large menu. I wanted to make sure that the menu was short and sweet. The menu really hasn’t changed over the years. Occasionally, we add a few waffle flavors—and we do have a secret menu—but I really wanted it to be more about the food and the environment. Those were super important for me.  

Can you tell us more about your cookbook, Kooking with Kelli? 

Kooking With Kelli is my first cookbook. The inspiration was that I wanted the cookbook to mimic food and fashion. I didn’t want it to just be a cookbook; I wanted it to look into who I am as a person. I didn’t want to just have recipes, I wanted it to be about my family and my daughters. We had a few limited-editions come in a box. It had a little red marker on it, so you could hold onto the page. You know, I wanted it to be fun. I wanted it to be inspiring, and it was just that.

Kooking with Kelli
Kelli Ferrell

Price: $30

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You’ve appeared on a number of popular cooking shows. How was your experience on these shows, and how do you think they’ve helped elevate your brand? 

Cooking shows are always fun. I always get people that recognize me from a cooking show. And people always want to know different recipes, so that’s inspiring. I’ve had people that have visited my restaurants from all over, just off of watching me on the Food Network, OWN or Kelly and Ryan. Hopefully, one day I’ll have my own cooking show. 

What advice would you give aspiring chefs and entrepreneurs, especially those looking to start their restaurant business? 

The same advice that I give all the time: it’s really just about going for it. It’s not always going to be easy; it won’t always be perfect, but it will definitely be worth it. Work hard, go for it and invest in yourself. There will be a lot of nays before the yays, but once that "yes’" comes, it’s the best feeling in the world.

What’s next for your brand, and what can we expect to see in the future? 

You can expect to see more restaurants opening very soon. I actually have a line of grits and a waffle mix coming out soon. I’m working on my mommy-and-me cookbook, and hopefully, that’ll also be out very soon.