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Prominent Durham Chef Matt Kelly Takes Over Legendary Fine-Dining Restaurant Nana’s

Restaurateur Matt Kelly wants to keep the tradition alive

A white man with a beard leaning against a glass door that reads “Nana’s.”
Chef/owner Matt Kelly outside of Nana’s.
Baxter Miller
Erin Perkins is the editor of Eater Carolinas, covering the food and restaurant scene across North and South Carolina.

Days after closing Durham eatery Saint James Seafood (806 W. Main Street, Durham), chef Matt Kelly announced his latest project — bringing famed North Carolina restaurant Nana’s (2514 University Drive, Durham) back to life.

Nana’s opened in 1992, under chef Scott Howell, as a fine dining restaurant and quickly rose to acclaim. The menu was seasonal new Southern cuisine with heavy French and Italian influences. It was famous for its chicken liver pate, risotto, and extensive wine list. Nana’s closed in 2018, but then made a comeback in 2019, only to shut down during the pandemic and not reopen — until Kelly took interest.

Kelly wants to keep the traditions of Nana’s going. “I think myself and a lot of other people probably wouldn’t be cooking in Durham if it wasn’t for places like Nana’s,” says Kelly. He credits the restaurant and other fine-dining forefathers like Magnolia Grill with shaping the Triangle’s culinary scene today. “Nana’s has always been a great neighborhood restaurant in the American South, and that’s what I want to do.”

The most important thing to Kelly is that Nana’s remains a comfortable gathering space for customers to grab a cocktail and a good meal, or a “canvas for a good time,” as he says. Kelly and his team plan to update the 30-year-old dining room, but he predicts the iconic white tablecloths will remain. “I don’t believe in trends,” says Kelly, “I do want to do shit in confidence and provide a great atmosphere and a great experience for people and be very team-focused and have a super chill kitchen where we get to make the type of food we want to make and serve the guests and in the manner we want to serve.”

He predicts the new Nana’s will open in spring 2023.

Kelly currently runs tapas spot Mateo (109 West Chapel Hill Street, Durham), Mother & Sons Trattoria (107 West Chapel Hill Street, Durham), Italian cafe Alimentari (105 West Chapel Hill Street, Durham), and is a chef/partner at French bistro Vin Rouge (2010 Hillsborough Road, Durham).