Chef Henry’s story begins in St. Maurice, Louisiana, where he was born and raised on his family’s 1,500 acre cotton, cattle, and pecan farm. As soon as he arrived home from the hospital, Nanny Castell was there to greet him. Nanny was Henry’s beloved “second mother,” serving as his nurturer, his confidante, his comforter—a godsend for Henry and his Southern belle mother, Billie Nell.
Nanny Castell was the center of Henry’s life from as early as he can remember, cooking his breakfast, making sure that he got dressed and met the school bus on time, putting on the Band-Aids and dishing out the discipline, too!
Henry’s love of cooking grew from an early age as he watched Nanny prepare three meals a day for the family. When he was 8, he began to help her in the kitchen with things like turnip greens, okra, tomatoes, sweet squash, and fried catfish.
At the ripe old age of 10, Henry cooked and served his first full meal to Nanny, Mama, Daddy, and the 15 or so farmhands. He made chicken and dumplings from scratch, hand-rolling the dough himself, making the stock, and adding fresh cream. Everyone loved the meal, an event that inspired Henry’s farm-fresh focus for the restaurant many years later.
Henry’s dad, a WWII veteran who ran a local liquor store in addition to the farm, often invited travelers to stay for a meal. Their home was a gathering place for many: friends, family, and strangers. They would all enjoy a meal together, especially on Saturday nights when the end of the farm week was celebrated with a delicious roast.
After the success of his first meal, Henry began to prepare other traditional Southern dishes, such as fried chicken livers, chicken-fried pork chops, and lima beans with ham hocks— early favorites that have, not surprisingly, found their way on to Henry’s Louisiana Grill’s ‘specials’ menu from time to time.
Though Henry grew up in Northern Louisiana, he went to college in Lafayette, where he was exposed to true Cajun and Creole cooking. Henry was raised on Southern soul food, but the French influence of this other Louisiana began to exert a strong influence on him, too.
Always outgoing, Henry made a lot of friends in Cajun country and began cooking with relatives, friends and their extended families. A friend might stop in at his Maw-maws and find Henry cooking up a meal with the aunts! Henry prepared traditional Louisiana cuisine with them such as gumbo, jambalaya and étouffée. He discovered he enjoyed cooking much more than studying.
Henry’s daddy told him, “Son, some people were made for college and some aren’t. You’re an ‘aren’t.’” After enjoying student life a little too much, his dad sent him to work on an oil rig. A few years later Henry found himself in Dallas, TX, working alongside his brother in their construction business and later at a retail shop called The Cajun Connection, selling Louisiana food and demonstrating how to prepare it.
Henry met his beautiful wife Claudia in Dallas and they were married in 1989. They began a small catering business out of their apartment, which was affectionately named Mighty Fine Cooking. He started with large crawfish and shrimp boils and a fusion of soul and Cajun food.
Before the catering business had time to take off, Claudia’s job took them to Haslemere, England, 50 miles south of London. There, Henry met Stephen Minall, who mentored Henry and helped him gain restaurant experience while he attended culinary school. Henry graduated with a degree in French Culinary Arts from Guilford Tech, where he specialized in sauces, a skill he uses to make all of Henry’s dishes extra delicious.
After three years in London, followed by a six-week tour of Europe on a Harley, the couple settled in Georgia. Henry dove into a new restaurant position with zeal, working with another mentor, Chef Ian Winslade, at Tom Tom a Bistro. He subsequently helped start a Mediterranean/Italian restaurant in the Atlanta area. Next, Henry took on his most important job: staying home with daughter Danielle and son Liam, for the first years after they were born.
Henry continued to work at his culinary art, eagerly learning everything he could. He loved combining modern American and his beloved soul food with Cajun influences, perfecting his own kind of fusion.
Henry began creating huge batches of dishes like gumbo and red beans and rice, and giving out samples at local food festivals and word began to spread. Soon it was clear that there were a lot of Georgians hungry for Henry’s special dishes. It was time to make the growing dream a reality.
When the original location of Henry’s Louisiana Grill opened on Main Street, there wasn’t much happening in downtown Acworth: a florist and a few small shops amid many boarded-up buildings, along a street that rolled up at 5 p.m. It took an incredible effort by the Chandler family, friends, and a supportive community to get the restaurant off the ground, including months of back-breaking work preparing the previously neglected space. Henry’s well-wishers accepted his wonderful food in payment for their support; so, on many evenings they shared boudin (Cajun sausage), feasted on gumbo, or enjoyed another of Henry’s special preparations together on the emerging site that would become the town’s economic engine and favorite meeting place.
Opening day could have been a 90-degree disaster when the air-conditioner stopped working, but one customer at a time, the people came and word about Henry’s grew.
With a small staff, including Francisco, an early hire who became a friend, the restaurant grew beyond the Chandler’s wildest expectations. After four years of long days and a three-hour wait for tables on the weekends, Henry’s needed a bigger location.
They found the perfect spot just a few doors down. With the faith of its father/son owners, Larry & Jonathan Braden, the Chandlers renovated the Armstrong building and made the leap from one address to another. Customers followed in droves.
Then, just when their hard work was paying off, everything changed for Henry. Seven years after he opened the original restaurant’s doors, he discovered he needed a liver transplant. With the support of his family, staff, and the community once again, he made a full recovery; more thankful than ever to his Maker, and determined to give back in every way possible.
Today, Henry’s Louisiana Grill continues as a thriving, exciting restaurant in the heart of downtown Acworth, the town that helped build it and that continues to sustain it. Henry’s welcomes guests from many miles away who extend the community across the country and the world!
The story of Henry is also the story of you, the many guests who have tasted, loved, and created memories at Henry’s Louisiana Grill. Thank you for being a part of our family and making the dream happen every day.