Nathaniel Walker has a vision.
That vision includes great soul food, a genuine sense of community and a continued effort to give others a second chance. Thelma’s Kitchen, his upcoming restaurant at 3250 Victory Drive, fits in perfectly.
The restaurant, which is expected to open July 9, is Walker’s third location. It will be his second restaurant since its inception. The others are in Eufaula, Alabama.
“If you want food that you grew up on, especially our vegetables, you come to Thelma’s Kitchen,” Walker told the Ledger-Enquirer. “Also, too, what Thelma’s Kitchen does is we also give people a second chance.”
A second chance
Around 38 years ago, Walker found himself “strung out on drugs and alcohol,” he said.
“I always knew I was a better person than that,” Walker said. “So, God allowed me to go to prison.”
In prison, Walker started washing dishes and eventually helped the cooks. Then, he attended a prison culinary training program. After he completed his sentence, he trained under chefs at Italian restaurants.
Then, 26 years ago, Walker took a leap of faith and started Thelma’s Kitchen.
“I never looked back,” Walker said. “So here I am.”
Walker said his gift is giving others a second chance — whether an individual is struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or having a hard time finding a job due to past circumstances, Thelma’s Kitchen has a place for them.
“I’m working within my gift,” Walker said. “ … I’m finally working in my purpose. This is what I do, and why I’m doing it, you know, I enjoy it, and I have peace. That’s more important than anything.”
Relaxing atmosphere and ‘phenomenal’ food
A wall of pictures greets visitors as they enter the restaurant. A few notable people pictured are singer Charlie Wilson and celebrity chef Andrew Zimmerman. One of them is a selfie of Walker’s with comedian and game show host Steve Harvey.
Customers hear soft jazz music playing over the loudspeakers as they glance up at mounted televisions, each displaying the restaurant’s menu.
“It’s a very relaxing atmosphere,” Walker said. “And the food is phenomenal. The food here is fresh, everything is fresh, especially our homemade banana pudding.”
Walker said he wants the restaurant to be a place where the community can “come together, sit down and dine on some food that they grew up on.”
The atmosphere in the restaurant — and the food — clearly keep customers coming back: Walker’s Eufaula location is rated five stars on Tripadvisor, Google Reviews and Yelp.
Walker said the restaurant is known for its fresh vegetables. The ribs are customer favorites, too.
“The customer’s gonna tell it, if it’s good or bad,” Walker said. “Thelma’s Kitchen is a five-star restaurant there, and we’re hoping to do the same thing here.”