I’ve always loved this town,” the native Roman said. “I’m not really a big-city type.”
Hooper got his start in the kitchen at Coosa Country Club, where he decided he wanted to make a career in cooking. He attended the Cordon Bleu culinary school in Atlanta, then landed jobs in restaurants from Atlanta to Cartersville, back to the country club in Rome, then a stint at Berry College before moving to Chattanooga.
Hooper was working at St. John’s Restaurant in Chattanooga for about three years before he got the opportunity to acquire the former Country Gentleman location, 26 Chateau Drive.
During his time at St. John’s, working for Daniel Lindley, the restaurant was nominated for a James Beard Best Chef Southeast Division award twice.
The Magnolia Restaurant is centrally located for much of the Highway 411 corridor hotel traffic, and Hooper said he’s working with the hotels to get the word out about his restaurant.
“They’re asking for menus, but the hard part of that is the menu is going to change every so often, often enough to where it would present a problem having menus up there because they may see something on that menu that is not on it when they get here,” Hooper said.
One central theme though, is that the menu will feature lots of smoked items.
“Everything tastes good smoked,” Hooper said. “The other signature, besides smoking meats, will be tastings. It’s apple season right now, so we’re doing apples three ways.”
Hooper said he buys a lot of his produce locally, from Tucker Farms on the Oostanaula River off Thomas Bluff Road and Rise ’N Shine Farms in Armuchee. He also gets ground beef and cheeses from Berry College.
Hooper has a staff of about 20, and the Magnolia Restaurant dining room, which seats about 110, is open for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner hours are Monday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m., and Magnolia is open for Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.