Mark Nelson is the first to admit he was an unusual child. At the age of 9, he watched Julia Child’s culinary adventures on television while his brothers watched cartoons. After being “blown away” by a neighbor’s cooking at a block party, the intent teen approached the first generation Sicilian and asked if he could assist her. “I was making pasta from scratch when I was 13,” he says.
The experience helped him land his first job at 15 behind the stove at a small mom and pop-owned Italian restaurant. “At first they told me I was too young when I asked for a job cooking in their kitchen,” he says. “After explaining how I had already been making fresh ravioli and tortellini with my Sicilian neighbor, they hired me.”
Those early experiences fueled Nelson’s passion for all things culinary. He worked in a fine dining establishment while earning a psychology degree at the University of Central Florida. After graduation, he moved to Atlanta and worked his way up to the role of banquet manager for the Hilton Atlanta Airport. “Ultimately, I knew I wanted to open my own restaurant, but believed it was important to continue honing my management skills,” Nelson says.
General management roles for restaurants such as Mary Mac’s Tea Room and Bugaboo Creek Steak House helped him do just that. In 2005, he opened Filet Steak and Seafood near Lake Oconee’s exclusive Reynolds Plantation, becoming both owner and executive chef. Most recently, he was the executive chef of Topgolf in Alpharetta.
“When it comes to the restaurant industry, there’s not much I haven’t done” says Nelson, who has used his extensive experience in cooking, menu design, management, operations and special events to consult with restaurants across the country. As the consulting director of operations for Destin-based Doc’s Waterfront Bar, for example, he installed financial controls that resulted in a 21% reduction in controllable expenses. He also increased top-line sales by 36% through targeted marketing.
Nelson is confident his collective seasoning will serve him well as the director of operations for HOBNOB. “What I love about HOBNOB is that it’s a living entity where there’s always an opportunity to grow,” he says. “I admire co-owner Sean Yeremyan for wanting to make it the best it can be. Our philosophy of running a restaurant aligns – serve great food and give front-of-house staff members the tools they need to treat our customers as if they were guests in their own home.”