Las Vegas is known for its casinos, live shows, exotic nightlife, and world-class restaurants like Spago by Wolfgang Puck and Din Tai Fung at ARIA Resort & Casino. Now, visitors have another reason to flock to Sin City: authentic Southern-style cuisine.
in June, Dennis and Kevin Jonas Sr.The parents of the multi-platinum music trio, the Jonas Brothers, celebrated the grand opening of Nellie’s Southern Kitchen at MGM Grand. Their famous sons, Kevin II, Joe, and Nick Jonas, were present, along with their youngest son, Franklin, and two of the couple’s great-grandchildren. The party welcomed guests to a seat at the Jonas family table with live music, generous hospitality, a folkloric aesthetic, and of course Southern comfort food.
The 11,000-square-foot restaurant comes six years after Jonas Sr. opened the original Nellie restaurant in his hometown of Belmont, North Carolina, as an ode to his late grandmother Nellie.
“This is a global hub. People come from all over the world, and we wanted to introduce Nelly’s Southern style of cooking,” said Jonas Sr. Black Enterprise. The Jonas Brothers secured a five-night stay at the MGM Grand in June, giving even more reason to open a new location in Vegas. “It just seemed like the right home,” adds Jonas Sr.
Jonas Sr. says his grandmother’s cooking, especially homemade biscuits, inspired him to open his first restaurant. “During my travels around the world, one of the things I loved was coming home, and my grandmother had a pot of chicken and dumplings prepared for me,” he recalls.
Now, he hopes to impart that same sense of warmth and love through his grandmother’s cooking to patrons in Vegas. I went up to a table that was eating chicken and dumplings [at Nellie’s in North Carolina]’ he said. ‘I saw the look on their faces. I said: How was your meal? And this lady turned around and said, “I feel like my grandmother just hugged me.” And as such it will be my forever goal for this restaurant.”
To keep Nelly’s legacy alive, Jonas Sr. hired Mario Nichols as executive chef to lead the kitchen and direct recipes passed down from generation to generation, including chicken, dumplings, Hugh Hill Pecan Smoked Pork Sandwiches, Ham and Warm Biscuits. Additionally, the restaurant features an extensive cocktail menu and incorporates Nichols’ vision and history with Southern cuisine.
“When I first met the Jonas family and heard about Grandma Nellie, I immediately noticed their passion for great food, their enjoyment, and their concern for others,” Nichols said in a statement. “Nellie’s Southern Kitchen reminds me of cooking with my parents and grandparents, where I grew up singing songs while creating great food that has been passed down from generation to generation.”
Nichols’ love of cooking developed as a child when he made fried chicken and cabbage with his family on Sundays. Although he loved helping out in the kitchen, he never imagined working in the culinary arts. “I don’t know if I really thought I would do it professionally. It was just a high school graduation hobby is being.
He sparked his interest in the craft while working in the dish room at a restaurant that served the Charlotte Hornets before the NBA team moved to New Orleans. He then asked his boss at the time to give it a try in the kitchen. “He finally gave me a chance to meet my needs [one of the team’s private] Planes. And when I got on that plane, and I saw the NBA players, it was like one of those things [that affirmed that] This is what I want to do.”
Nichols’ culinary journey has continued in North Carolina, running a barbecue pit at Sweetwater Bar & Grill and rising through the ranks to become an executive chef, developing original menu items, including award-winning shrimp and grits.
In 2015, Chef Nichols opened his own restaurant, Grits N Greens, in Lowell, North Carolina, which has thrived under his leadership as Executive Chef and Managing Partner. When the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, Grits N Greens fed more than 2,000 first responders while maintaining operations. Later that year, the chef opened Smith’s Soul Food and Bistro in North Carolina, which instilled a culture of good music, great ambiance, and excellent service.
While Nichols was making a name for himself in North Carolina, he caught the attention of Jonas Sr., who developed an affinity for his cooking and charismatic personality. After several visits to his restaurant, he knew Nichols was the perfect person to lead the future of Nellie’s Southern Kitchen.
Jonas appointed Sr. Nichols as Executive Chef for Nellie’s Southern Kitchen in Belmont in September 2021.
In this role, Chef Nichols improved the 100-year-old recipes handed down from Grandma Indigo and added his own flavor to the menu. Within a year, Jonas persuaded Father Nichols to move west to operate the kitchen at Nelly’s second location. Nichols admits leaving his state has been difficult, but he has been up to the challenge. “I’m ready to make my mark in Vegas,” he says.
At Nellie’s new restaurant, Nichols has added his own version to the menu while maintaining traditional Nellie recipes. One meal he added is his signature Southern egg roll, which consists of grilled chicken, collard greens, and mac and cheese. The menu also includes its award-winning lobster and Nashville hot waffle specialty and fried shrimp and grits dish, which was honored as “Best Entry” at the New York Fall Food Festival.
“It’s fried grits with a Cajun cream sauce. This is a must if you come to Nelly’s.”
Nichols says customers can also expect a cup of sweet tea and “just a warm, good environment.” Ultimately, he said, he aims to make all customers feel as if they “left their grandmother’s house on Sunday”. “There is nothing quite like Southern hospitality. When you come to Nellie’s, we like to think everyone feels right at home.”