In October 2014, Erik and Amanda Niel (Co-Owners of Easy Bistro & Bar) assumed operations of Main Street Meats, a neighborhood butcher shop and charcutier located on the south side of Chattanooga. Devoted to the reemergence of the traditional Southern neighborhood butcher shop, the Niels came on board to further expand the business and improve the way residents experience and enjoy meat.
Main Street Meats originally opened in November 2013 by Jim Johnson, Tom Montague, and Dan Key.
Erik and Amanda Niel’s restaurant, Easy Bistro & Bar, opened in 2005 in what was formerly the world’s first Coca-Cola bottling plant. Inspired by classic French fare and the fresh flavor of his native New Orleans, Chef Erik Niel’s restaurant is a bistro reimagined for Southeast Tennessee – blending a modern, ingredient-focused menu with upscale comfort food and impeccable hospitality. The restaurant has a nationally recognized wine and craft cocktail program, and is one of the only raw bars in Tennessee that features seafood from all three coasts.
meet the team
Erik Niel was raised in Mandeville, Louisiana, a community on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain and an hour away from the Gulf. He describes it as a place where people care deeply about food, and everyone has that special dish they’re known for throughout the community.
“In Southern Louisiana, food is a soulful thing. I still remember who made the best gumbos, and who made the best roasts.”
Niel spent many an afternoon fishing with his dad and brother in the fresh water near Mandeville, driving west to Calcasieu Lake (where his dad was raised) to fish in salt water, and duck hunting in Cameron Parish. Using techniques passed down from his parents and grandparents and experimenting on his own, Niel learned to cook from his catch – gumbos, stews, étouffée, and pot roasts – and how to serve them in various ways. This instilled in him an appreciation for where food comes from and the process of preparing it from beginning to end, something that influences his cooking to this day.
Niel attended The University of Texas at Austin as a Psychology major and Business minor. He liked the calculated nature of business and knew he wanted to own his own one day. However, his love and appreciation for food and restaurants persisted, and even in college when he entertained for friends or cooked for parties, food was never far from his mind. After summers of working in restaurants and getting the feel for the industry, Niel decided that food was his muse and “one of the few things in life I can actually play.” He enrolled into culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Vail, Colorado, and during his first week of classes Niel applied to work at Sweet Basil, a restaurant notoriously resistant to hiring students. He ended up landing the job, and credits the experience with cultivating his appreciation for a formal kitchen and his respect for ingredients.
While Niel was in culinary school, his family transitioned to Chattanooga from Louisiana. His brother tragically broke his back during his junior year football season, and they weren’t sure he would lead a normal life again. It was a turning point for Niel, as he realized he’d never seen his brother play football, and when his brother healed enough to play as a senior, Niel packed his bags for Chattanooga. He landed a job as a Floor Manager at the now-closed Southside Grill, with the promise that he could have Friday nights off to see his brother’s football games. Niel didn’t miss a single game that fall. Thinking he would leave at the end of football season, Erik met his future-wife Amanda (a hostess at Southside Grill) and started realizing the potential of owning a business in Chattanooga. He and Amanda both moved onto mainstay St. John’s, where he was a sous chef for two years and then began writing his business plan.
In May of 2005, the couple opened Easy Bistro & Bar in downtown Chattanooga, named after his laidback nature and nickname, “Easy.” Seafood has always been a main focus for the restaurant, drawing on his Louisiana roots and love for quality catch. To Niel, food is ephemeral, and he’s inspired by the instant gratification cooking provides.
“Each time I make something, it’s an opportunity to enhance upon it, and by the time it’s good, it’s time to change it….food is meant to be destroyed. The biggest compliment I can receive is that there is nothing left.”
He describes his food as minimalist, letting the ingredients stand for themselves with little manipulation. While his style of cooking is a direct product of growing up in Louisiana, he tends to stay away from the rich sauces and rouxes of traditional Creole cuisine.
Niel also spearheads the wine program at Easy Bistro & Bar. He feels strongly that wine and other beverages are an integral part of the meal and experience, a belief passed down from his father, a connoisseur and avid wine collector. Niel currently offers a wine list with 250 global wines focusing on France and California.
In October 2014, Niel and his wife Amanda assumed operations of Main Street Meats, a neighborhood butcher shop that works closely with Chattanooga’s surrounding farmland. As Chef/Operator, Niel uses craft butcher techniques to offer quality products and a strong charcuterie program, all exploring the distinctive flavors of the region.
When he has a moment outside the kitchen, he can usually be found playing with his son, Cade. They enjoy playing in the park, fishing in Louisiana with Erik’s Dad “PawPaw” or at a little pond near Chattanooga, and waking in the woods.
“As a parent, you get to remember how it felt being a kid – the outside is the greatest wonder of them all.”
Owner/ Managing Partner
Amanda Niel grew up in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, a small country town outside Chattanooga. Her grandparents owned a construction and plumbing company which has since remained family-run throughout the generations. As early as elementary school, Niel would help her grandmother and aunt with administrative and bookkeeping tasks, quickly learning the values of entrepreneurship and hard work.
“The business paid for the entire family’s education and well-being, and we all contributed; there is something to be said for that. I was shown that hard work pays off, and because of that, business never intimidated me.”
At the age of 16, Niel began working in various front of the house positions while she was in school, and she thrived off the challenging and competitive nature of the restaurant business. Always a lover of design and with her eyes on a creative career path, she studied apparel and textile design at both University of Tennessee in Knoxville and O’More College of Design in Franklin, TN. During this time, Niel worked at fine-dining restaurants in the area including St. John’s and the now-closed Southside Grill, where she met her future-husband and chef, Erik Niel. After graduating, Niel got a job working for a sports clothing brand in New York City, but consistently felt drawn back to Chattanooga. She found a job as a stylist in the Online Marketing and Sales department of TJX and moved back, spending every spare moment working in restaurants.
In May 2005, Niel and her husband Erik opened Easy Bistro & Bar in downtown Chattanooga. There, Amanda was able to combine her love for design with her business skills, and discovered her true passion for hospitality and customer service.
“The restaurant business is so challenging and competitive, and that makes me energetic. It’s also creative. You have to make it creative or else it becomes stagnant.”
In 2008, Amanda redesigned and transformed the space of Easy Bistro & Bar, an old Coca Cola bottling plant, into an elegant and sophisticated dining room. Adamant about staying true to the buildings roots and highlighted its historical significance, Niel kept the art deco sensibility while creating a unique and comfortable environment. Historic bones and features of the space, such as press plaster ceilings, were not only kept but also highlighted so that they would be noticed and appreciated.
The influence of working in business at a very young age, combined with her passion for interior design and talent for management and operations, has been a recipe for success in her current role as Owner and Managing Partner of Easy Bistro & Bar. Niel balances being a working mother with overseeing all the day to day operations of the restaurant.
“It can be challenging to keep typical restaurant hours while caring for a three year old, but it’s also a valuable balance. We want to expose our son Cade to the same entrepreneurial dynamics that both Erik and I grew up in. Ultimately, time management is key."
In October 2014, Niel and her husband Erik assumed operations of Main Street Meats, a neighborhood butcher shop that works closely with Chattanooga’s surrounding farmland. As the Operations and Events Maven, she oversees general operations, marketing, events, and catering for the butcher shop.
When she does have a moment of free time, Niel loves to explore the outdoors with her family and especially loves hiking, yoga, and paddle boarding on the Tennessee River.
Born in Chattanooga, TN and raised in a small town in Georgia, Parker Hudson inherited his father’s strong work ethic and love for the kitchen. As a kid, Parker’s father always made barbecue at home, and eventually decided to bring his passion to the public by opening Big John’s BBQ in Lafayette, GA, where Parker worked alongside his father after school. Drawn to the pit and the process of smoking meat with the pit master, Parker was fascinated with the intricacies of wood, cuts of meat, and how each affected the final taste.
After graduating high school, Parker packed his bags for Orlando, FL, in hopes of becoming a music video director. After a few semesters in art school, Parker realized this path wasn’t for him and decided to return to the kitchen. On Christmas Day in 2009, Parker moved to Chattanooga, TN to begin the New Year and the start of his professional cooking career. He immediately took a job as a cook at Terminal Brewhouse before joining their new sister restaurant, Beast + Barrel, where Parker had hands-on experiences with meat-smoking and sausage-making.
In 2015, Parker set his sights on a butcher position at Main Street Meats to work under Chef Erik Niel, but unfortunately the shop wasn’t hiring. Not deterred, Parker applied for a job at Chef Niel’s other Chattanooga restaurant, Easy Bistro & Bar, and was hired as a line cook. Working nights at Easy Bistro allowed Parker to help with prep in the mornings at Main Street Meats, and he was quickly taken under the wing of the head butcher at the time, Milton White. Over the course of a year, Parker learned to perfect the art of butchery, starting with the whole animal and working his way down to baby cuts. In 2016, he was hired full-time as the Head Butcher at Main Street Meats.
At Main Street Meats, Parker’s routine varies from day to day, but he is usually in the back grinding meat, linking sausages, smoking bacon, curing hams, or making salami. His favorite thing about being a butcher is seeing whole animals come through the door. Parker also loves talking with customers – whether a home cook or chef – and learning how products taste and how he can improve each cut.
“Being a cook, you always have to go back to the basics. I talk to anyone who can give me feedback.”
Aside from working at Main Street Meats, Parker can be found exploring Chattanooga, playing pool at Chattanooga Billiard Club, or bird watching outside. An avid reader, Parker owns a number of cookbooks and has recently become fond of folklore -- particularly Appalachian, Early Pilgrim and East Coast folklore.