By Brad Bowman
Marvin Whitesides doesn’t know anything, but food.
Staring at a Belvedere in a dealer window, certain he had to have it, his father told him he could have the car, but he would have to get a job to pay for it.
At 16 years old, Whitesides went into the food industry to pay back his loan to his father. He had no intentions of aspiring as a restaurateur, but 34 years later he can’t imagine doing anything else.
Whitesides brought his independent restaurant concept Starvin’ Marvin’s to New Castle almost a year ago. Off the corner of West Cross Main Street, the restaurant serves breakfast Monday through Friday at 7 a.m. and lunch until 3 p.m. On Fridays, the restaurant stays open until 7 p.m. with a Friday night fish fry special with cod or catfish.
Unlike big city restaurants, Whitesides has a hands-on ownership. Patrons can frequently see Whitesides talking to customers in the dining room or helping in the kitchen. After having health complications, Whitesides closed his larger 112 seating capacity Starvin’ Marvin’s restaurant in Buckner last September. He took the best of the home-style country menu items and focused his efforts on the New Castle location.
“We’re small town. We’re catering to the working class citizen. I come from a working class home life,” Whitesides said. “I want to cook the kind of food when you come in you think, ‘Wow, that’s the kind of food mom used to make.’ ” Whitesides said. “ I think once you go with comfort food, it’s the kind of restaurant you could come to and get something different everyday — unlike pizza or barbecue where you are locked into one type of item.”
From cornbread flat cakes, country ham and buttermilk biscuits with sawmill gravy to fried okra, Whitesides’ home cooked menu items easily remind one of things made in your grandmother’s kitchen. Don’t look for convoluted culinary creations with exotic titles or an atmosphere filled with pretentious palette police.
Signature items include: catfish, homemade pinto and northern beans and the Cowboy Burger — two 5.5oz angus beef patties with cheese served with a steak knife through the bun.
Whitesides’ formula combines traditional southern cooking in an accessible friendly atmosphere and plans to offer the same for a few hours on Sundays.
“I think we have a good southern fried chicken option and I want to take it into Sundays,” Whitesides said. “We will have breakfast and offer our fried chicken for after church. We will open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 19.”
Coming back to Henry County seems like coming full-circle for Whitesides.
After a 14-year stint at Sizzler as a dishwasher to meat cutter, becoming a general manager in restaurant chains, a food and beverage director for Jewish Hospital in Louisville to traveling and overseeing multiple stores for the Penn Station franchise, Whitesides’ wanted something different.
“The first Starvin’ Marvin’s was in Pendleton. It started slow into the winter time and by the springtime we started our catfish and on Fridays we were busy,” Whitesides said. “The following Friday the door almost stayed open the entire time from people coming in or wanting to get in to eat. We outgrew the place and went to Buckner.”
Whitesides found a vacant building, closed on the property within 15 minutes and started his success. The place was exactly what he wanted.
“We packed the house, I doubled my staff and we rocked the whole time we were there,” Whitesides said. “But the ones (patrons) that know me from there, they understood why I closed. I never left the building. I have had a lot of friends who have gotten cancer, people I know my age that have cancer or gotten deathly sick and they always talk about things they wish they had done. You know what, I decided I am going to do them. You never know what will happen.”
From a dishwasher to restaurateur, Whitesides hasn’t lost his work ethic — even though he has downsized his operation from a 112-seating restaurant to the 34-seat location in New Castle and plans to enjoy life at 50.
“I had no intentions of ever working in a restaurant,” Whitesides said. “My dad pulled me up to this car lot. He showed me this 67 Plymouth Belvedere II and I thought he was going to buy it for me. He says, ‘You like that car?’ and I said I would love to have that car. That is sharp. He said, ‘Get yourself a job and buy it.’ He loaned me the money and wanted it back by the end of summer. I started as a dishwasher, moved up to busser and then meat cutter to management. I haven’t stopped since.”
For more information about Starvin’ Marvin’s call (502) 845- 0909.