A Pensacola, FL, native, Nichelle Thurston was disappointed in Louisville’s fresh seafood selection when she moved here for a job 10 years ago. Not one to wallow in disappointment, Nichelle started her own seafood restaurant, The Seafood Lady, four years ago as a food truck, and she now has two brick-and-mortar restaurants as well. The Seafood Lady has been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with celebrity chef Guy Fieri and is listed on the Food Network’s website as one of its “Top Places to Eat.” An entrepreneur, nurse, wife and mom to four children, she let us know how she keeps all those balls in the air while still producing delicious seafood for a devoted following. We are delighted to introduce today’s FACE of Louisville, Nichelle Thurston.
What got you interested in seafood?
I’m a beach girl, so seafood is like a hamburger to us. We eat it every day, all day; it’s what I’ve become accustomed to. So when I moved to Louisville, I started cooking it for myself. It was one of those picnic-style dinners that we’d have outside on the porch because it was messy, and, of course, seafood stunk and it was hard to get the smell out of your house. The neighbors started smelling it and eating it, and man, it went crazy from there.
How did The Seafood Lady come to be?
A few times we cooked it on the porch and a couple neighbors asked, “Could you make us some?” Originally I would just give it to them. I couldn’t cook a small amount; I’d cook enough for 30 people. So I’d give it away, and it was getting expensive. But the neighbors still wanted it. So, I started selling them individual dinners. I set up a day that I was gonna sell it to my neighbors, and the next time I sold it, I sold out. It was not just my neighbors, it was neighbors’ neighbors and others’ neighbors, and before you know it, we had a line of 50 people at any given time, a line down the street. It started causing problems with the city, because you’ve got a line of people and a makeshift business in the middle of the neighborhood. People would call [the city] and say, “What’s going on at Kentucky and Shelby streets?” So some of the officials in the city came out and said, “Hey, you got a good thing going on, but you can’t do it like this.” I took all the savings that I had and what I had made from selling food from my home and bought a food truck. I went down to the health department and got it all registered, coded and graded. It was up from there, and it became a business.
The first day that I decided to sell food to my neighbors, I had no idea that four years later it would be a really good, successful business. I still, to this day, am surprised.
Did you ever plan to open a business?
I come from a background of business. My grandfather was a master chef, and he had his own catering company where he catered to groups of more than 500. My father had his own business, and my mother has had several businesses. Before I started The Seafood Lady, I always had my own little side business. I sold something retail or did something to make ends meet and had my own business. I was always working, but I always had a side business. This one is just the niche that I caught, and there was a void in the industry. It was needed, and it became successful.
What do you like best about your job?
To help people be employed to make ends meet for themselves. I haven’t always been a business owner — I’ve been on the other side working and needing to make ends meet. So, being able to grant that wish for people is one of the most amazing things that comes with this. And then satisfying people and their palates. Before I started in the food business, I was in nursing. Originally my goal was to care for people and nurse people back to health and just to make people feel good, so being able to do that through food has been a delight as well.
What’s your favorite thing on the menu?
The lobster. The fried lobster tail is amazing. There’s just nothing like it.
How do you balance your work with your personal life?
I don’t. I have four kids and a husband. There’s never balance. One day you’re doing this, and the next day you’re doing that. Once I figure out how to do that, I’ll be a genius. Every day is up and down and around the block for me, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. I’d rather be working for myself than for anybody else.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you do?
I’d be a nurse, and I’d probably come up with some kind of product to sell to my fellow nurses.
How do you relax?
Going on vacations — I love traveling. I love California. I love Miami. I love Atlanta. I love Las Vegas. I love to have fun and make memories with my family. Every Christmas we try to go on a vacation with the family, and that’s what I love. That’s what we did as a child. We traveled every year, two or three times a year. My grandmother would take us on vacation. I like to keep up that tradition, and it also satisfies my inner traveling need.
Besides your own, what are your favorite restaurants?
Superchefs! Darnell Ferguson, the chef and owner at SuperChefs, he’s got the best waffles, the best seafood, biscuits and gravy, seafood pizza. Every chance I get, I go over there. He’s known for breakfast, but he’s got the best steak in probably the whole state of Kentucky. It’s one of his best-kept secrets. He’s got some amazing food.
What is something about you that most people don’t know?
I’m a tomboy, not a girly-girl. Most of the time when people see me, I look ready for the camera, but that’s not me.
What’s your best advice?
Have a dream, believe in it, and stay the course.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Food, good health and my car, because I don’t like walking.
Thank you so much, Nichelle, for sharing — and for providing Louisville with some seriously good eats.
And thank you to Gretchen Bell for these lovely photos!
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