How one restaurateur helped put an Alabama city on the food map
When Matt LeMond came from New Orleans for a small-town college experience in Mobile, Alabama, he had no idea that he would fall hard for the Port City. After graduating from Spring Hill College in 2007 and opening his first bar soon thereafter, he found himself not only wanting to stay to live in Mobile but also to give back to it. He opened O'Daly's Irish Pub on a then-defunct Dauphin Street in 2010. Fast-forward thirteen years later, and Matt is the owner of five restaurants including Mobile's first food hall, The Insider, which opened last June. Full disclosure, Matt and I graduated college together, and through the years, I’ve kept a close eye on what he’s done for the area. We caught up on the phone, and he told me more about his business history, his passion for people, and his vision for Mobile’s future.
As a Spring Hill graduate myself, I know there's no culinary program there. Remind me, what did you major in?
I was a biology major.
OK, so how did you get into a now bustling restaurant business?
When I graduated, I was working for Red Bull Energy Drink. I was more on the marketing side of things. While we were in college, I DJed and barbacked and did all this stuff in the nightlife scene as additional income, so I'd been around it a good bit. As a kid or even a young adult, if you asked me what my plans or hopes and dreams were, it was not to be in the bar or restaurant business. But as I dove a little bit more into what it would be like if I did go back to school for a medical career, I realized that I loved people too much, and I liked being around people too much. I felt like I had so much energy and going back to school for another 10 years wasn't in my future. Around that time, I had the opportunity to purchase the bar that I DJ'ed at. I had just turned 22. I purchased it and changed the name to Catch 22. Within the next year, I started construction for O’Daly’s.
How did O’Daly’s get your gears turning and make you realize you were onto something in the food industry?
I always felt like I've been a little bit more on the bar side of things, but I had an understanding of the food potential. I wanted to deliver something to our customers so that they would want to stay at our venue. I've always said that it’s a bar with food, but I want you to come and be blown away by our food. We created a handful of pizzas and some appetizers. Thanks to my New Orleans roots, we have a pizza called the 504, which is the area code, and it is by far our most popular pizza. It's an alfredo-based pizza with mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, peppers, and sausage. Then we drizzle on our hot sauce that we make in-house and our Guinness glaze. There's something about that hot and that sweet. It's just so good.
Tell me about your business partner, Mobile native and former professional baseball player, Jake Peavy.
Jake had invested and become involved in the 1065 music festival. It was such a great event for the downtown area, and I actually just reached out to say I was thankful for what the festival was doing for the community. I wanted to participate somehow. We ended up just sitting down and chitchatting about our lives and businesses. We really hit it off, and today we joke that our first date went really well. In my 10th year of O’Daly’s, Jake bought in, and now we own everything collectively.
I feel like you strategically place businesses downtown, and that has been such a huge part of your growth model. Why is that so important to you?
I love a downtown. It’s the heart of most cities. In Mobile, the whole area is a destination. For me, creating these businesses feels like art. It's probably the most creative that I get to be in life. This is my art, and when I get an idea, I look at it as an installation that would be beneficial to the city. Downtown feels so great because of its size. We have the ability to really network and grow within ourselves and communicate with our customers, versus some larger cities that can’t do that. It’s special.
Part of what you were just saying lends itself to your creativity to bring Mobile its first food hall—The Insider, and corresponding bar—The Outsider, which opened in the summer of 2022.
I'm on the downtown alliance board, and the whole focus is living and playing in downtown and how we can do that. I've been on the board for about eight years, and I'm actually the current chairman. Seven years ago or so, I went to Atlanta for a tour of Ponce City Market, and I fell in love with the idea of shopping small-scale vendors. It's usually about a quarter of the cost in comparison to an actual brick-and-mortar building, so these fledgling businesses get to open in downtown Mobile. We manage the customer area and the bathrooms, and we do a handful of events in the space to help them with their overall business growth, so that they can just focus on cooking great food every day.
You are in the process of opening a second location of Post, your cocktail- and wine-forward concept. What has that been like?
I'm going to do a handful of drinks that you can only get at that location and vice versa. This is the first copy and paste for me because we already have logos and menus and wine glasses. I'm thankful for that because this whole thing is trial by fire for me. A lot of people want to invest in Post, and I just don't know if I want to do that yet, so this is a good trial by fire to see if more than one location can exist, and then I can make a decision from there.
What advice would you give someone who’s maybe looking to become a part of the food and entertainment space?
For me, it’s as simple as “ask the question.” I have had the most success in my business life by just reaching out and asking questions and networking that way. And I've had a few times where I haven't asked the question, and I kicked myself because it could have gone a different direction if I would've just spoken up. So my advice is to share the idea or reach out—try to be a part of something because there's the level of finding people that really want to live out their dream. Somebody like me is dying to invest in or dying to hire somebody or dying to work with somebody who is proactive. Because it's encouraging to see people that want to chase their dreams.