Local Eatery Bursts with Southern Charm
Photographer / Amy Payne
In 2000, Carmel natives Diane Cannon and Kevin Keltner moved to Savannah, Georgia, where they lived in a bungalow neighborhood. During their six years there, they grew to love not only the trees and foliage but also the tasty southern fare. While there, Keltner and Cannon became friends with a fellow Hoosier chef who had attended culinary school in Manhattan.
“We worked with her for a year at her restaurant in downtown Savannah where we catered lavish, historic-district weddings,” Cannon says.
When Keltner and Cannon moved back to Indiana in 2006, they began talking to Keltner’s parents Ken and Elaine, who at the time ran the Herff Jones company out of a quaint house on Carmel’s Main Street. When they decided to retire, they wondered what their next step would be.
“They’re not really the retiring type,” Cannon says with a chuckle.
Though the foursome had been talking since 1996 about how great the Carmel spot would be for a restaurant, it wasn’t until 2017 when they finally took the plunge and transformed the building into a unique eatery. They pulled inspiration from the restaurant they had worked at in Savannah, which was an old, abandoned garden shed covered with wildflowers. In addition, the area was adorned with giant oak trees and moss.
“We wanted that same vibe so you don’t feel like you’re in a city,” says Cannon, who created a beautiful indoor-outdoor, open-air setting with a screened porch and an all-cedar pergola decorated with soft twinkle lights.
“Our outdoor setting is upscale but super casual,” Cannon says. “You feel like you’re on vacation and have stumbled upon a hidden gem in a little sea-coast town.”
When the foursome was brainstorming landscaping ideas and someone suggested planting a row of juniper trees to block the parking lot, the name Juniper on Main was born. They opened in August of 2019 and are now open for both lunch and dinner.
Their chef friend, originally from Franklin, had just moved back to Indiana, and she created the southern coastal menu. Since then, the team has attracted two additional chefs – one from Savannah and the other from Athens. They too have collaborated on the menu, which features fried green tomatoes with green tomato jam, sweet cornbread and southern blackened catfish over heirloom cheese grits with sautéed garlic okra and pickled red onion, as well as southern coastal island favorites like chili-lime grilled salmon with sweet plantains, coconut rice and citrus black beans.
“I wanted to transport the south to Main Street Carmel but tailor it to our community by including items I knew would fit well here,” Cannon says. “We took the fine-dining coastal thing and added fun tacos and sandwiches to the menu.”
Their fastest-growing favorite is the Moon River burger, which is two smashed patties with pimento cheese, fontina, bacon jam and pickled red onion on Texas toast.
“Our dueling shrimp and grits will forever be our classic favorites,” Cannon says. “Our heirloom grits are flown in from Edisto Island, South Carolina, from a small-batch farm called Geechie Boy Mills.”
The indoor decor mimics the feel of Savannah and Charleston. The historic bungalow is a part of the community, so restoring the spot was a big part of creating the ambiance. The owners salvaged the old hardwood floors and painted them white. They also invited local artist friends to create wall art, including seaside cattails and herons. Finally, they planted an herb and vegetable garden to give their guests a sense of their taste and heritage.
Indoor and outdoor seating capacity is the same: 46. Due to the coronavirus crisis, they are utilizing the covered patio and 40-foot-long pergola space, which offers six-foot social distancing and has been popular. The community appreciates the staff’s commitment to quality.
“It’s been remarkable the way everyone has pulled together to make sure that Main Street stays intact,” Cannon says. “It’s been inspiring how people have rallied around not just us but all the businesses on Main Street, to make sure we survive and that Main Street is the same when this is all over.”
In this era of COVID-19, the staff uses paper menus and serves all condiments in containers. If someone requests salt and pepper, everything is re-sanitized before it goes back onto the porch. They also sanitize the bathrooms every 30 minutes and wipe down all tables and chairs. Plus, hand sanitizer pumps are available throughout the establishment.
“Honestly, I was born for this,” says Cannon, who has always been vigilant about cleanliness and sanitation.
She says she couldn’t be happier with her busy lifestyle.
“There’s something so fulfilling coming in and having what feels like organized chaos all day long,” says Cannon, who praises her staff for their commitment to the restaurant’s success. “In the short time we’ve been open, we have developed such a family unit here. I can’t wait to come to work every day.”
Juniper on Main is located at 110 East Main Street in Carmel. For more information, call 317-591-9254, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit juniperonmain.com.