Michael Taylor and Ben Cook know a few things about the restaurant business. The pair began waiting tables in Macon in the ’80s, and they have been involved in the industry ever since.
For the last year, they have found success in downtown Milledgeville operating The Reel Grill in the spot vacated when Aubri Lane’s moved to The Club at Lake Sinclair. Now the pair hopes to strike gold twice in the same year, and on the same block, with their latest venture, Ned Kelly’s Down Under.
Located in the downstairs restaurant venue that previously housed La Taverna Mexican Restaurant, Ned Kelly’s Down Under offers up what Cook describes as “upscale pub grub” in an Australian-themed environment.
It was Cook who came up with the name for the establishment, paying homage to a legendary Australian figure.
“I have always been intrigued by Ned Kelly,” said Cook. “He is Australia’s version of Robin Hood. Some people love him, some people hate him.”
Cook thought the name suited the place perfectly because of the downstairs location.
“We’re ‘down under’, which I thought kind of spun off on the Australian theme, and of course we named all our burgers after famous Australians, so it’s fun,” said Cook.
The burgers, all made with eight-ounce certified Angus beef patties, bear the names of famous Australians, such as Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and Olivia Newton-John. Beef patties can be substituted with a six-ounce chicken breast for any burger on the menu.
In addition to the variety of specialty burgers, Ned Kelly’s offers other unique menu items such as brisket mac and cheese, beer cheese dip with soft pretzel sticks and the fried turkey BLT sandwich.
A popular marquee item on the appetizer menu is the brisket nachos, which Taylor described as “smoked brisket chopped up, served over tri-color tortilla chips. We drizzle it with Korean barbecue and ranch dressing, and then we top it with jalapeno pickles as well as jalapeno peppers.”
Cook and Taylor hope to include vegan and vegetarian options in the future as their menu selections evolve. In the meantime, dietary restrictions can be accommodated upon request.
“We can fill pretty much any special request that anybody has when they come to see us,” said Cook.
Both Cook and Taylor stress the importance of carrying over the quality standards they have established at The Reel Grill to Ned Kelly’s. The two have spent time making sure the menu represents this sentiment.
“All of our food is of the highest quality, and I can’t stress that enough,” said Cook.
Since opening Jan. 12, the staff at Ned Kelly’s has seen a steady flow of customers for their lunch and dinner service and have seen exceptional turnout on weekend evenings.
“It’s been wonderful. It’s exceeded our expectations,” said Cook.
Plans are in the works to expand the restaurant’s services in the coming months. The large kitchen on the premises will allow the managing partners to pursue catering services and food delivery in the future. Another aspect under development is the lineup of beers that will be offered.
“Our goal is we’ll have 24 to 36 craft beers on tap,” said Taylor.
“I’m a craft beer freak. I absolutely love it,” added Cook. “We have some very close connections with people in the craft beer industry, and it’s a passion of mine, personally.”
The partners are quick to emphasize that the heart of their establishment lies with exceptional food and quality customer service.
“We want to be a restaurant first, not just a bar that sells food,” said Taylor.
The duo believes that the key to their success is in the service they provide to their customers. To that end, Ned Kelly’s opened with many of the staff members that already worked for Taylor and Cook at The Reel Grill.
“That’s by design,” explained Cook. “They understand our standard. That’s what’s critically important to us.”
Both Taylor and Cook hope that more and more people will stop by to check out what Ned Kelly’s has to offer.
“We want everybody to feel comfortable,” said Cook. “We’re going to take good care of you, and you’re going to have some really good food here.”
“And we’re going to care that you’re here,” added Taylor. “We want to get to know our customers by name, get to know their families, and let them know they’re appreciated.”
Cook sums things up simply: “Establishing relationships, that’s what it’s all about.”
Ned Kelly’s Down Under
119 S. Wayne St., Milledgeville
Facebook: Ned Kelly’s Down Under
Hours: Sun.-Wed. 11am-9pm & Thurs.-Sat. 11am-10pm