Brandon-native Graham Carraway says he “can’t sit still.” Between serving up signature dishes at Estelle in downtown Jackson and crafting one-of-a-kind lettering with his design business, the twenty-six-year-old has his hands full. But he’s proving that success can come from chasing your dreams.
Carraway earned a degree in finance from Mississippi State University in 2013. He worked at an investment firm for a little over a year until he realized he was called to do something else.
“I always loved to cook,” he says. “My grandmother gave me a food processor when I was 14.”
His dad also passed down his experimental cooking style to his son. But besides some bartending in college, Carraway didn’t have any restaurant experience. He got his start working at Parlor Market in Jackson before moving to Estelle Wine Bar and Bistro, where he has been the lead line cook since they opened last summer.
Carraway enjoys crafting cuisine that not only tastes good, but also looks good. “You eat with your eyes first,” he says.
But chef isn’t the only title he holds. Carraway says his other job sort of “fell into [his] lap” when a friend asked him to address her wedding invitations. “I didn’t know people got paid to do that,” he says. “I thought it wouldn’t be that hard, but it turned out to be pretty difficult.”
After countless practice envelopes, Carraway mastered his calligraphy skills enough to keep pursuing the art and eventually start his own lettering business—J. Graham Design.
“I’ve always been interested in lettering and typography,” says Carraway. He adds that his fascination with graffiti while growing up was a bit of a concern for his parents, but they gave him a space where he could draw and paint to his heart’s content.
J. Graham Design is now a full-time business. From invitations and restaurant menus to calligraphy and chalkboard art, Carraway puts in more time with J. Graham Design than his 40 hours cooking at Estelle each week.
“I enjoy the manufacturing side of it,” he says. Carraway resurrected an old letterpress machine from his father-in-law’s office supply company and now uses it to recreate the signature style that has made a recent comeback.
He’s done art for businesses such as Lululemon, and was recently commissioned by the city of Starkville to paint a mural in their downtown. He’s currently working on a piece for a man who wants the original deed to his house in Tuscany written in Latin calligraphy.
Caraway says he’s putting together his own calligraphy class, and wants to find a way to incorporate his love of food and design. He hints at using his catering and wedding knowledge to possibly open an event space.
“One day I will have to choose between the two, but for now, I’m riding the double-wave,” he says.
Carraway also loves to garden. Growing up, he enjoyed picking from his grandmother’s garden, and the first thing he did when moving into his current house in Jackson was build a huge one out in his backyard. Besides tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, and peppers, Carraway also grows more unique vegetables for his chef friends to practice with. He even found a way to grow watermelons vertically by hanging them in hammocks he made himself.
“It’s very rewarding that when people ask what I do for a living, I can say, ‘whatever I want to do,’” Carraway says. “I never really feel like I’m working. It motivates me to do it at a higher level.”
He and wife Olivia, who is in nursing school at UMMC, love to travel. Carraway also dabbles in woodworking, making cutting boards and spoons. He says he loves to work with his hands and have something to do every single day.
“I have too many interests,” says Carraway. “But I’m never bored.”
He loves learning new skills. Whether it’s teaching himself how to sew or figuring out how to rewire part of his house, Carraway says he enjoys problem solving and DIY projects, which often has him watching a lot of Youtube videos.
“Anyone can do what they want if they apply enough time and effort into it,” says Carraway.