For most restaurants in Nashville, it was sort of like a bomb had already exploded in 2020 — almost immediately after tornadoes swept through the city in March, destroying or damaging dozens of establishments, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic arrived, devastating the industry and its workers. Then, at around 6:30 on Christmas morning, one actually did: A historic stretch of Second Avenue lies in shambles — eerily reminiscent of streets in East/North Nashville and Germantown the morning after the tornadoes — while the restaurant owners and chefs of Music City once again rise to the occasion to feed people in need.
The explosion, which took place on Second Avenue near Commerce Street, blasted a giant orange fireball into the air, demolishing several storefronts, scattering ash and debris through the streets, and sending three people to the hospital (with noncritical injuries). Police say that there were far fewer people at those buildings than usual, thanks to the combination of the Christmas holiday and the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor John Cooper imposed a curfew on the typically bustling historic district near the blast site and its immediate area — from Fourth Avenue to the Cumberland River and from James Robertson Parkway to Broadway — which has been extended through Monday as investigation and clean-up efforts continue.
The mayor reported in a press conference that 41 businesses suffered extensive damage from the blast, most of them directly facing Second Avenue. Affected bars, restaurants, and food-related businesses include BB King’s Blues Club (which is said to have recently closed, permanently), Bartella, Beer Sellar, Buffalo’s Nashville, Coyote Ugly, Dick’s Last Resort Nashville, Doc Holliday’s Saloon, Downtown Nashville Wine and Spirits, Hooters, Lonnie’s Western Room, Mattheessens, the Melting Pot, the Old Spaghetti Factory, Rocket Fizz candy store, Rodizio Grill, and Wildhorse Saloon. Lyft’s headquarters, Pride & Glory Tattoo Parlor, and several other boutiques were also heavily impacted by the morning blast, and buildings on nearby streets sustained damage from the force of the explosion.
City officials were quick to deem the bombing “intentional,” as an RV provided a chilling, audible warning in the minutes leading up to the blast. On Sunday, federal and state officials said that Anthony Quinn Warner of Antioch was responsible for the Christmas morning explosion, an alleged suicide bombing with DNA tying his remains to the site.
Cameras inside the Melting Pot lobby caught the blast and its aftermath, showing the impact that blew doors down the steps as the sprinklers poured overhead in response.
This is underground at the Melting Pot LobbyPosted by Demetrius Kelley on Saturday, December 26, 2020
Just 200 feet away from the explosion, Rodizio Grill cameras also showed the moment of impact and a subsequent sea of spraying debris in front of security cameras. The force blew out the windows in both the front and back of the brick building.
Salad Bar which is 150 feet from front door.Posted by Demetrius Kelley on Saturday, December 26, 2020
Demetrius Kelley, managing partner of Melting Pot and Rodizio Grill on Second Avenue, posted the videos of the explosion and the following statement on his Facebook page, emphasizing that everyone is safe:
Woke up today... yesterday was not a horrible dream. There really was a bombing and both of the businesses that I share with my partners and general managers have been highly damaged and we don’t yet know the extent. Hopefully, we will have an opportunity to assess the damage today. Our attention must currently shift to the staff. We know have 130+ employees that are out of work for the foreseeable future. Everyone has asked me how to help... I really don’t have a great answer for you as to how to help with the facility right now. The only other thing that you can give towards is helping our staff. If you feel inclined to help, feel free to. Every little bit helps. We will make it through this. We will rebuild. We will be back.
A GoFundMe account for the Melting Pot employees had raised over to $50,000 as of Monday morning, while one for Rodizio Grill staff has over $21,000 in funds raised. All accounts state that 100 percent of donations will go directly to staff. The Old Spaghetti Factory also has a GoFundMe account for its staff, with over $6,000 raised to date.
Bartella posted photos on Instagram showing the business will need to be totally rebuilt — a business that opened just a few months before the tornado and COVID-related shutdowns hit the city in March. There is a GoFundMe for Bartella’s employees, which had raised about $1,500 as of Monday morning.
As far away as Fourth Avenue, at Italian Kitchen and on Broadway at Acme, windows were blown out by the blast’s impact.
Unfortunately, the impact on area restaurants wasn’t limited to physical damage. The damage done to the AT&T facility made a major dent in communications for many restaurants and residents, knocking out 911 emergency call centers in most of Tennessee, plus parts of Kentucky and Alabama. It affected AT&T cellular services, airport Control Tower radio communications, and internet services throughout Tennessee. This outage forced several restaurants statewide to either close temporarily over the weekend or shift to cash-only, walk-up service — at a time when many businesses had ceased accepting cash as a coronavirus safety precaution. Many reported services were “mostly” restored as of Sunday evening, according to AT&T officials.
Dozens of area restaurants and hospitality folks — all reeling from their own 2020 challenges — are offering food for first responders and those impacted, as well as Wi-Fi access for those without, plus walk-in freezer space and more for impacted restaurants. Within hours of the blast, Sean Brock posted to his Instagram account that anyone in need of a meal could pick one up — no questions asked — at his long-awaited restaurant Audrey in East Nashville, in partnership with nonprofit Rethink Food. Ole Smoky Distillery/6th & Peabody is offering free meals from White Duck Taco Shop and Prince’s Hot Chicken throughout the weekend, while Nina Singto (Thai Esane), Trey Cioccia (Black Rabbit, Farm House), James Kerwin (Little Fib), and Kahlil Arnold (Arnold’s Country Kitchen) are providing meals to anyone in need. Arnold’s is offering free lunch all week for anyone displaced by the blast — or out-of-work hospitality industry workers (plus they, like many others, offer discounts to first responders year-round). Downtown’s Corner Pub is also serving free meals to first responders. And, just down the street, Puckett’s is taking donations and distributing meals, with excess funds being given to The District Nashville, a nonprofit dedicated to economic and community revitalization in downtown Nashville.
The day after the explosion, Mayor Cooper said Nashville is committed to rebuilding Second Avenue, but gave no specifics on any restaurant- or hospitality worker-specific relief. Cooper also praised the heroic officers who are credited with preventing any loss of life from the incident through their door-to-door efforts evacuating area residents.
Ultimately, the bombing was just one more blow to Nashville in 2020: a pandemic with record numbers in Music City sandwiched between decimating tornadoes, a derecho in May, and the Christmas Day explosion that rattled so many downtown residents awake on Friday.
On the sunny Sunday after the Christmas blast, just blocks away from the damage on Broadway, things appeared somewhat normal, with much less live music competing on the block peppered by a light crowd mixed with masked and un-masked visitors; many were trying to catch a glimpse of the damage on Second Avenue. Some tourists were seen riding horse-drawn carriages on the open streets just blocks away from the eerie destruction.
In the last few months, many wondered how long it would take for Nashville and its beloved honky-tonks and bustling tourism industry to return to “normal.” In the wake of the bombing, the answer is “a little bit longer than expected,” with the city and its culinary community will be forever changed by the continued challenges of 2020.
After some time to reflect, Kahlil Arnold posted his thoughts to his Instagram Stories late Sunday night: “Nashville strong. Always have been, always will be. United we stand in this city. Love is our way — we will rebuild and help each other out.“