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After a Year of Unimaginable Disaster, Nashville Restaurateurs and Chefs Share What They Hope for in 2021

From diners sharing queso and whipped feta to the vaccine — these owners exude resilience and determination in their hopes for the year to come

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It seems insufficient to say that Nashville has had one hell of a year. After the city and its bustling restaurant industry endured the hits that kept on coming in the form of tornadoes, derecho, pandemic, and most recently, a bomb, the very same industry has risen from the [sometimes actual] ashes to feed each other in times of crisis, while constantly supporting and promoting each other within during “normal” times.

It sure is easy to look back and rename everything that went wrong in 2020 — every disaster, every restaurant closure, every rude customer or ill-timed one-star yelp review, but there are some silver linings, including the Nashville resilience we’ve seen time and time again, plus pop-ups and collaborations that brought diners experiences they’ve never had before. From pivoting to new restaurants entirely to boosting takeout capabilities and changing hours and spacing restrictions at every turn, these restaurateurs and chefs have oozed “Nashville strong” out of their every action.

So, with 2021 in mind, a few Nashville chefs look ahead at what’s to come in the new year, and what they hope for with that much needed mental reset.

Yuriko Say (Co-owner Peninsula, owner Manju Dumplings): I’m hoping to see our community be able to join hands again to piece our businesses and our city back together. I’ve never seen anything close to the strength of community like what I saw after the tornado in March. Another of the many, many downsides of this virus is that it has torn us apart, literally and figuratively. It has hindered our ability to fully support one another the way we would in any other [non-pandemic] time. I am of course hoping for a re-bolstering of consumer confidence, and I believe in our community’s ability to employ an all hands-on deck approach to making this happen. I am excited to see the countless creative pivots that my fellow hospitality peers have employed in the past year further come to fruition. I think Nashville will see pop-ups becoming their own brick and mortars, and hopefully (grandiose hope though it may be), we will witness workforce coalitions coming together to finally provide our industry with some of the protections and benefits that so many other industries take for granted.

Jess Benefied (Chef/Owner Two Ten Jack): My honest response would be that I hope to stop having bizarre fits of OCD like realizing I have 11 different kinds of cream cheese in my fridge, currently. Why do I have so much cream cheese? As chef/GM/restaurant owner, I feel stunned, numb, frozen in time. I’ve thankfully had the luxury of access to wonderful therapy throughout my life so that I feel connected to how mentally and emotionally destructive this has been for the hospitality community. I look forward to ‘another side’ — whatever that is — where we can finally go see each other and hug each other and physically connect with the life-changing pain we are all living through. As far as what’s next for Nashville? We’re guaranteed to see some trash come through as the culture vultures snap up cheap rents. But as a native Nashvillian, I also know we're guaranteed to see that as a wave that will be pushed out and go away. Nashville's hospitality community, and our regulars, aren’t mirrored anywhere else in the world. And we’re too damn prideful to let that shit go.

Caroline Galzin (co-owner Nickys Coal-Fired): The part of 2020 that I am grateful for is the way that our industry came together to support one another and our community through all of our many, many tough times. I hope that the kindness & generosity that has been present this year is something we will take with us, that continues into 2021 and beyond.

Q Taylor (Operating partner, Sinema and 8th & Roast Coffee Co): More than anything, It’s been overwhelming to see the support of local businesses. It’s something I personally cherish and a lot of people in the community really appreciate. It’s been the hardest year in this business of my lifetime and I think the next few months will be difficult. However, I am optimistic with the vaccine people will become more and more comfortable going out again. The pent up demand to be with each other and congregate, we will eventually see things stronger than ever.

Bryan Lee Weaver (Redheaded Stranger, Butcher & Bee): I’m hoping recovery is in the cards on a lot of levels. All the destruction from the tornado, the pandemic, and now the bombing. I hope to see a bustling restaurant with people sharing queso or whipped feta. We all built these places to provide hospitality and comfort and it’s soul-crushing to not be able to take part in that. I mostly hope that we can be less divisive and figure out how to get through this together. The kindness and generosity of the restaurant community are why I want to keep going and I hope none of us lose sight of that.

Nicole Payne (co-owner, Red Perch): We are hopeful about next year but it’s hard not to go into it without trepidation because of everything we went through last year and it still seems like we are in the thick of it. I would say we are hopeful about next year because we have to be.

Pablo Bonacic (owner/chef, Subculture Cafe): Well, we at subculture really we are hoping to be able to open up and serve ppl the way we originally intended and continue to build strong relationships with our patrons. From the beginning that was always our calling. This year was for sure hard.

Tyler Alkins (owner/winemaker, Love & Exile Winery): At Love and Exile we’re extremely excited to finally reopen our doors in March. The tornado and pandemic were devastating to our business and revenue, but it forced us to really improve our systems and our products. We had an incredible outpouring of community support this year, from volunteer cleanup crews, to restaurants adding additional wines, and customers really stepping up to support in any way possible, we feel really fortunate to be a part of such a supportive city, in such a challenging year. I cannot wait for us to be able to relaunch and repay our gratitude.

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