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Nashville Restaurants React to Downtown Weekend Protests Against Police Brutality

Despite broken windows, looting, and fire, many restaurant owners have expressed support for protesters

The sounds of live country music and the smells of street vendor hot dogs turned to sirens and the smell of teargas on Saturday, with an emergency curfew going into place that shut the city down at 10 p.m.

The daytime ‘I Will Breathe’ Rally was a peaceful gathering of many standing in solidarity against police brutality, but as darkness fell in Music City, the mood shifted as a small group of rioters began smashing windows of Broadway-area bars and other businesses, looting items like liquor bottles and cowboy boots. Most of the bars and restaurants were occupied by tourists when violence broke out, and one tourist said his friends saw bricks hurled above their truck as they tried to flee downtown for the curfew.

Many businesses near the intersection of 4th and Broadway and government buildings downtown woke up to graffiti when the curfew lifted on Sunday morning. By Monday, the broken glass on Broadway was replaced by wooden boards — at places like the Stage, Margaritaville, the Tin Roof, and Legend’s Corner, among others.

“The boards, the glass shards, the explicit graffiti — those are all just symptoms. They can be swept up and replaced. I just hope at last people will see the bigger picture here,” says one restaurant owner who asked to remain anonymous.

On social media, many restaurant owners have stood in support of the protestors, and of the Black Lives Matter movement. Bryan Lee Weaver (Redheaded Stranger, Butcher & Bee) took to Instagram, posting a solid black square and encouraging people to make a donation to Black Lives Matter Nashville. The Mac Shack posted to Instagram “We stand firm in support of the BLM movement and all of our great black friends...Arrogance, ignorance, racism, and violence will not be tolerated. We will remain vigilant and vocal in the fight for justice and peace.” Chopper Tiki, and dozens of other restaurant have posted also standing in solidarity with the protestors.

A curated list of black-owned restaurants in Nashville was posted to Dino’s Instagram feed —including Slim and Husky’s, Riddim N Spice, The Cupcake Collection, Tacos With a Twist, Ed’s Fish House, Silver Sands Cafe, The Southern V, Shugga Hi, Vegelicious, Sweet’s, Jamaicaway, Knockout Wings, and Seafood Sensations, among others. Of course, staple Nashville hot chicken destinations 400 Degrees, Slow Burn, Bolton’s, and Prince’s are on the list, too.

Other restaurant owners had dismissive or even violent in their reactions: Steve Smith, owner of Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge, Honky Tonk Central, Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk & Rock ‘n’ Roll Steakhouse, Rippy’s and The Diner, told News 2 that he had “armed security at all his businesses downtown, and if there is vandalism or looting at his places — they will shoot to kill.”

The unrest comes on the heels of Broadway bars being allowed to reopen at limited capacity with live music on May 25 due to COVID-19, which caused all of the city’s dining rooms and bars to close dining rooms in mid-March. The COVID shutdown happened just two short weeks after the tornadoes on March 3, which already devastated several restaurants and bars in Nashville — now dealing a triply devastating blow to the city’s restaurants, bars, and live music venues.