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One Year After the Christmas Morning Bombing, Downtown Nashville Restaurants Are Still Recovering

Several downtown Nashville restaurants continue their rebuilding process, while locals mourn the loss of other longtime restaurants over the last year

Demetrius Kelley/Managing Partner of The Melting Pot of Nashville and Rodizio Grill Nashville

One year ago on Christmas Day, Nashville residents and businesses faced one more devastating event for 2020, when a morning explosion rocked more than 60 buildings downtown. For many who live and work downtown and its surrounding areas, the impact of the bomb’s structural damage and the widespread internet outages following the bomb further compounded trauma onto a year already marked by natural disasters and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The morning explosion left more than 1,000 employees without jobs and hundreds of downtown Nashville residents displaced from their homes.

In the year after the chilling tragedy, many longtime Nashvillians mourned the news that the Old Spaghetti Factory would not reopen after its lease was terminated, even though the downtown institution had rights to the space through the end of 2035. Earlier this month, the museum, restaurant, and rooftop bar the George Jones announced its closure. The George Jones owners posted on their social media accounts that pandemic concerns and a tough comeback attempt following the bombing led to the company’s decision to close.

“From the pandemic (and the starts and stops there) all the way through to the 2nd Ave bombing one year ago — we have fought for what is right for our loyal staff and local partners. As many business owners know, between the workforce shortages and difficulty with consistency of products, it is a challenge day to day (to say the least) to make a business viable,” the post read.

Just down the street at the 21c Hotel, Gray & Dudley’s executive chef Matt Bell — who was affected by the tornado, the pandemic, a house fire, and the Christmas Day bomb during his first 365 days in Nashville — is reflecting on his second year in Music City and looking ahead to 2022. “For me, it was a lesson in being thankful for that moment. Thankful for that service, that day, that week. I’m looking forward most to seeing how we can use what we learned. I’m excited the industry has been forced to reassess what we do and how we do it. 2022 is our chance to put how we have changed into action,” Bell told Eater Nashville.

Getting Second Avenue restored has been a taxing process, slowed like many projects nationwide by supply chain delays and worker shortages. And the holidays, normally a high-volume time for restaurants with tourists and locals congregating downtown, are now dampened by canceled reservations and unexpected closures as the omicron variant’s numbers rise. The street is still littered with dumpsters and roadblocks, but there are future plans to erect a life-sized mural of the avenue’s historic buildings, wider sidewalks, and a restored canopy of trees overhead.

Looking forward in the strip’s restaurant world, Demetrius Kelley, the managing partner of the two restaurants located closest to the blast, the Melting Pot and Rodizio Grill, says he looks forward to reopening the two restaurants in 2022, as does Dick’s Last Resort.

“Time flies...I just realized that July 17 makes 20 years at the Melting Pot and 11 years since planning of Rodizio Grill in Nashville started. The last year has been very challenging with the combination of covid and the Christmas Day bombing, but I know great things are on the horizon. We are rebuilding and we will be back better than ever. I look forward to our grand reopening in 2022 and seeing all the staff and guests that we were able to call friends and family over the years,” wrote Kelley.

With Christmas Day just hours away, Christy Carter, an employee at a historic downtown Nashville bar and former downtown resident says the holiday excitement feels a little less this year, and her nerves are high as the memories of the haunting early hours of December 25, 2020 resurface. That is the case for many, no doubt, but as the camera images and sounds of the bombing (and tornado) fade, Nashville restaurants and residents continue to push forward.