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Delia Jo Ramsey/Eater Nashville

One Year Later: How Restaurants Are Rebuilding Hope After the 2020 Tornado

Restaurant owners across the city share stories of resilience and remembrance one year after the March tornado in Nashville

It’s a beautiful, sunny day today in Nashville, one that also marks the 365-day deluge of devastation for Middle Tennessee — including the city’s restaurants and bars — over 40 of which were damaged or devastated by the March 3 tornado in 2020. And that was just the beginning.

No one needs a reminder of what it was like to live through the sounds of the midnight tornado that ripped through 50 miles of town one year ago, and certainly not of the heartbreaking loss of life and hundreds of homes, restaurants, and other businesses that came to light with the sunrise that March morning. Those are images that many find triggering, even more so after the year that unfolded in Nashville. The tornado was the natural tragedy that began the 2020-2021 year, which also included the coronavirus pandemic, a social justice reckoning and protests, a derecho, a Christmas morning bomb, and an ice storm that all furthered the overwhelming toll on the city’s once-bustling restaurant and tourism industry.

Some of the destroyed restaurants are still rebuilding, while others are finally reopening this week (Smith & Lentz, Boston Commons), and some haven’t announced plans to return following this devastating year.

Pictures of the tornado damage that started it all are plentiful across the internet this week. But something else to look for instead are stories of hope, care, response, and feeding people — all by food, restaurant, and hospitality workers and owners who saw their industry broken in myriad ways over the course of the year. March 3, 2020, was just the first of many times in the last year that the restaurant industry rallied to help the hurting, sick, jobless, or homeless. In the wake of tragedy after tragedy, restaurants (including destroyed ones) stepped up to offer free food, discounts, and donations to help those affected. And meanwhile, droves of volunteers all over the city prepped and delivered meals to those in need.

These are those stories — more stories of Nashville being nice, even amid unspeakable loss.

“The storm hadn’t even stopped but people were already trying to help each other.”

“It was still pouring rain and pitch black. Trees were in the middle of the road, uprooted next to overturned cars, and chunks of buildings. It was eerily quiet besides the sound of different alarms going off. I remember these things, but what sticks with me most were the groups of people going from place to place, asking if everyone was okay, asking if anyone needed help.” — Bryan Lee Weaver (Redheaded Stranger, Butcher and Bee)

Jamie White (Pearl Diver, Lucky’s 3 Star) shared photos and videos on his private Instagram page, remembering how the staff at Pearl Diver went out to help clean up each day post-tornado and threw a daily fundraiser until the city shut down for COVID-19. The team raised over $20,000 for those affected and kept the kitchen open to provide free meals for over 3000 service industry and first responders.

Dino’s Nashville, which withstood both the 1998 and 2020 tornados, posted a tribute to its staff who roamed the debris-littered streets to feed first responders and kept the doors open for those who needed shelter. “We still stand today as a sanctuary when times get tough. We’re still fighting after a brutal year, but as long as these walls can stand, we’ll be here for you” they posted to Instagram.

To brighten a tough day of remembrance, Edley’s BBQ is handing out free pulled pork sandwiches for anyone today at their East Nashville location which was damaged by the storm. They’re also raising money for Tennessee Action for Hospitality and the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. “This is certainly a somber week for Nashville, on top of a very difficult year, but it’s important to remember and be proud of how our entire community came together as one to get friends and neighbors back on their feet, and none of that would have been possible without our first responder community and neighbors who were eager to lend a hand,” said Edley’s BBQ founder/CEO Will Newman.

“Only after disaster can we be resurrected.”

“One year ago today the Nashville tornado ripped through my backyard. Our home, car, and one of my businesses (GT) all sustained damage. Even so, It seems so minor and I feel incredibly lucky it wasn’t worse, and grateful to have survived what was one of the scariest nights ever.” — Andy Mumma (Chopper, Barista Parlor)

Marcie Allen Van Mol, one of the owners of Anzie Blue — a coffee and CBD shop that overwhelmingly thrived and moved to a larger location during the pandemic — shared a memory recalling a pop-up with @nashvilletn where folks drove over an hour and stood in long lines to purchase over $10,000 worth of I Believe in Nashville T-shirts to benefit those affected. “It was a proud moment as a native Nashvillian. As we all take today to remember a year ago, be thankful for the community we live in. It’s truly a blessing,” said Van Mol.

“The host wanted to cancel due to no power — I said don’t need it. I have food, let’s feed people. So that is what I did.”

“I was supposed to cater a debate watch party on Buchanan street on the day of the tornado. The host wanted to cancel no power — I said don’t need it, I have food let’s feed people. So that is what I did. The next day was my birthday. So instead of gifts I asked people to send me money so I could feed the neighborhood. They sent me so much money. I stayed and fed people all week. We set up a free store for people. We have new blankets towels clothes and snacks away. The Saturday the big day I felt like the neighborhood needed to feel joy. No one likes taking charity. So I wanted to make sure it felt like they were at a party I invited them too. So I threw a big brunch for the people of north Nashville. We had a truck that did video games for the kids. We had music. I had volunteers to help clean up yards. I had just started yay Yay’s my second business ( ha) and I wanted it to be a mission of indulgence, excellence, elegance, and community. And I wanted people to know that living like that in itself was one of resistance. Then pandemic hit and we had to shift again. But so proud of the work I did there and my team who helped me” — Charlotte Miller (chef/owner Mama Blanche)

“It was also only the beginning of a year that not even the most pessimistic killjoy could have predicted.”

“...businesses are finding ways to adapt and survive. And people are empathizing with one another, bound by common loss and mutual appreciation for the things we’ve gone without. More importantly, we’ve been humbled by the undeniable reality of how much harder this year has been for those of us who didn’t need a pandemic to learn what precariousness means. One year later, I look around the city I love so much and I see cause for, if not celebration, then at least optimism. We’ve lost more than we could have imagined, but we’re still in it, determined to survive, and pointed toward the future that we can now begin to see shimmering on the horizon.” — Charlie Nelson (Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery)