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Nashville Chefs and Hot Chicken Fans Remember Bolton Matthews

Bolton Matthews and his wife Dollye are a huge part of Nashville’s food history, and his peers shared stories and condolences online after the legend passed away June 2

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In a world where it seems just about everyone has a take on Nashville hot chicken, Bolton Matthews was born with it in his blood.

On June 2, Matthews, owner of Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish and direct descendant of Nashville hot chicken forefather Bolton Polk, passed away after a hard-fought three-year battle with stage IV colon cancer.

Named after his uncle, the late Bolton Polk (who started out as a staffer at Prince’s), Bolton and his wife Dollye Matthews operated Bolton’s Spicy Chicken and Fish since 1997. They’re using Polk’s original recipe for spicy fried chicken from when he opened up Columbo’s Hot Chicken Shack on the East side decades ago. The original restaurant closed after the original Bolton fell ill, but before he passed, he shared his hot chicken recipe with his beloved nephew, and the rest, as far as Nashville’s hottest chicken goes, is their legacy.

In May, the city of Nashville recognized Matthews in a public ceremony for his lifelong dedication to hot chicken even throughout a series of heartbreaking personal and professional challenges. The resolution recognized Matthews for his contributions to the culture, economy, development, and panache of the city of Nashville. The resolution emphasized Bolton Matthews’ impact on Nashville and the world. Bolton’s is one of Main Street’s oldest Black-owned businesses and is recognized by the Southern Foodways as a Nashville Food Heritage Site. In 2020, Bolton’s East Nashville location suffered roof and water damage after the tornado, of course, the Matthews have also been affected by the coronavirus. Matthews has also been battling stage IV colon cancer since 2018 (there’s a GoFundme for his treatment) and lost his mother earlier this year before he passed away on June 2, 2021.

Since his passing, Matthew’s wife and co-owner Dollye says the restaurant will be closed until further notice.

Update: The funeral service for Bolton Leroy Matthews of Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish is Saturday, June 12 at noon with visitation at 11:00 a.m. at First Church of Nazarene, located at 510 Woodland Street.

Below, a few of his peers reflect on his death and what Matthews means to the food landscape in Nashville.

Lamont Hurt (Hurts Hot Chicken):
Sending my deepest condolences to Dollye at Bolton’s and the family...with the loss of the legend, Mr.Bolton. I remember my first time seeing him “on the track” is what I call it (lo),l but I was excited to be shopping at the same time with the man himself. In an instant, I realized that I was most definitely on the “right track fasho’” — I’ll never forget that focused driven look on his face nor his inspiring words: “Never let your feet off the gas, baby.” As his spirit lives on, we’ll continue to run that track in honor of Mr. Bolton. May Bolton’s continue to reign as the “hottest chicken in town“ forever.

Sheldon Diggs (Souls United, which exists to feed and serve Nashville’s homeless community):
RIP to one of the biggest legends in Nashville, TN, the hot chicken capital of the world, Bolton Matthews of Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish. Words can’t express how much love he had given through food in his city. Totally an inspiration to many including myself. I have had the support of this black-owned successful business as long as I have been serving the homeless with Souls United. I would bump into Mr. Bolton oftentimes in Restaurant Depot. We would speak and have a short conversation as I would wish him well in his journey. Most people knew about his illness that has untimely led to his death. God bless him and everything he touched. I love you Dollye At Bolton’s. Much love to the family during this difficult time. Show your love to the family, everyone. They need it.

Kim Prince (Prince’s Hot Chicken):
Our hearts and prayers are with the Matthews family. Rest is a sweet reward for a life lived full of love.

Jason Sparks:
Today one of my heroes, Bolton Matthews, passed on. Given all he had suffered over the years as he was battling the ravages of cancer, I suppose it was a blessing to some degree. But the disease robbed us of a great man who, along with his lovely wife, built a thriving business that changed the culinary landscape of our city.

When I first started going to Bolton’s, I rarely saw Mr. Bolton. He was usually in the back working his ass off of the original location, over hot skillets in a shack in the back. Rarely did he have to come up to the window to make an order, but sometimes he would poke his head out to see how everyone was doing; if the food was good. He never smiled much with his mouth, but definitely his eyes. My pal Stuart always called him “Grumpy”, because he likes to pick at people. I do too, and I eventually started saying to Mr. Bolton “Man, it’s great today, I just wish y’all could make it hot for once...” (I generally get the hottest that they have, because I am broken).

One day, after talking trash about how the food wasn’t spicy enough, Mr. Bolton finally snapped and said “Sparky, I’m gonna go back there and mess you up. I gonna go and step on it, I’m gonna put evil inside it. You’ll be taken care of...”. A while later, in front of my friends, he handed me a brown paper sack that was already starting to become opaque with grease. He told me to eat it, and then get back to him about what “spicy” was all about. I was too embarrassed to eat it in front of my friends, so I went back to work and ate it in my car, and let me tell you, Bolton was not lying.

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