Tornadoes Cut a Swath Through Nashville’s Restaurant Scene

Tornadoes Cut a Swath Through Nashville’s Restaurant Scene

Freddy Schwenk woke up at 2 on Tuesday morning to a barrage of texts and calls: people asking if he was safe, people asking if he knew what had happened. And then photographs of Geist, a bar and restaurant in Nashville’s Germantown neighborhood where he is the managing partner.

The photos showed that two exterior walls of the historic blacksmith shop had been ripped away, with debris everywhere. “I looked at my phone in disbelief,” he said in a Tuesday phone call. “It looked like my property was completely demolished.”

Across the state, Tennesseans woke Tuesday to devastation from overnight tornadoes that killed at least 25 people. In Nashville, two of the hardest-hit neighborhoods — Germantown and East Nashville — are home to some of the city’s most beloved restaurants and bars.

Several of the dozen or so places that suffered extensive damage are central players in Nashville’s nationally renowned culinary scene. Many other restaurants have blown-out windows and debris strewn across their property.

Even if they were spared a direct hit, chefs and owners are scrambling to donate perishable items while they wait for parts of the city’s electrical grid to flicker back to life. Eater Nashville has been updating a list of more than two dozen affected businesses.

“There are cooks and whatnot who have either lost their jobs because their place of business went down, or they have lost their homes,” J.A. Harrison, board director of the Nashville chapter of the United States Bartenders’ Guild, said Tuesday. He has started a GoFundMe account to help service-industry workers. As of Wednesday morning, it had raised more than $22,000.

“Many of our community are living paycheck to paycheck,” Mr. Harrison said. “A week without work can equal a month without rent, which can equal an eviction. We want to be able to cut a check for anyone who is experiencing food insecurity or housing insecurity.”

At Geist, Mr. Schwenk spent much of Tuesday trying to find temporary jobs for his staff and fielding calls from other restaurants offering to help.

Good food is hardly new in Nashville, which has long had a thriving restaurant scene. But the city has experienced a boom in new, innovative restaurants that cater to a growing hipster class over the past decade, as young people have moved there, drawn by its music scene and relatively low cost of living.

Many businesses that had been spared the worst of the tornado damage opened their doors on Tuesday and began to help the relief effort.


Credit…Freddy Schwenk

Credit…Freddy Schwenk

As soon as they could, the team behind the Grilled Cheeserie parked their food truck in the center of East Nashville, near one of their three brick-and-mortar locations. Emergency medical workers and neighborhood residents came by for nearly 250 free sandwiches, sharing stories over a plain buttermilk Cheddar on sourdough or a homemade pimento mac-and-cheese melt.

“At the truck today, it’s this feeling of togetherness,” said Joseph Bogan, the business’s chief executive and co-founder. “You are talking to people that you’ve never met, you’re relating to people on a different level.”

The team served until they ran out of gas in their generator. At the same time, Mr. Bogan was trying to figure out how to help his parents, whose home had been severely damaged.

“It feels surreal,” Mr. Bogan said. “When you drive through our neighborhood, it doesn’t feel real. It feels like a movie.”

Nearby, at Saint Stephen, which has put Friday’s first anniversary party on hold, the staff fired up the wood grill and served burgers and beer, accepting donations for the recovery effort. The Grateful Dead played through Bluetooth speakers while neighbors talked under a sunny sky.

“We’re just feeding the community basically comfort food,” said RJ Cooper, the chef and owner, talking over the noise of the gathering on a Tuesday evening phone call. “Within that dark swirling wind, there is light.”

Latest Category Posts

You May Also Read