As technology brought worldwide commerce to the average household, an interesting thing happened: people remembered the importance of supporting their neighbors, and the Buy Local movement was born.
Now, it's supporting entire economies, where within a geographical area a homegrown supply chain feeds area businesses that are supported by local residents and visitors. Chances are, you've seen these forces at work in your hometown.
In Nashville, Tenn.—where I live—one organization is making sure the culinary identity of our booming city is preserved.
“We started the Nashville Originals initially for the sole purpose of sustaining each other,” says Rick Bolsom, an Originals Board member who’s owned the popular restaurant Tin Angel on West End in Nashville’s Midtown neighborhood for 20 years. “As the city grew, we knew we had to focus on making sure the places that made Nashville unique were able to survive and thrive. What we eat defines who we are… it’s a big part of our culture, and the Originals are dedicated to sustaining the independent restaurant as a fixture of our community.”
More than 50 restaurants, ranging from fine dining and ethnic offerings to pubs, wine bars and burger joints, all have one thing in common – they’ve joined the non-profit organization to support the mission of working together to help ensure each others’ viability. It’s an example of the “American Made” movement at it’s finest: traditionally competitive eateries—many of whom source and serve locally grown products—rallying to spread the good news of one another.
The standard to be considered as an Original is simple: the restaurant must be locally owned, have less than four locations and have been in business for more than a year. Bolsom says that last criterion carries a lot of importance.
“Nashville is one of the hottest markets in the country right now. We’ve seen more than 100 restaurants open in the last year here,” he says. “The sad thing is that most of them won’t make it. The majority of our member restaurants have been in business for more than 10 years. These are the institutions, the landmarks, the places where locals will tell you to go eat to get a taste of Nashville. That authenticity is important to us.”
Once per quarter, each restaurant offers a limited number of discount gift certificates, sold at 30 percent off. The members cover the food cost when the certificates are redeemed, and the revenues from the sale go to support the Originals’ efforts.
Nashville Originals President Tom Loventhal, a partner in the two Noshville Delicatessen locations, says the group marketing approach has taken hold in the city, establishing a brand that carries credibility.
“We’ve utilized the tagline ‘United We Dine’ through print, online, outdoor, radio and other advertising, encouraging people to visit our website, to buy gift certificates and patronize our member restaurants. It’s worked very well,” Loventhal says. “People want to eat like a local, they want to support the community and understand what makes a place special. We’re a resource for the dining public, and the response to the Nashville Originals concept has been very rewarding.”
And twice each year, in January and August, the Originals host Nashville Restaurant Week, where members offer special prix fixe meals at discount prices. The event has become hugely popular, with chefs going off-menu to try new dishes or offer something that may be too expensive or labor intensive for everyday service, but represents a nice limited-edition reward for loyal diners over the course of one week.
When you consider the downstream implications, the impact of a group like Nashville Originals is significant. Member restaurants are encouraged to utilize local suppliers, and the organization offers group buying power on essential services.
“We engaged with a waste management broker recently who’s saved members thousands of dollars,” Loventhal says. “Restaurant owners are so busy, and they are being approached by vendors on a nearly daily basis. If we can validate these things on their behalf, then it’s a real benefit.”
The spirit of collaboration extends to other Nashville staples, as well, through special partnerships. It’s what locally owned is all about—supporting the folks who are in the same boat as you.
Earlier this year, the Originals joined forces with the Christie Cookie company, who is celebrating their 30th anniversary as a local supplier of fresh-baked cookies and dough made of the finest ingredients.
“Christie is another Nashville staple, and they approached us with the idea of offering special dessert options for a limited time through our members,” Loventhal says. “Christie supplied the product and the chefs at 15 member restaurants came up with these incredible dessert options. It got a lot of media attention, and some of the desserts became permanent menu items. In the end, it drove sales for the restaurants and for Christie, celebrated their anniversary and raised the profile of the Originals as an organization.”
The Originals extend a helping hand in other directions, too. This spring, the group is working with Metro Nashville Public Schools to host a contest for Originals chefs to design a winning menu that the kids love, but that also meets health standards and works within the budgetary constraints.
Chef Roderick Bailey, who owns the East Nashville-based restaurant Silly Goose, is one of the newest members of the Nashville Originals.
Having lived all over the country, he says Nashville—and particularly East Nashville—has been an incredible place to start a business. And while the city may still be a little weak on things like ethnic food, Bailey says we’ve grown by leaps and bounds in the last five years.
“It’s good to be able to support the cause, and things like Restaurant Week can bring a lot of business,” he says. “I’ve never spent any money on advertising, so this just feels better to me – emphasizing relationships and the sustainability of the local economy. Farmers and suppliers and restaurants and customers, all working together. Of my 16 employees, 15 can walk to work.”
All of that fits where we are, as a city. As the Chef puts it, “it feels like home.”
Puckett’s Boat House Shrimp & Grits Hushpuppies Recipe
This is a Puckett’s Boat House recipe, created in the Marshall family’s kitchen to serve in your own. Puckett’s Boat House is a Nashville Originals member.
Shrimp & Grits Hushpuppies Ingredients:
- Four cups of water
- Two cups heavy cream
- Three cup grits
- One-half pound butter
- One tbl. salt
- One tbl. white pepper
- One chipotle purée
- One-half pound uncooked shrimp, peeled, veined and chopped
- One and one-half pound of Velveeta
- One tbl. green onion, chopped
- One and one-half cup whole corn
- One cup red bell pepper, diced
- One tbl. parsley, chopped
- Puckett’s Boat House pepper sauce (optional)
- One cup of flour
- Four large eggs, beaten
- Two cups of yellow cornmeal
Shrimp & Grits Hushpuppies Directions:
Combine water, heavy cream, chipotle purée, salt, and white pepper in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Stir in grits and let simmer for 8 minutes. Slowly stir in the cheese and raw shrimp. Once the shrimp turns pink, add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture onto a cookie sheet to cool.
Once mixture is cooled, prepare to fry: using a small spoon or scoop, roll the mixture into small hushpuppy-size balls. Dip the balls into the flour, the egg wash and then the yellow cornmeal.
At this time, you can place them into a 365-degree fryer or skillet, with oil. The hushpuppies will fry for about two minutes and thirty seconds, or until golden brown.
If you like a little kick to your dishes, sprinkle PBH Pepper Sauce on the puppies. To purchase, go to www.puckettsboathouse.com.
About Puckett’s Boat House
Puckett’s Boat House in downtown Franklin, Tenn. aims to stay true to local flavor while delivering an atmosphere that makes you nostalgic for family vacations and good times. The grill and oyster bar menu offers by-the-shore dishes reminiscent of the Gulf coast and the Big Easy, plus Southern staples that draw from the Marshall family’s Mississippi Delta and Memphis roots. Enjoy Puckett’s trademark Southern fare and reputation for a live music venue—both with a Boat House twist. www.puckettsboathouse.com