Alright folks, here it is! My first Nashville Spotlight interview with a local business owner!!! I can’t tell you how happy I am to have had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Callie from one of my favorite vegan restaurants in Nashville, Graze.
So, before we get to the crux of the conversation, let me tell you about Graze & I. Graze is a plant-based (vegan) restaurant in East Nashville. I had never visited until my sister, who was pescatarian at the time, was in town and convinced me to go. Honestly, when I thought of vegan, all I could imagine was gross tofu and weird chewy textures. But we looked over the menu and went for Sunday brunch. I’ve now been to Sunday brunch five times! I bring people there every chance I get. The food is delicious, the vibe is incredibly friendly and welcoming and I love the feeling of supporting a local business, so it’s an all-around win!
So I went and sat down with Callie, one half of the power team behind Graze. I walked in around 2:30 pm on a Saturday, right before they close the kitchen to switch between brunch and dinner. It was supposed to be a lull but let me tell you, that place didn’t slow down!
Callie sat down after having managed the morning shift. I’m not going to lie here guys, I didn’t know how this would go. Would it be magazine style question and answer? Like I said before, this is my first real interview. So once I finished awkwardly explaining myself and kind of setting the scene, Callie got to talking.
The Graze Story
Callie started at the Wild Cow, another vegetarian and vegan restaurant right around the corner, in 2009. She started as a server, worked her way up to manager and eventually was the front of house manager at the Wild Cow. She became more interested in the operational side of the business, looking at different ways to make it more efficient to increase sales. Callie, along with owners Melanie and John Cochran, and head chef Nick Davis, were looking to expand the Wild Cow over the years. Then in 2016, the Silly Goose (where Graze sits today) closed suddenly, leaving the perfect opening for Graze!
Melanie, John, Nick and Callie co-own and opened Graze, and Nick and Callie currently run the business. Callie runs front of house while Nick is head chef and is responsible for finding the best local ingredients possible. They were able to maintain the footprint of the space and adapt it to their liking, and opened Graze as a breakfast all day restaurant, open 7 am – 11 pm. After realizing that wasn’t working, they refocused the menu and featured brunch options only on weekends, serving dinner from 4-11 pm Tuesday through Friday and all meals from 9 am – 11 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
I hadn’t realized it, because by the time I moved to Nashville, Graze seemed like an established spot, but they opened April 14, 2016, so they are only now going to hit their two year anniversary!
Realizing that, I asked about the stability of the restaurant and Callie’s plans for the year.
Callie: “We are going into 2018 feeling financially stable. In 2017 it felt like we were playing catch-up and getting only what we needed. Now, we’ve purchased a company vehicle and are able to go and buy produce ourselves, cutting out the middle man and those expenses.”
They’ve also recently brought on someone to help manage the restaurant, freeing Callie up a bit. *This part – this is where you can really tell Callie is passionate about Graze.* She started telling me about being able to focus on expanding and developing the restaurant and spending more time being more creative with the menu. She also wants to work to refine the bar more and be able to work on improving server knowledge, something I can tell she is incredibly passionate about.
Graze Culture, Mission & Community Involvement
Another thing that is very important to Graze is their culture and mission. Finding their culture and not knowing how to develop a culture or identity was difficult at first, but over time they have developed a very team-based, trusting environment where everyone feels that sense of camaraderie. As a customer, you can definitely tell it’s a team effort. You won’t necessarily get one server: they’re all their to give you the best experience, working together and being super flexible.
And then there’s the mission. When she told me this, all I could say was yes.
Callie: “Our mission is kind of being a bridge, a non judgmental place where people can come in and eat a plant-based meal. We try to remain a pretty neutral place, not judging how people eat their meals outside of the restaurant and not trying to make omnivores feel unwelcome.”
Right?!? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a vegan or vegetarian place and felt unwelcome or out of place. But nope, all are welcome at Graze!
It was also really nice to see their growing involvement in the community. They try to source as much food from local farms, using mostly products from Nashville Grown and White Squirrel Farm here in Middle Tennessee. While they’re working to find their niche in terms of doing hands-on community work, they’ve recently sponsored a sloth at The Sloth Institute in Costa Rica, and they frequently donate gift cards to several local causes.
By the end of the conversation, we’ve really delved into the bar development, talking about Callie working to source local vegan bar ingredients but also really cultivate a diverse cocktail and bar menu. We end up talking gin, because that’s my drink of choice, and she decides to do a tasting of their gins and make me a cocktail she’s been working on for the summer menu. It ends up being delicious, kind of like a refreshing gin lemonade. She doesn’t have a name yet but you bet I’ll be back when she starts selling it!
As a recap, I asked Callie what the biggest lesson she learned from this venture has been. She said, “I’ll never take people and people I work with for granted. Everybody is so phenomenal, they never fail to impress me.”
I’ve never worked in a restaurant, but based on the team there and Nick and Callie’s involvement and leadership, I would definitely want to work there! I also think it’s inspiring to see two people put so much of themselves into a project and still love it and want to cultivate it after two years. Plus, their food is amazing!
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