The local restaurant world shifts frequently, and the Nashville area seems to be undergoing a small sesmic restaurant tremor. There are plenty of appealing new things – I’m excited about Hal Holden Bache’s Lockeland Table, Deb Paquette’s Etch , DeSanano’s Pizza (Chris Chamberlain made me go, and I’m now addicted) and Sean Brock coming in to take over the magnificent space that was once Andrew Chadwick’s – a brilliant concept that didn’t survive the 2008 meltdown –with his Nashville take on Husk.
But we’re losing some gems, in most cases simply because their time has come, and the clever chefs and restaurateurs behind them are moving on to new projects. Jason McConnell has already closed SOL and reopened as the new concept steakhouse Cork & Cow. The uber inventive Arnold Myint has announced he’s closing Belmont area fave Cha Cha, which is a pretty crushing blow, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. But one of the biggest deals among them all is Jeremy Barlow’s decision to close up shop at Tayst.
If you’re not from around these parts, is Tennessee’s first three star green certified restaurant. Serving a nightly menu of seasonal foods, Tayst demonstrated to Nashville that you could do it green and do it right.
Since the advent of Tayst in 2004, Barlow has branched out again recently with Sloco, his take on alternatives to the fast food world; he’s written a book, Chefs Can Save the World, about the lessons he learned building up a truly sustainable restaurant business; and he’s busy with a host of other commitments, from cooking at the Beard House in New York to increasingly advocating for food-related causes on a local, state and national level. As the world changes, it turns out Barlow needs days that aren’t 18 hours of solid work – which, you know, we’ve come to expect from him, being as that he’s our sustainable superhero.
So all good things come to an end, and the amazing experiment that was Tayst is one of them. It’s the right time to shift focus for Jeremy – his lease was up, and change is in the air. It was an incredibly vital and timely thing when it appeared, and now we’re waiting to see what he does in the aftermath. Poking him about the issue seemed like a good idea about now.
First things first, I want to know what’s happening with the last two months of Tayst, since it’s closing at midnight, January 1. Between now and then, Barlow is pulling out a lot of stops – he’s set up three dinners to showcase his wait staff and chefs, pairing a cook and a server together for inspired meals with wine pairings, letting them demonstrate just how good they are at what they do. On November 15, a few days from now, the option is an all vegan dinner, with organic and biodynamic wine pairings (it may sound like a weird concept, but as my friend James Hensley, GM at Patterson House points out to me, biodynamic wines are generally quite good).
New Year’s Eve is the final showcase with two seating options offered: From 5-7 p.m., it’s open seating to enjoy four courses with three choices in each, including a vegetarian option ($55, or $70 with wine pairings per person. Then promptly at 9, will begin a 12 course tasting for 60 people. For added drama, the last bite should be finished at midnight – just in time for Tayst to go dark. “I’ve got it timed,” says Jeremy wickedly. (This second seating is $135 per person, $165 with wine pairings).
And then? Then the next phase begins. While he’ll sell off the equipment and stuff, the name stays with him. “I’ve got too much identity involved,” he admits. “From here, ah, that’s the unknown.”
“I’m looking kinda forward to not having a night job for the first time in a long while. I want to hang with my family, spend time with my two daughters. Then once I’ve had a break, it’s back to work. The first thing I’m going to do is expand Sloco; it’s a great concept that can really do everything I set out as its goals if I just have the time to make them happen. After that, it’s more advocacy stuff. I’m pretty involved as it is, but finishing that little push, getting the things done I haven’t had the time to do, and really spreading a message of sustainability – that’s important.”
We talk a bit about the potential for expanding Sloco. For those of you not yet familiar, Sloco starts with the fact that Jeremy considers himself something of a recovering fast food addict. I mean, sometimes we all need those McDonald’s fries, right? Don’t lie, we know. We’re addicted to fast food as a culture – not just for what it is or what it tastes like, since a whole lot of it is truly bad, and ultimately unsatisfying – but also because of the freakin’ convenience involved. I mean, hey, we can eat in our cars, how great is that?
And the reality is that even the sub shops that pass themselves off as “healthy” fast food really offer a ton of heavily processed foods. And aside from the anomalies like Chipotle, none of them use locally sourced products either.
So, goes the Barlow reasoning, what happens when we offer fast food sandwiches at comparable prices, served up right there, that use fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, handmade breads, have vegetarian and gluten free options, and make them readily available (and delicious)?
Thus was born Sloco in 12South (Sloco), where you can get a really, really good sandwich – they’ll even deliver. It mimics the way fast food operates, except for how Barlow sources food. Last year, Barlow tells me, they spent something like $130,000 to supply a 700 square foot store. He reasons that the area could support another 3-5 nearby. That, he says, might potentially support as many as five or six additional farmers in turn, especially on the meat side.
“Chicken’s the real issue,” he says. “It’s my biggest seller, and it’s the most expensive thing, surprisingly enough. If I can order more, price wise, that makes things better and with farmers producing more to meet the demand, I make it more available for myself and for other places. Right now I’m buying 40-50 chickens a week from farmers, with five stores that would increase to 250. They grow more, they can start supplying more – say the [Monroe Carell Jr.] Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, schools, Second Harvest Food Bank – there’s enough product to look at large scale integration into the local food system.”
If you haven’t guessed, you’re not likely to find Barlow ordering pre-processed factory farm chicken from the standard suppliers. But he does imagine a day when chef demand is such that the suppliers and the market at large can provide organic, sustainable, seasonal foods more readily and make a genuine profit. And anyone who tells you fresh foods don’t taste better than the pre-packed, processed stuff is lying or has no taste buds.
Barlow imagines that with multiple locations, he’d have one big commissary kitchen among them doing prep for the other stores, managing the butchering, the bread baking and so on. Then it could be shipped to the smaller stores in the region, where a lack of need for an epic preparatory kitchen would mean more seating space in a small location, thus narrowing costs and keeping it easy to have a $7.50 sandwich.
“After the third one, it could be problematic, I think we’d need another big kitchen,” says Barlow meditatively. Of course, the restaurants without the big kitchens might not have that wonderful smell emanating from them, but Barlow suggests they could find some compromise. “Maybe bake cookies there or something …”
I think Barlow has a mission here. And sometimes, the best way to make change happen is to live by example. If anyone walks the walk, it’s Jeremy Barlow.