In Response | Jessica Benefield
Having lived all of my 39+ years in Nashville, three distinct phrases come to mind when I think of all the times I've told people where I'm from. “Oh, you must drink a lot of Jack Daniels!” (I have), “Oh you must love country music!” (I do, but it likely varies greatly from the “country music” to which is being referred), and “Wow, everyone there is SO nice!”
The last phrase has always hit home for me, and has been something I both vehemently believe and am equally proud of. I've been blessed enough to have been raised in a culture where “nice” doesn't equate to “fake” but rather genuine kindness. There's a certain small-town neighborly feel to this quickly expanding city and recently I've found myself becoming fearlessly defensive of it.
When I began running my own kitchens some 13 years ago, I remember running out of stock, canned tomatoes, even linens for a Sunday evening after getting crushed on weekend service. It never felt uncomfortable for me reach out to a neighbor and ask to borrow items, and I honestly can't remember a time where I was told 'no’. It's not uncommon for a friend to text me that their dishwasher didn't show up and they needed someone stat. I instinctually have the feeling of wanting to do whatever I can to help them out, not because I'm a better person than someone else, but because it's what my tribe does for one another. These are the norms in Nashville. This is the fabric of our hospitality industry.
Several months ago, a restaurant concept from another city was making their move into Nashville and, as proper neighbors, when they reached out to us for last minute reservations on a weekend evening, we gladly welcomed them in and treated them like family. It was several days later before it got back to me that many of my staff were given business cards, told how much higher starting salaries would be, etc. and that the owner had personally come in multiple times over the course of 4 days to hand out more cards. How proud I am of my staff for being kind, thanking him for the opportunity, and politely declining (all while providing top-notch service, mind you) isn't verbally possible to acknowledge on my part. My blood was boiling enough for all of us...
But I've heard of this practice from many independent restaurant friends over the past few months and that is quite unnerving. It's made me lose sleep and I wondered what the core of the frustration was for me. It's not about “being nice” or even just doing what's right, ethically. I can get past someone being a duffus or just a bully or an ego-maniac. But this practice is a full-blown attack on the fabric of our community. If allowed to continue, it would change the landscape of hospitality in our city. What we have is too special to watch disappear. It must get talked about, written about, and this disgusting practice need be driven out of the dark corner where it grows. We are the defenders of the Quan. #NashvilleStrong