Experts agree: Faison changed the Nashville restaurant scene

Friday, August 16, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 33
By Brad Schmitt

At the bar, Faison's.

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When Jody Faison launched Faison’s in the early 1980s, he essentially founded the Nashville independent restaurant landscape, several longtime Nashville food industry veterans say.

“Jody was the iconic innovator who began contemporary American cuisine in Nashville,” says competing restaurateur and longtime friend Randy Rayburn, whose own Hillsboro Village/Midtown restaurant empire includes Sunset Grill, Midtown Café and Cabana.

Adam Dread, a former Metro Councilman, radio personality and Faison employee, says simply: “There wouldn’t be the restaurant ‘scene’ in Nashville but for Jody Faison.”

Iguana, 1999.

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There were a handful of restaurants that preceded Faison’s, like Mario’s Italian restaurant or World’s End, they explain. But Faison’s was the first to cater to Nashville’s creative community – and to keep the doors open late for them.

“It was funky and it was different, and the servers were different,” says longtime food writer Kay West.

“He tapped into the creative group that was already here and what was the beginning at that time of the migration to Nashville from Los Angeles and New York,” she adds. “He created a living room, a salon, for his friends, and he happened to make some money off it.”

From there, Faison launched The Iguana in Hillsboro Village and 12th & Porter, Pub of Love, and eventually Café 123 in a once-industrial corner behind The Tennessean.

Then there were hipster spots in Cummins Station.

Cafe 123, 2003

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And all were known for creativity, innovation and funky entrée names like Pasta Yaya.

“He Americanized French cuisine that … was the style in the mid ‘80s in Manhattan,” Rayburn adds.

“I remember coming back from New York and saying to myself, ‘Darn, Jody’s doing some fun things.’ He always had fun with food.”

Says Dread: “Jody had the Midas touch with restaurants.”

Outside his law office, August 2013

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West says Faison’s places evolved with the times and with Faison’s aging.

“Jody just always had his finger on the pulse of his generation and of his ilk,” she explains.

“He just kept making places he would like to go to. As he got older, the places did…. He really had a magic touch for a while.”

But it wasn’t just food innovation that kept customers coming back. Jody greeted and got to know who came into his places, they say.

“He made every customer feel at home, and it paid off,” Dread adds.

“If you wanted to impress a client or a date, Faison’s was the place to take them. When Jody stopped by your table to say ‘Hey’, you looked like a rock star,” Dread says.