No Doubt About It! Nashville is the “It” City

Owner Randy Rayburn enjoys a meal at Sunset Grill with managing partner and chef Jeff Cunningham.

People are flocking to Nashville. Our city is fast becoming the trendiest place for popular entertainment, fine cuisine and cutting-edge businesses. It isn’t hard to observe how remarkable Nashville is. ABC even noticed, naming a TV show after the city and filming in famous landmarks here. What other city has a show named after it?

Here are some people and places that have helped make our city the popular, unique and thriving destination that it has become.

Randy Rayburn

The energy that our city gives off is irresistible. It attracted restaurateur Randy Rayburn, owner of the decades-popular restaurants Sunset Grill, Midtown Cafe, and Cabana. “I fell off the melon truck many years ago from the University of Tennessee Knoxville and found myself in a mecca between Knoxville and Memphis,” says Rayburn. Glad we are that he ended up here.

Rayburn has been feeding Nashville patrons for over 23 years. He gathered experience in the food and beverage industry at the Opryland Hotel, and he credits his time at Opryland with making him knowledgeable about the ins-and-outs of the industry. “Working at Gaylord taught me how to manage below the line costs and not just labor and costs of goods,” says Rayburn.

Owner Randy Rayburn enjoys a meal at Sunset Grill with managing partner and chef Jeff Cunningham.  PHOTO COURTESY OF MELISSA CORBIN

Owner Randy Rayburn enjoys a meal at Sunset Grill with managing partner and chef Jeff Cunningham.

With his ambitious spirit, Rayburn had a vision of his own. “I wanted to start my own business. In 1990, my friend and mentor Houston Thomas, founder of Sperry’s restaurant, told me that despite the recession, Nashville was the best place for my dream opportunity. He expressed to me that Nashville was diversified and attracting people to move here.”

With this encouragement by Thomas, Rayburn took the advice and ran with it. “I had previously opened eleven other restaurants for other people. Sunset Grill was the first restaurant I opened by myself. I sold my home and all of my assets to invest in the restaurant’s success.” Laying everything on the line, Rayburn opened his first restaurant in Nashville.

Once Sunset Grill was thriving, Rayburn became interested in diversifying. Executive Chef Jeff Cunningham was brought into Sunset Grill’s kitchen, and he also became a managing partner. Rayburn is on point with his idea that “successful entities need to have ‘skin in the game.’”

In 1997, Rayburn bought Midtown Cafe after passing on dozens of other business opportunities. “Craig Clift, originally from Nashville, started as a busboy in 1987. When I opened Cabana, he became a managing partner along with Brian Uhl. I sought to give Craig and Brian an opportunity to grow and give them success for their families.”

With Cunningham, Clift, and Uhl invested in the restaurants, they are all dedicated to the restaurants’ success.

Amid so many unique restaurants in the Nashville area, it can be a struggle to stand apart from the competition. “Unfortunately, most small businesses fail within the first five years.” Due to this harsh reality, “Nashville banks will not fund a startup restaurant. Funding is provided by family, friends and financial angels”, Rayburn explains, seemingly speaking from experience.

Rayburn has adapted to the needs of the market to remain above the steep competition. “There has been dramatic growth of supply over the last three and a half years. The aftermath of the flood of 2010 has caused our teams to have to work harder and smarter to recover from the previous recession. It forces you to up your game to compete with the celebrity chefs’ reputations in the Nashville market.”

Rayburn invites entrepreneurs to contemplate opening a business in this flourishing city. “Nashville is a fabulous marketplace. The doors are open to anyone to enter. Just as new singers and musicians are welcome to Nashville, the cream of the crop will rise to the top. The public will decide which cream will rise to the top.”

Investing his home and assets to begin his entrepreneurial career, Rayburn now owns three prosperous restaurants. “Nashville was my incubus and training center for learning,” says Rayburn. “Ultimately, I wound up in the restaurant industry. This allowed me to serve people and make them happy.” Randy Rayburn is proof that dreams do come true in Nashville.

Bachelorette Parties

It is impossible to be on Broadway on any particular weekend without encountering groups of women wearing sashes, matching shirts or little black dresses. Women are increasingly gathering in Nashville to celebrate the coming marriage of a dear friend. What is attracting out of town women to trek to this city as their last hoorah before their nuptials?

Tanya Bailey and eleven girlfriends flew to Nashville on a direct flight from North Carolina for a bachelorette party. “The flight was very reasonably priced,” said Bailey. Nashville is centrally located in America and easily accessed by many cities. Coming here can be a more affordable trip than other destinations.

Once landed, the group checked into the Courtyard Marriott, which is within walking distance from Broadway. Since safety is a big concern for women, Bailey stated that the and her friends “have walked everywhere and felt 100% safe doing so.” Nashville’s non-threatening environment is ideal for women to walk together and enjoy a night out.

When asked what fun events the ladies had been enjoying on their trip, “eating, drinking, and bar hopping all day” was Bailey’s enthusiastic response. “There are so many places to go and so many good restaurants. We were going to leave Broadway, but it’s so much fun that we didn’t!”

Not only is Nashville quickly becoming a popular destination city, but we frequently win out over other traditionally-considered travel and tourist stops. The party had considered a trip to Las Vegas as an alternative to Nashville. “A couple of us have been to Vegas. We ruled it out because it is expensive, a hassle to get into clubs, and you have to get extremely dressed up,” Bailey explained. She recalled the long lines at nearly every hotspot in Las Vegas. “In Nashville, there is a minimum wait and no cover for bars.” The affordability of Nashville is enticing and won’t break the bank.

Of course, no one can come to Nashville and ignore the music. “We also chose Nashville for the live music scene as opposed to Las Vegas’s DJ and club music.” Up-and-coming singers and songwriters perform at bars every night of the week. Famous musicians have performed in Nashville honky tonk bars, including Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen and Rascal Flatts. To put it very simply, Nashville’s music entertainment is enticing.

We bring  more than just good food and good music. Our city’s casual, country atmosphere is appealing to women who want to have a fun time with friends. “We knew we could wear wedges and cowboy boots in Nashville and fit in. Nashville was the more laid back option.” Bailey went on to say that “Nashville has nicer people. Las Vegas has all sorts of people, and you never know who you’ll be dealing with.” It’s safe to say that the affordability, safeness, entertainment, and Southern hospitality Nashville boasts certainly attract individuals to visit.

Chi Psi Fraternity

The Chi Psi fraternity’s headquarters is located on Rutledge Street in Nashville. PHOTO COURTESY OF SAM BESSEY

The Chi Psi fraternity’s headquarters is located on Rutledge Street in Nashville.

Chi Psi Fraternity is a private fraternity headquartered in Nashville with chapters at 47 colleges and universities across the country. While it does have a presence in Tennessee’s higher education with a chapter at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., the remaining 46 chapters range in locations from the venerable Rutgers University in New Jersey to the academic powerhouse UC Berkeley in California. Chi Psi Executive Director Sam Bessey explains how his fraternity headquarters ended up in the great city of Nashville and why it was the best decision they could have made.

“My predecessor was the executive director at the time the decision to relocate to Nashville was made. We sold our building in Michigan, and my predecessor was hired to find a new permanent home.” A study of eleven cities east of the Mississippi River was conducted. “Nashville ended up number one on the list,” Bessey enthusiastically states.

“Things that affect our business model were considered. We deliberated geographical location, flight fares, weather and quality of life for the demographic that we hire,” stated Bessey. Nashville topped the list in all categories.

“We hire young men and women around twenty-two to twenty-five. We perceived Nashville to be a place where young people enjoy. This has indeed proven to be the case. People don’t want to leave, and it is easy to convince people to come here. Nashville has offered our employees a good social life outside of work.”

Bessey enthusiastically says, “Nashville was chosen to locate our office because it is a central location. The location has allowed our alumni interaction to increase.” Having the airport nearby is a huge benefit for Chi Psi.

When asked if he was glad that Nashville was chosen to locate Chi Psi’s headquarters, Bessey responded with “absolutely.”

So now we know that Nashville is an exceptional destination for food, music, travel and business, but let us not forget our impact in the sports world.

Nashville Predators

The Chicago Blackhawks, the 2013 Stanley Cup champions, frequent Nashville each season to challenge the Predators. Chicago fans follow their team to Nashville to crowd into Bridgestone Arena and cheer on the Blackhawks. It’s also common to see other teams in the Predators’ division piling into Bridgestone Arena, including St. Louis and previously Detroit, prior to their switch to the Atlantic Division of the NHL’s Eastern Conference in the 2013-14 season.

Nashville Predators fans and opposing fans pile into Bridgestone Arena on game days.  PHOTO COURTESY OF KAYLA SCHOEN

Nashville Predators fans and opposing fans pile into Bridgestone Arena on game days.

“Fans of these teams love to come here because Nashville is a great city to spend the weekend and an easy city to get to,” explains Gerry Helper, senior vice president of Hockey Communications for the Predators. “Flights are relatively convenient. Coming here is a great opportunity to combine their passion to support their local team and have a fun weekend in Nashville.” The glowing atmosphere of Nashville draws Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit and many other team fans to migrate down and enjoy their time while not at the game.

Unfortunately, the opposing team’s presence can be overwhelming at the arena. “Our most important customers are our season ticket holders,” says Helper. The Predators have variable pricing ticket sales, which means that tickets are sold based on certain criteria. Helper explains. “Games played on weekends, divisional games, and playing against top teams in the league, where Chicago qualifies, are among the criteria for more expensive tickets.” The Predators know that fans from out of town will be lining up for access to the games, and they  capitalize.

When the Nashville Predators play the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues or other popular NHL hockey teams, they clearly bring enthusiastic fans with them. These fans get to enjoy an energetic hockey game and a vibrant city. These sports enthusiasts bring in money for the city while experiencing the Southern hospitality Nashville is known for and proud of. It’s really a win-win for everyone!

People are flocking to Nashville. For business, entertainment, food and sports, people want to come here. There is no better time to be a part of our city!