NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Nashville food is on fire. The restaurant industry has grown leaps in bounds in a matter of years, leading to high risk for foodies trying to make that leap.
News 2 met with Craig Schoen as he overlooked his East Nashville dream.
His passion project, Peninsula restaurant, is under construction and just a hair behind schedule.
“Look, we’ve been passionate about this forever,” explained Schoen. “Guaranteed summer. We’re not pushing it past the summer.”
Schoen, his wife Yuriko, and their business partner Jake have collectively worked in food for more than 30 years.
The trio recently left the west coast for a crack at the Tennessee cuisine industry.
“We’ve run really successful restaurants for other people. It’s time for us to run our own restaurant,” said Schoen.
Now, Peninsula is nearly a reality–one of 111 restaurants reported to open this year, per the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp (NCVC).
Meanwhile, over in Midtown, Randy Rayburn is hard at work checking on customers.
Rayburn is a staple in Nashville food. His restaurant, Midtown Café, which he purchased 20 years ago, has served the Metro area for more than a quarter century.
“We’re proud to be old school,” noted Rayburn. “We’ve been here for 30 years.”
Over the last 10 years, Rayburn has watched the restaurant roller coaster climb to new heights.
“We’ve just had a plethora,” he said. “A flood, literally, of new restaurant openings over the last six years.”
The numbers prove that as Nashville booms, so, too, does food.
The Metro Public Health Department reports that back in 2007 there were 3,191 food permits listed. That number has grown to 4,083, a near 25 percent increase in just 10 years.
Those numbers are echoed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The graph shows a near 20 percent increase in Metro-area “restaurants and other eating places” over a four-year period.
This steamy industry has now spilled into the streets.
Jeff Romstedt left behind his 9-to-5 job for food trucks years ago.
He took his unique take on a Cuban sandwich to the people through his mobile venture–The Steaming Goat.
“My nickname growing up was ‘the goat’ because I was the guy that ate everything,” said Romstedt. “I always wanted to do something like this, just decided to do it.”
The Steaming Goat is a member of the Nashville Food Truck Association. This organization, with less than 12 trucks six years ago, has now ballooned to 82 members.
“Where one person may see competition, we see camaraderie,” explained Romstedt.
Between Peninsula, Midtown Café, the Steaming Goat, and other businesses of the like, experts argue all dip into the same pool.
Each business, and new businesses that come along, take a bite of possible employees.
“[The food industry] actually employs one to 10 adults in Davidson County,” said Rayburn. “Everyone’s competing for the same labor pool.”
According to the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association, “restaurants and foodservice jobs” make up 10 percent of employment statewide.
Meanwhile, newer restaurants are fighting for name recognition and for funds to fuel their passion.
“The hard part is transitioning that passion into asking for money,” explained Schoen. “It’s not a super profitable business; you can pretty much estimate what your ceiling is.”
With their minds on the ceiling, Peninsula is still missing its concrete floor.
“We want to be part of the community, and we want to grow with the community,” said Schoen.
The stakes are high, and excitement is even higher for this cross country dream just weeks away from opening day.