Then & Now: Acme Feed & Seed
ACME FEED & SEED
A CULTURE OF COMMUNITY CONTINUES
It’s 1982. I’m a sophmore in high school, sent downtown on a dog food run. Mom gives me directions: “Go down Broadway and stop just before you get in the river. It’s Acme Farm Supply. You can’t miss it.”
She was right. Acme Farm Supply, featuring red and white checkerboard patterns on the facade and stacks of seeds and dog food on the sidewalk, was easy to spot. Plus, parking was easy. (Hey, downtown Nashville back in the day – just pull up to the door.)
Once inside, I recall dusty wooden floors and high wooden ceilings and support posts lining the cavernous space, all bearing the scars and scrapes and scratches of those who had come before: the Cummins Brothers’ Grocery Store, the Southern Soda Works, the Continental Baking Powder Company. Everyone there, most in baseball caps, seemed to know each other’s name and spoke with accents that, a quarter-century later in Nashville, would not be nearly so common. I recall carrying a heavy bag of dog food to the car while a stranger opened the trunk and called me “son.”
Now, twenty-five years further on, I leave the same building. Only, this time, instead of a bag of dog food, I have a doggy bag – shrimp and grits (And ohmygosh good!). Tom Morales – an area native and true Nashville visionary – has just given me a tour of Acme Feed & Seed, the downtown hotspot where fast-casual dining and down-home tradition have met and fallen in love. Word space precludes full justice to this place, but, suffice it to say, Tom and his team have provided Nashville with a cultural triumph that works on all levels: historically, artistically, gastronomically, and socially. As Tom says, “It was from the heart. It was not a business plan.”
Start with history. The building’s origins stretch back to the 1880’s and boatloads of wood – literally – brought in by Captain Ryman (yes, that one). Built by JR Whitemore, the structure opened for business in 1890 and still bears the hallmarks of its earlier tenants such as a giant scale built into the floor. Other examples of the past are replete all around. In the alley for instance, 19th century cobblestones, removed to bring the plumbing up to code, are back in place as are the wooden slats of the original ceiling. And, speaking of ceilings, massive beams of American chesnut still support all who party upon the roof-deck with its drop-dead perfect downtown views. (Aided in this critical effort by much newer steel beams as well, so feel free to jump up and down:-) Even the scars and scrapes and scratches of the original first floor posts remain in place, only now with new stories notched in their wood such as the great flood of 2010 which trashed the place, but washed the nitrates from all those years of fertilizer bags away.
But Acme Feed & Seed offers much more than just architecture to admire. Art, all iconic of Nashville’s musical past, adorns the walls, including a ten-foot-tall cowboy made from repurposed materials by renowned artist and blacksmith Olin Calk. As for Nashville’s musical present, well, that adorns the air. Just as Acme Farm Supply once served as a hatchery for chickens, Acme Feed & Seed now serves as a hatchery for local bands through its on-site Acme Radio. Combining old-time gigging before the crowd with new-fangled web-casting to the world, Acme Radio, says talent booker Carl Gatti, “is a discovery and preservation platform to help grow local bands.” Justin Hammel, Acme Radio’s program director, agrees: “When you come here, you will hear something you won’t hear anywhere else on Broadway. The idea is to appeal to the locals.” And it’s working. Acme Feed & Seed’s stages – yes, they have more than one – have become magnets which attract Nashville’s greatest local talents.
But, when you go to hear Nashville’s best new sounds, make sure to go hungry. Acme Feed & Seed’s first floor offers Southern-inspired recipes that come from the creative kitchen of executive chef Matt Farley, a native New Yorker and a man with a genius for bringing out the flavors of good, simple food while providing a bit of a Yankee twist. Think about it: How many places serve both seasoned fried pork with black beans AND a “down home” falafel sandwich? Plus, if hot sauce is your thing, then just go ahead and make Acme Feed and Seed your happy place. (If you enjoy your Scoville scale in the solid six figure range, I highly recommend the Southerner’s Revenge.) They produce several varieties in-house, each readily available for adding spice to your life atop the community-style tables made from repurposed wood. However, if you’re not in the mood for any Dixie deliciousness, then simply get thee to the second floor where Acme Feed & Seed offers a full-service bar with hand-rolled sushi creations. (Now I bet few would have predicted that back in the day.)
So how to get there and enjoy this cultural triumph for yourself? Allow me to give you directions: Go down Broadway and stop just before you get in the river. It’s Acme Feed & Seed. You can’t miss it.