Kids' PB&J $4
Bucket of beer (five bottles) $18.95
For all the global cuisines represented along the internationally flavored corridor of Nolensville Road, one style of restaurant has been under-represented: the coffee shop. More so than a shortage of caffeine, it was a lack of central gathering spot that the neighbors lamented. In community meetings and on the District 16 listserv, residents bemoaned the lack of cafe until local businessman Ron Haislip finally raised a hand.
A second-generation car dealer on Nolensville Road, Haislip owned a parcel just north of Thompson Lane that looked to fit the bill. About 15 years ago, he had relocated a former Church's Chicken building from Murfreesboro Road to the site of his car lot. At the time, he gutted the fry kitchen and turned the structure into an office — never dreaming that someday he'd want kitchen equipment back.
"One day I was riding home from my meeting," says Haislip, recalling a community forum where the perennial topic of a coffee shop had been discussed. "I thought, 'I am not going to do this, I am not going to do this.' And then I thought, 'You know, it's not all about the money.' The next day I started it."
Late last year, Haislip launched Flatrock Cafe, a casual, colorful, Wi-Fi enabled eatery serving coffee and sandwiches and hosting live music on weekends. It took a lot more money than Haislip expected and a lot of energy from the neighbors, including Metro Councilwoman Anna Page, who represents the district south of the fairgrounds. Named for a nearby geologic landmark (now removed) where Native Americans met to exchange crops and other items, Flatrock is a labor of love for Haislip, a native Nashvillian who grew up working in his father's car lots on Nolensville Road.
These days, Haislip spends the workweek in his Nolensville Road Auto Mart and the weekend at Flatrock. He and his family help with everything from the cash register to the coffee counter, where they serve MST Coffee roasted locally on Cannery Row, complemented by milk from Hatcher Family Dairy in College Grove.
To put together the soup-and-sandwich repertoire, Haislip turned to the gregarious Debbie Young, who formerly worked in a school cafeteria. Her chalkboard menu behind the ordering counter reads like an edible roadmap of Woodbine, with concoctions named for surrounding streets. Order a Wingate (a pimento cheese sandwich), and Young might tell you that's her favorite because it's named for the street where she lives. Ask nicely and she'll put that Wingate on the panini grill, where the thick curds of tangy red-flecked cheese spread will ooze and overflow the thick toasted bread.
Across the sandwich streetscape, which includes Tanksley (tuna salad), Elberta (egg salad) and Burbank (turkey and cheese), to name a few, Young adds a few notable creative flourishes. On the Peachtree, she piles a chicken salad riddled with chewy dried cranberries. On the Harlin panini, she layers thin slices of fresh pear among the grilled chicken breast, roasted red peppers, provolone and pesto aioli. On the Radnor — a turkey sandwich with provolone and bacon, named for the nearby rail yard — she spreads a schmear of puréed artichoke hearts.
For under $10, you can get a half-sandwich, drink and cup of soup from a rotating list. On our visits, soups included loaded baked potato, chili with generous hunks of ground beef in a richly flavored broth, and al dente black beans in a soothing beefy base.
Herbivores, take heart. Arguably, the best meal on the roster is the Wheeler, a grilled sandwich with plump layers of portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers, grilled onion and generous slabs of cool, buttery avocado. This bountiful layering of temperatures and textures is an insidery homage to Metro council member Page, a self-professed "recovering vegetarian" who lives on Wheeler.
The bologna sandwich, aka The Collier, is a salute to neighbor Irene Kelley, a member of the Flatrock Heritage Foundation. A singer-songwriter and Americana artist who also moonlights as a real estate agent, Kelley worked with Haislip last year when he was considering selling the property. Along the way, she led Haislip to Sam & Zoe's in Berry Hill to show him what a neighborhood landmark that coffee shop has become. Haislip agreed to try out a coffee shop on his lot, and Kelley offered to book acts for Saturday nights.
Flatrock has hosted Tommy Womack, Dana Cooper, Sergio Webb, David Olney, Peter Cooper and Eric Brace, among others. "That's my way of trying to help the neighborhood, by bringing in music," Kelley says. The cafe has memorialized her efforts with Kelley's Americano, a coffee named in her honor.
So far, the enterprise appears to be thriving — at least in terms of community goodwill. At lunch, the room bustles with diners who greet each other by name and speak of Flatrock as if it were a well-known and long-lived landmark where they meet up regularly. Financially speaking, however, success remains less clear-cut. "We're still losing money," Haislip says, "But we're figuring it out. We're hoping spring will make a difference."
Flatrock Cafe is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday 8 to 11 a.m.