I am eternally grateful for Arnold’s. It’s the first place I take a guest when they come to town, especially if it’s their first time in Nashville. It sets the tone for the trip. It sets the bar for how we want you to feel when you are in our city: happy and full.
The green beans at Arnold’s will always be my favorite, cooked for hours and hours. I get them every time. They show that with a craft that has been handed down through generations, you can take something humble and unassuming and have it haunt people’s flavor memories for a lifetime. A simple green bean can contribute in ways that it never dreamed.
The food at Arnold’s has inspired so many dishes over the span of my career, but most importantly, the restaurant has taught me about intangibles. I will always take our new employees to Arnold’s when they start. After the meal, as we are walking to our cars, I say: “Remember the way you feel right now — that’s how our guests have to feel when they leave our restaurant.”
You leave Arnold’s feeling that you are part of a place you belong. It’s incredible how the hospitality there and the communal way of dining can create such a connection between strangers.
I’m not sure the modern hospitality industry has ever been more endangered. It’s been the most trying time I have ever experienced — I can say that with certainty. As the time passes during this pandemic, we come to learn more and more about the things we took for granted and the things that need changing.
One of the first realizations I had was how truly important restaurants are to a community. Before, we spoke about it often and probably believed it without a doubt. But now, that idea has been even more intensified. Restaurants contribute so much: a source of pride, a place where, just for a moment, everyone is in the same place for the same reason. To recharge and celebrate.
Having not been able to serve guests inside of one of my restaurants this year has reminded me what a privilege that is. The ability and opportunity to nurture someone’s soul, to tell a story to a stranger about our place and what makes it unique. Why it is the way it is, and what we hope they will take away. We get to do this every day in the food world. It never gets old. Cooking food, and serving it with grace, is our contribution to our community. It’s why we do what we do, even when we know that it’s unhealthy to work so much, to stress so much and to put ourselves through that every day. I have seen first-hand how truly fragile a restaurant is.
And that reminds us why we need to embrace the legacy restaurants that we stand on the shoulders of. We can’t let these places disappear; we must celebrate them and be thankful.
Sean Brock is the founding chef of the Husk restaurant concepts throughout the American South. He will soon open his flagship restaurant compound in East Nashville, named after his grandmother Audrey.