Jan 6, 2023 - Business

Goodbye to Arnold's — for now

line outside arnold's

The line at Arnold's on Wednesday. Photo: Adam Tamburin/Axios

On the last Wednesday of service at Arnold's Country Kitchen, the line was nearly 50 deep before the doors even opened at 10:30am.

  • Folks have flocked to the beloved restaurant all week for one more bite of the exquisitely prepared roast beef, fried catfish, quintessential Southern sides and irresistible pies.

Co-owner Kahlil Arnold could be overheard confiding to patrons that he had "teared up" at least twice that morning.

  • But if diners thought Arnold's final week of operation was merely a time for somber remembrance of Nashville's beloved 41-year-old meat-and-three, the co-owner was quick to provide a silver lining.

What he's saying: In no uncertain terms, he told loyal diners that he intends to open a new restaurant and keep the Arnold family tradition rolling.

  • "It's not the end," he told the crowd. "It's just taking a break."
  • There aren't any details available yet on his new restaurant or when it may open.

Why it matters: The food is really good. James Beard good. But Arnold's brought even more to the table.

  • "I’m not here to eat today, I’m here to say goodbye to good friends," Arnold's regular Tommy Campsey told WKRN.

The intrigue: Nashville has been pummeled by a barrage of beloved institutions closing after long-running small business owners lost their leases. When news first broke that Arnold's would close its doors Saturday, many Nashvillians assumed the same dynamic had claimed another favorite.

  • But the Arnolds, who own the building and its adjoining lots, insist they made this decision on their own terms.

Yes, but: Even though Kahlil is planning to carry on the family tradition, patrons were still filled with emotion during Arnold's waning days.

Driving the news: Arnold's co-owner Rose Arnold, Kahlil's mother, detailed the family's tortured decision to close the downtown restaurant in an interview with the Nashville Scene.

  • With real estate values around the Gulch and downtown skyrocketing, the family stands to capitalize on their investment.
  • “I’m tired,” Rose told the Scene. “My back hurts like hell! I want to retire, and I’ve got a lot of people to take care of, including my husband.”

Earlier this week, we joined the crowds and waited an hour in line for one last bite of Arnolds.

  • These are the memories that kept us coming back.
Nate's last tray of food from Arnold's. Photo: Nate Rau/Axios

👋 Nate here: My favorite Arnold's memory is a snapshot of the Arnold family's kindness and the quality of their food. When I told Kahlil it was my son's first time eating there, he brought over a bowl of banana pudding on the house.

  • We assumed our son, who didn't really like bananas, wouldn't eat it. But the power of Arnold's has always been the fact that they just plain make great food.
  • Our son ate it up, and I hardly got a bite.

Being from a small Midwestern town, I had never eaten at a meat-and-three before I moved to Nashville 21 years ago.

  • Arnold's was a revelation. Unlike most of the other restaurants that generate buzz here, Arnold's is completely unpretentious. The cafeteria-style seating put firefighters and construction workers alongside elected officials and John Prine.
  • I could meet a buddy for lunch, or have a source meeting with a fancy Music Row executive and be confident everyone would feel at home. Although, navigating the line sometimes gave me anxiety about whether a table would open up after I paid. In 20 years, I only had to stand and wait for a table once.

Here's what a few others had to say about the classic meat-and-three that celebrity chef Sean Brock counts among his favorite restaurants "in the whole entire world."

Nashville food writer and author Jennifer Justus paid homage on Instagram: "It’s hard to imagine Nashville without this place. But I’ve decided not to cry the old-Nashville blues. The Arnold family deserves our gratitude and a nice long exhale after serving this city so well, and for setting a welcome table."

Nashville restaurateur Randy Rayburn tells Axios: "One great chapter closes for iconic Arnold’s this weekend. A new one will unfold as Kahlil decides and negotiates where to eventually reopen."

  • "I went there Tuesday after working lunch to pay respects and have my beloved chicken and dumplings one last time."

Axios reader Jonathan H.: "Arnold's was my favorite restaurant in Nashville, which is saying something."

  • "Almost every food I have gotten there has been the best I've ever had. It was fitting that I waited in line 45 minutes last night to eat there one last time."

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