Feb 23, 2024 - News

Bringing back the bean roll at the Gold Rush

A photo of an old menu from the Gold Rush

An old Gold Rush menu shows the "special bean rolls" for $2. Photo: Courtesy of Randy Rayburn

Randy Rayburn is best known professionally as a restaurateur, business person and civic leader.

  • In recent weeks, Rayburn added another job title to his resume: culinary researcher.

Driving the news: The subject of Rayburn's research is the bean roll, a beloved Tex-Mex dish that went extinct in 2019 when the Gold Rush restaurant and bar closed its doors after 44 years in business.

State of plate: Developer Tony Giarratana, Rayburn and Craig Clifft, who is Rayburn's longtime collaborator, announced earlier this month they are working to bring back the Gold Rush, located on a stretch of Elliston Place called the Rock Block.

  • Rayburn says getting the bean roll recipe right is critical before the restaurant reopens, likely in 2026.

What he's saying: "Our goal is to have the original version, every aspect, including cooking the beans in-house and not out of a tin can," Rayburn tells Axios.

What he found: Rayburn, who owns Midtown Cafe and previously operated Sunset Grill, has tracked down cooks who worked at the Gold Rush over the years, including Buster Depue, who managed the kitchen for about three decades.

  • Through Rayburn's research, he learned the bean roll — a massive flour tortilla stuffed with homemade beans and slathered in a tomato-based sauce — was the brainchild of Mitch Williams, who grew up outside of Lubbock, Texas.
  • Rayburn also uncovered an early Gold Rush menu, showing a bean roll cost $2.

Zoom in: The key to getting Williams' recipe right, Rayburn says, is mastering the mix of spices.

  • At one point, Rayburn tracked down a recipe (from former kitchen staffer Rachel Lawson), but the paper trail went cold when he determined it didn't account for Williams' modifications.
  • "Frankly, a lot of people don't have written recipes; they do things by feel. I've learned there are a couple tricks the general public would have no idea of how to cook something. It's pretty straightforward, but believe it or not, cooks don't give away those secrets."

What's next: Practice. He plans trial runs at cooking bean rolls with former Gold Rush staffers in the coming weeks.

The intrigue: Rayburn isn't merely trying to pull off a culinary trick. The Gold Rush won't feel like the Gold Rush if the bean roll doesn't taste right.

  • Reviving a Nashville foodie favorite is especially relevant at a time when long-running restaurants seem to be dropping like flies. For instance, McCabe Pub closed in January after 41 years of operation.
  • Giarratana and Rayburn also reopened Elliston Soda Shop a few doors down from the Gold Rush. To make that project successful, they hired Linda Melton, a Soda Shop institution known as the "Pie Lady," to continue overseeing the beloved pie menu.

The bottom line: "We've seen all sorts of our favorites close over the years. People are craving that sense of familiarity now more than ever," Rayburn says.

❗ Help us: We tried to find an old picture of a bean roll to run with this story but were unsuccessful.

  • If you happen to have a bean roll picture, email us at [email protected] and we'll run it in a future newsletter.

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