Mar 1, 2024 - Food and Drink

Sperry's celebrates 50 years as a Nashville classic

A server prepares bananas foster at Sperry's with flames towering over a saucepan.

The death-defying bananas Foster at Sperry's. Video: Nate Rau/Axios

To dine at Sperry's on Harding Pike in the heart of Belle Meade is to take a prime rib time machine back to 1974.

  • That's the year Sperry's opened, offering steaks and what it bills as the city's first salad bar.

Catch up quick: Not much has changed since then.

  • Buzzy new restaurants have flooded the food scene, and other longtime favorites fell by the wayside. But at Sperry's, the dim lighting and wood-paneled walls are the same as when your parents walked through the door many years ago.
  • It's also basically the same menu, with top-notch cocktails, expertly cooked steaks and seafood, hearty sides and the bananas Foster theatrically prepared tableside for dessert.

"The concept is not new, and the concept is known as consistency," owner Al Thomas tells Axios.

  • "When you choose to serve a New York strip, it's a New York strip in 1974 and it's a New York strip in 2024."

State of plate: Fifty years on, the steakhouse remains a favorite. Just watch the bar fill up with regulars as soon as the doors open each day.

What he's saying: "Our bread-and-butter are the everyday customers who have been coming into the restaurant since Day One," Thomas says. "Some of them, they call us their kitchen."

  • "I think people like the old-school aspect of Sperry's. The words people always use are 'warm and friendly and comfortable.'"

Flashback: Brothers Houston and Dick Thomas opened Sperry's in 1974. Al Thomas, Houston's son, grew up inside the restaurant and started working there as a teenager. He went on to carve out his own career in the food industry before purchasing the restaurant with his wife Trish in 2000.

  • Thomas says people pressed him about what he planned to change after he bought the restaurant, but he shot that down quickly. "I said I'm not going to change anything. I like it." He mentioned using "weird shaped plates" and menus with "27 confusing adjectives" as the kind of popular foodie trends Sperry's never pursued.
  • They opened a second location in Cool Springs in 2006 and then added Sperry's Mercantile market and butcher shop in 2015.

The bottom line: The restaurant's longevity carries over to the staff, as some of the servers have worked there for over 30 years.

  • "We've just always felt like sticking to our guns and doing what we do right and best, and not being what you'd call doers-of-all, masters-of-none. We just want to keep it simple."

Yes, but: Sperry's isn't sitting on its hands as it turns 50. The company is on the brink of opening a new small market and coffee shop, including a drive-thru window, in Bellevue.

🍌 Adam's thought bubble: Sperry's is the ultimate special occasion spot for the Tamburin family. Nothing says special more than the bananas foster, the explosive dessert assembled tableside by intrepid servers. The towering flames and cinnamon sparks are as delightful now as they were when I was little.

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