FERRIER FILES: Nashville businessman restores Music City history

(Fox 17 News)

He is the most unusual restaurateur you have ever met. He will sometimes pick a building he wants to save and then build the restaurant to justify the expense of saving the building.

That's not a traditional business model, but it is the proven way of restaurant superstar Tom Morales.

Hold your breath when you walk into the brand new Woolworth's on 5th. It's funny calling it brand new, when just about everything in it is so old.

“To me this is a significant piece of history because it changed Nashville for the better," Morales said. "Something as simple as eating."

Almost 58 years ago, 81 people were arrested at Woolworth's in perhaps the single most powerful moment in the Nashville civil rights movement.

“I think as you go through the community, there are significant pieces of history that not only need to be saved, they demand to be saved," Morales said. "Anywhere we can keep it, from the crown molding to the railing; we saved these on purpose. They witnessed it."

This is a typical Tom Morales project. Find an amazing building then come up with a great menu and produce not just a successful restaurant but a relevant restaurant....

When Morales drove by Acme Feed and Seed, a building that was dangerously located below 2nd avenue, he saw a building he couldn't walk away from.

“We looked at the building that was empty for 15 years," Morales said. "That was iconic. It was like a postcard every time you looked at it. It was part of a time before big box stores and you had to come downtown to get your goods."

So Morales put in a great men and added real local music, not cover bands but Nashville originals. It is a huge success.

The Southern Steak and Oyster, Fin and Pearl are other Morales smash successes not based on historic buildings.

Some of you might not remember it was Morales who saved the Loveless Cafe. The most iconic of all Nashville restaurants was going to become a strip mall before Morales stepped in.

It was a disaster, but Morales realized that he had the heart and soul of an otherwise broken classic with employee Carol Fay Ellison. The biscuit lady was true southern goodness.

"The brand was revitalized when we made her the face of the Loveless," Morales said. "We went from selling thousand in retail to millions all on the strength of her authenticity. What is authentic is what is real and what is Nashville."

Tom Morales doesn't follow a business plan. He follows his heart, a less certain but more wondrous path.

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