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Husk Nashville GM Dan Latimer on the First Two Weeks

Photo: Husk

It has already been two weeks since one of the most anticipated restaurants of the season (and the year) threw open its doors in Tennessee. The Neighborhood Dining Group and chef Sean Brock have finally brought their Charleston philosophy to the Music City with the debut of Husk Nashville. With a couple weeks of service behind them (and lunch and brunch rolling out this week), general manager Dan Latimer discusses what it's like applying a restaurant concept as beloved as Husk to a brand new city. He also talks about managing two restaurants in two different states and shares the next move for Husk Nashville.

So how are you feeling two weeks in?
I feel pretty good. My days are all running together. But we're doing lunch service now. The staff is really taking great strides and has embodied our philosophies and our cultures and learned the cuisine, and the culinary team is marching in step. The facility is absolutely beautiful, and I think the food looks beautiful. We're excited to be able to have the people from Nashville come join us and taste some food from around the area and what it's done to inspire the chefs and how that translates into the plates and the cuisine that we're serving.

You opened Husk in Charleston as well. How would you compare the two openings so far?
From an opening standpoint, it's been very similar. We were very blessed with the people that joined our team down in Charleston and, likewise, we've been very blessed with the people that have joined our team here. Everybody is really interested in what we're doing and taking the time to learn and read and become a part of what our philosophies are. The similarities and differences in that we're developing relationships with farmers — which is the same as it was in Charleston — but we're developing relationships with different farmers here. So it's new people and new ideas and new growing seasons. Those things help set it apart.

One of the things that I think is beautiful about Husk and its philosophy and culture is it's not about the menu per se, it's about the ingredients and the area. So you can take that thought process and nestle it on a hill in Nashville and come up with a completely different menu structure because you're working with different farmers and the ingredients that they're growing and raising. We've made some really good friends with Alan Powell and Bear Creek Farms and Wedge Oak Farm. We've also helped further cultivate existing relationships with people like Sweetwater Valley dairy and Allan Benton. So those things are all kind of marrying together to help us create a cuisine for Nashville that is unique from the cuisine in Charleston.

What was it like having that built-in anticipation that comes with Husk Charleston already been such a known and beloved quantity? Were you nervous about that?
There's always a nervous anticipation in any opening because you have these ideas and visions and you want to translate those into reality. I think the fact that Husk Charleston exists and has been successful definitely lent a little bit more to that. But I think it's more an excitement than a scared type of nervous, if that makes sense. For so long you're in a construction zone and you're making sure that the trim is right and the wallpaper is there and the art is hung and squared. Then you open the doors to the public and you start doing what we love to do and then you take a deep breath and you're like, "Okay. We're serving beautiful cuisine to friendly people and telling stories and making friends." You build up to that point.

I think I told someone awhile ago, prior to the opening day, I felt like a racehorse at the Kentucky Derby before the gates get open. You're excited and you're full of energy and you're ready to go and then that gate opens and you charge. Once you get into your stride, you're like, this is what I was meant to do. This is why we're here and why we put all the money and effort and blood, sweat and tears into getting the building ready is so that we can do the thing that we were all born to do.

How was opening day? Have you been swamped?
We've definitely been fielding lots and lots of phone calls and we've had lots and lots of guests come through and it's been busy. Our goal is to make sure that every guest that walks in the door sees the experience that we envision and we try to match that to the experience that they envision having when they get here. We're working very diligently on making sure that all of the people that are coming in are receiving the Husk hospitality and the Husk cuisine so that we can put Southern ingredients and that history on the forefront. And yes, it's been busy. But that's exciting because that means there are people out there interested in what we're doing. So that kind of reinforces the reason that we're here and why we're doing what we do.

And you've had some pretty big names in there already, right?
Yesterday we had the Zac Brown Band and Darius Rucker join us. We've had lots of friends come down. It's very, very exciting to have those people, but it's exciting to have the guys across the street at Scott Sales come in and have lunch. Either way, it's nice to just have those friends come in and share this experience with us.

What have been your challenges so far? Any tweaks you've had to make?
There's always tweaks. You have this utopian vision and sometimes reality doesn't march with that completely. But there's nothing major that's been like, "Holy cow, that's way, way wrong." It's more like, "Oh, we would work a lot better if this shelf was three inches to the left." But that's part of what's fun about this. I think that in any restaurant opening, and especially one with as much anticipation as this, there are challenges. That's part of it. That's what makes it exciting. But I wouldn't say that we've come upon anything and tripped and fallen. It's a lot more fine-tuning and getting everything hitting on all cylinders.

Is there anything you found that works in Charleston but doesn't work in Nashville?
Yes and no. Systematically, if you're friendly and you care about what you're cooking and you cook and service with passion and pride, those things translate anywhere. The cuisine is different here because the seasons are different, the growing climate is different. We're not coastal in Nashville so the abundance of seafood is different. But then we found beautiful plants that just don't grow in the low country's climate. So definitely there are opportunities for us here in Nashville that we don't have in Charleston, and vice versa, just by geographic nature alone.

But from a restaurant operational standpoint, we went out and found like-minded people so that when we're operating in the way that we want to operate, they are thinking along the same lines and we all have a common goal. And we set that common goal and we strive to achieve it using the passion that's innate in us and the hospitality that all of us have.

What has it been like for you managing two restaurants in different states?
Personally, it's definitely been a learning experience. I've spent a lot of time on the phone with my team in Charleston and I'm very, very fortunate to have so many strong people down there that are helping to continue that restaurant's progress. It's kind of been like a reverse empty nest syndrome in that I have gone away from a place that I've been so integrally involved in for two and a half years. So I've had to learn to be able to let go of some of those things.

There are still lots of conversations and questions that happen with the team down in Charleston, but I have complete faith in everyone's ability down there, which has made it easier for me to be able to put the focus on the restaurant here in Nashville. The goal is to be able to create the same kind of environment here, which I think we're achieving at a very good pace, and develop the same kind of foundation so that I can shift my focus to overseeing two properties. That's a new experience for me, but it's definitely been an exciting challenge.

Are you going to be in Nashville for the foreseeable future?
Yeah, I definitely have a major focus on this operation and making sure that it works. I will be going back and forth between here and Charleston. As Nashville starts to grow into its own, I will be able to kind of even out my time a little bit. But I definitely would say that right now in the beginning phases, the majority of my time has been here.

I saw that you have lunch and brunch have rolled out, right?
Yeah, this is our first week of lunch service and then we have brunch this weekend. So we're working on making that fit into our routine. The lunch service has been going well. It's the same mentality, just a different time of day. The cuisine is a little more lunch-oriented, but still very focused in the same manner that dinner service is.

Anything else you're rolling out in the future?
We do have a private space out back that will be our next move. That will be neat because there's not a private space at the Husk in Charleston. It's intimate. It's not like a massive private dining room or anything of that nature. We still have to do some playing around with chairs and tables to see what the maximum capacity will be, but I think it'll probably be somewhere around 24. So that's going to be fun. It'll be a workshop for the chefs to allow their inspiration to kind of drive what happens over there.

Does it feel like it's been two weeks?
(laughs) Sometimes it feels like it's been two hours and sometimes it feels like it's been two months. I think everybody has been pushing so hard and so focused that sometimes you forget that you've been open for two weeks. You're like, "Oh, wait. Didn't we just open yesterday?" But then we have services and you're like, "Man, it feels like we've been doing this for two years." That's a yes and no answer right there.

· All Husk Nashville Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Husk Coverage on Eater [-E-]

Husk Nashville

37 Rutledge St, Nashville, TN 37210