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Nashville Mourns the Closure of Meat-and-Three Institution Arnold’s Country Kitchen

Fans feared the restaurant was gentrified out, while the owners say they’re leaving on their own terms. The truth may be somewhere in the middle.

A line outside red-brick restaurant Arnold’s Country Kitchen
Arnold’s Country Kitchen in 2016.
Bill Addison/Eater
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at Eater.com, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

On Friday, Arnold’s Country Kitchen, a Nashville institution known for its meat-and-three plates, announced it would be closing by the end of the week. On Instagram, the restaurant said it would be open regular business hours on Tuesday through Saturday, January 7, “or until we run out of food.” It also thanked customers for love and support, saying “We promise to keep you posted of any future endeavors.” The post has since been flooded with support and mournful reactions from customers. “Omg this is so sad ....all of Old Nashville is gone,” wrote one fan.

Opened by Jack and Rose Arnold in 1982, Arnold’s Country Kitchen’s steam tray fare has remained popular across demographics, especially as the city has faced rapid gentrification. “Arnold’s developed a reputation for carrying on the vanishing tradition of meat-and-threes that used to dominate the Nashville culinary scene,” writes the Nashville Banner. Which led many to worry that the restaurant’s closure, and the forthcoming sale of the property, was due to intense pressure from developers and a harbinger of even more change.

The reality is perhaps more complicated. “I want to retire, and I’ve got a lot of people to take care of, including my husband,” Rose Arnold told Chris Chamberlain at the Nashville Scene. She also mentioned that increasing attention, including a James Beard American Classics award in 2009 and an appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, flooded them with so many customers that their staff was taxed. In a statement on Facebook, Arnold wrote, “We’ve decided the timing is right for us to now step away for some rest and to begin a new journey. This was 100% our decision, on our terms.”

But real estate pressures were certainly a factor. After buying the property in 2012, Rose’s son Kahlil Arnold said that the pandemic, supply chain issues, and property taxes have all combined into an unsustainable environment for the restaurant. “When we bought the building in 2012, our property tax was $11,000. Then it went to $44,000, and now it’s $78,000 with another reassessment coming up in 2024,” he told the Nashville Scene. Rose added, “The thing that kept pushing me was knowing the property tax increases were coming…the 2024 reassessment will just be unaffordable for us, and I wanted the chance for us to exit on our terms.”

No restaurant lasts forever, and certainly the goal is for any restauranteur to be able to decide to walk away rather than being forced to. Arnold’s fate seems to hang in between those two outcomes. Retirement after over 40 years in the business is probably what most people would want. Rose tells Chamberlain she is happy with the decision that they made as a family, and that the property was perhaps not best suited to a restaurant in the first place. But the fact is that the property taxes would not be so exorbitant if the Gulch neighborhood where Arnold’s is located had not become such a popular destination. “While the value of the property used to be compared to other single-story industrial buildings in the neighborhood, the growth of the Gulch has demonstrated the value of the air rights above the ground floor,” writes Chamberlain. This likely means the restaurant will be replaced with a multi-story building like a hotel or apartment complex.

It feels like a trap, sometimes, to want to give business and attention to a restaurant while knowing that is precisely what will turn it into a destination, which is what developers will use to sell the area, touting the many “amenities” like these traditional, local restaurants. And while it seems that if the property taxes didn’t go up, Arnold would have been ready to retire anyway, we’ll never actually know those terms.