From Tex-Mex to a honky-tonk, this prominent chef has big plans for Nashville

Ford Fry's plans for Nashville include a seafood restaurant, craft cocktail bar, listening room and a Tex-Mex eatery.

Lizzy Alfs
The Tennessean

Ford Fry knows how to make a splash.

The noted chef and entrepreneur has left a major imprint on the Atlanta food scene, just opened his 16th restaurant in 12 years and released a Tex-Mex cookbook — and he’s not even close to slowing down.

Ford Fry Restaurants will make its Nashville debut this year with four bar/restaurant concepts spanning a Tex-Mex eatery in the Gulch to a honky-tonk-inspired listening room in Germantown.

Atlanta chef Ford Fry is entering the Nashville dining scene with four concepts.

“Nashville is probably top on my list as far as where I want to travel to,” said Fry, who has visited the city for decades and watched it evolve into the culinary destination it is today.

Fry is a Texas native who studied at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. He spent time as a fine dining chef in Florida, Colorado and California before becoming a corporate chef in Atlanta, where he fell in love with the city and decided to call it home.

His Jct. Kitchen debuted in Atlanta in 2007, and Fry has since opened No. 246, The Optimist, King + Duke, St. Cecilia, Beetlecat, Marcel, State of Grace, La Lucha, Superica and The El Felix.

Fry considered Nashville the next obvious choice for expansion after opening restaurants in Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte, North Carolina. It helps that he’s a huge music fan and an admirer of acclaimed Nashville restaurants Folk, Rolf & Daughter’s, City House, Bastion, Arnold’s and the entire hot chicken genre.

“I love the casual stuff. I love hot chicken, I murder myself on it and get it super-hot. I love all the different varieties of fancy food to super casual food,” Fry said.

It’s a bold move to open four dining concepts in an already-crowded restaurant scene where new places open by the week — and it’s not something Fry takes lightly. He's cautious about being considered an outsider in a city where other out-of-town chefs have planted their flags recently (e.g., Michael Mina of Mina's Bourbon Steak and the forthcoming Pabu). 

Ford hopes to add to what’s here and offer something unique to the market. 

“I do get a little concerned,” Fry said, referring to the sheer volume of restaurants in Nashville. “I think there has been so much growth. There’s a lot of people moving to town, but I feel like there will be that saturation point.”

With 16 restaurants and six concepts on the way, Fry said it’s critical he build a team of talented chefs who can be hands-on in the kitchens every day. He tries to make Ford Fry Restaurants an educational platform for aspiring and burgeoning chefs, and said it’s the ultimate form of flattery when a chef leaves to open their own restaurant.

Chef Ryder Zetts will lead the kitchen at The Optimist in Nashville. Kevin Maxey will helm the kitchen at Nashville's Superica.

“It’s heavily a team process. We have a committee of chefs who create menus, and there is just so much more power in a multitude than there is in one,” Fry said.

Here are more details on Fry’s Nashville plans:

Superica is an Austin-style Tex-Mex eatery slated for the Gulch.


Nashville will be the fifth location for this Austin-style Tex-Mex eatery, which is slated to open this summer at 601 Overton St. in the Gulch. The 5,800-square-foot restaurant will feature a 1,200-square-foot patio (prime for margarita drinking) with an outdoor area for games.

The menu is inspired after the food Fry grew up eating in Texas, with queso, nachos, fajitas, enchiladas, tacos and more. Meats will be cooked over an open-fire mixture of oak and mesquite, and the corn and flour tortillas will be fresh and warm.

“It’s meant to be really fun, cheesy Mexican food with wood-grilled items, free chips and salsa come to the table, margaritas. Just a place that people hang out,” Fry said.

Ford Fry's Tex-Mex eatery Superica will open this summer in the Gulch.

The Optimist

A sister restaurant to The Optimist in Atlanta, the Nashville outpost will serve high-quality, sustainable seafood with an oyster bar. The restaurant is one of three concepts Fry plans to open this fall at 1400 Adams St. in the historic former Hammer Mill warehouse in Germantown.

The Optimist will have a main dining room, a bar area, two patios and private dining.

Le Loup

Upstairs from The Optimist, Le Loup (which translates to The Wolf) will be a vintage-inspired craft cocktail bar with a lounge vibe. It will serve ice-cold and roasted oysters and other small bites.

Star Rover Sound

On the first floor behind The Optimist, Star Rover Sound is Fry’s take on a honky-tonk, but with high-quality food and cocktails. It will feature a taqueria-style snack bar with Mexican street food tacos, salsas, guacamole, queso, tostadas and fresh ceviche.

Fry said there will be live music most nights of the week and the space will be designed to feel like a 1970s recording studio.

“The Optimist is high-quality in a casual environment; Le Loup is vintagey cocktails, vibey cocktail room; Star Rover Sound is uber casual, loud and kind of rowdy. There are really three different levels of experiences, and I thought that was important because we’re drawing people slightly off the path,” Fry said.

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Reach Lizzy Alfs at or 615-726-5948 and on Twitter @lizzyalfs.