Archive | April, 2012

Hot Diggity Dogs

27 Apr

Hot Diggity Dogs

614 Ewing Avenue
Nashville, TN 37203

by Erin Crissey Lord

As I approach the motley-colored building on Ewing Avenue, I am first greeted by the happy, smiling faces of a pair of hotdogs decked out in hats and cowboy boots. The logo is cheery, welcoming and more importantly, telling me that something delicious and immersed in Nashville flare is waiting for me inside. Bigger than a hot dog stand, yet smaller than a bistro, the shop looks like a human-sized designer dog house . The tidy two-story brick building is painted, trimmed in teal and topped with a red tin roof. Obviously, by the size of the line stretching out into the parking lot of this local hot dog boutique, I am not the only patron to be seduced by quirky decor and the promise of a gourmet dog.

The line moves with amazing speed, and I am shocked that, within six minutes of my arriving and standing in a parking lot line full of hungry dog aficionados, I am already walking into the little brick house at 614 and about to give my order.

The heady smells of grilled meats, spicy sausages and sautéed onions are the first to greet me. The dense tang of brown mustard, a waft of bacon, a tinge of pickle; they beacon me forward as my eyes behold the menu all hot dogs must dream of starring in: top quality meats, gourmet toppings and home-made slaws. I am acutely aware at this moment that Hot Diggity Dogs isn’t your average, curb-side hot dog cart.

Like all great local businesses, I heard about the tempting fare at Hot Diggity Dogs long before I had an opportunity to visit the establishment. Many high profile foodie reports, upscale food blogs and loyal fan votes for “Best in Nashville” had tipped me off to the quiet little hot dog boom on the other side of town. Owners Layla Vartanian and Gayle Davis have created the perfect mix of big city flavor served up with down-home fun. Layla; Chicago veteran, Hot Dog Priestess, collector of fine relishes. Gayle; Southern beauty, Bratwurst Charmer, the secret behind the slaw. It is perhaps, this bipolar north/south partnership that makes Hot Diggity the premier Nashville Hot Dog shop.

Opening in Nashville nine years ago, Hot Diggity Dogs has mastered the art of growing a successful business with the importance of staying connected to their customers. Juggling customer demand while within a tiny space and not just serving the public, but creating a loyal customer base to spread the word on the quality of your product isn’t an easy task. However, these ladies have taken customer appreciation to a whole new level. Hot Diggity recently gave away over a thousand of their masterpiece dogs during a frequent buyer promotion. A reward to those fans who have helped them grow.

The Nashville Dog: Vienna 100% beef dog, yellow mustard, diced onions, Layla’s specialty home made slaw, a few slices of Persian cucumber and finished with a pickle spear

The Nashville Chicago Dog: Vienna 100% beef dog, yellow mustard, diced onions, fresh tomato, spicy sport peppers, celery salt, a pickle spear and the tried and true secret to an amazing Chicago Dog – that nuclear green relish made especially by Vienna

Car-o-bama Dog: Vienna 100% beef dog, yellow mustard, diced onions, Gayle’s specialty home made slaw, a generous scoop of meaty chili and topped with diced onions and cheese

Vienna Brand 100% beef hot dogs and beef and pork sausages lay the foundation work for the carnivorous dog, however turkey and even vegan-friendly meatless dogs are available. Buns range from traditional white to wheat, hoagie style and even a bun-free lettuce wrapped dog are options. Other delicious state contenders include the New York Dog, California Dog, Texas Dog and even a Boston Dog topped with sweet and tangy baked beans. Or I could go with the featured special: The Hollywood Dog – wrapped in bacon. Add to this already tempting menu a myriad of Italian sausages and sliced beef, brats, Polish sausages and the bevy of krauts, grilled peppers, spices and the tongue tingling pepper-carrot-olive chop also known as giardiniera.

Perhaps staying connected to your customer is an easy job to do, when an owner is the person taking your order. “What would you like, Hun?” I stare at the menu doe eyed, unable to decide. Gayle offers a few helpful suggestions, and I nod in agreement – it all sounds delicious. I finally manage to squeak out “Bratwurst”. “Excellent choice!” she sings with a smile, “I personally like mine with some extra grilled onions tucked in under the sauerkraut, would you like to try it?” Absolutely. I watch as my fresh brat is split and begins to sizzle on the grill. The ladies behind the counter work at amazing speed, frying up pickles, packing dogs and simultaneously throwing out “Thank you, Hun” with a wink and a smile, to customers picking up orders. My dog is ready and so am I. As, I take a bite two thoughts enter my brain: what took me so long to try out the tiny dog shack? And, I have found hot dog nirvana!

I’ve since been back numerous times to little brick house on Ewing. It’s not just the fabulous food that brings me back each time, the ladies of Hot Diggity make each person that walks through their door feel genuinely appreciated and welcomed. “That’s my job!” chirps Gayle, “You have a choice of where you spend your dollar, I want you to be glad that you chose to come to us. We appreciate your patronage and we want to make sure you know it!” As more and more “regulars” pass through the door, it’s clear that Gayle takes this motto to heart. “Are we having the Nashville Dog again today Mr. Brenner, or are we trying something new?” “Surprise me Darlin’!” He yells, “Any of your dogs are a great dog, for this old dog!” I couldn’t agree more.


Becker’s Bakery

27 Apr
Becker's Bakery

Donelson Location

Becker’s Bakery

2543 Lebanon Pike
Nashville, TN 37214

by Josh Rowe

Founded in 1925, Becker’s Bakery has been a part of the Nashville landscape since before the second world war. Initially opened in one location by Frank Anderson Becker at 12 Avenue South in Nashville and the second was opened in Old Hickory by Ed Becker (later moved to Donelson), the story of this bakery has been one of both change and continuity, stories of overwhelming success and heart-breaking failure and a story that is above all about a family and their commitment to quality made goods. They are committed to tradition in not only their goods, but also their aesthetic. Given that their clientele stretches back 81 years in my family alone, the reliability that tradition breeds seems to be a key to staying open for 87 years in a business that sees over half close in the first year.


The consistency isn’t just in the rolls however. When the walls were painted yellow instead of blue some of their veteran customers were sure to let them know how the change made them feel. Even something as progressive as them allowing payment by check in 1996 was met with some resistance. Obviously they weren’t opposed to more diverse payment option, but the customers have literally grown up with this business and that is bond formed over decades. Though some change has occurred over time of course, the name for instance was originally Standard Baking Company for the Nashville location and Modern Baking Company at the Old Hickory/Donelson location. The bakeries have also been passed through the generations at least three times at each location. Sadly the advent of the package goods style of bakery found within your local mega-mart lead to the closing of the Nashville location on January 6th, 2004.

We can’t compete against a $3 pie… people aren’t willing to drive an extra 15 minutes to get a better product

Becker’s of Denelson has managed to adapt to the ever changing market better though. Raymond Becker and his wife Carolyn have managed to run a successful business in spite of the growth of multiple shopping centers around them. Both stores began from the same recipe book as well, so even though the one location is no longer around their legacy carries on. When the Nashville location closed Donelson received and influx of customers as well. People weren’t willing to stop having their Birthday cakes made by Becker’s just as they had for fifty years in the case of one customer. Kathrine Fletcher has been a customer for over 60 years and she has “got her my girls a cake for their birthday every year from here and my youngest just had her 52nd birthday” and if you ask Carolyn Becker then you’ll quickly find out that there is no reason that should change anytime soon.

Where the Magic Happens

Nashville Scene
Interview with Kathrine Fletcher

Grand Ole Opry: Opry Shops

20 Apr

By Aaron Johnson

The Grand Ole Opry is Nashville’s own piece of history, being a one-of-a-kind weekly stage and radio show since 1925. The Opry stores have been a big part of the attention the Opry gets from tourism. Though not all Nashville tourists visit the Opry itself, a good number of them visit the Opry stores around Nashville in search of souvenirs that represent the heart of county music.  The stores themselves are designed to attract customers who enjoy the look and feel of country music, and bring visitors to the Opry itself. The Opry has three main stores around Nashville which serve as a reminder to tourists to visit the cities most unique radio show and theater.

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The Arcade

20 Apr

Between 4th and 5th Avenue North

By Tyler Zenk

The Arcade in downtown Nashville is a landmark and has a lot of history inside this sauna like building. This is an old building that has gone through a lot of phases both good and bad.  In 1902 a man by the name of Daniel Buntin returned to Nashville after traveling to Italy. He was amazed by the architecture he saw in Italy and decided that Nashville needed something new and fresh. He formed a small group of private investors and proposed the idea of building an Arcade. Now this is not the Arcade you are thinking of with Pac-Man and other video games. No, this was a structure built with a glass roof. His idea was to rent out spaces to local businesses and it was a grand idea that only cost his $105,000. The 350ft Arcade, located between 4th and 5th Ave N officially opened on May 20, 1903. On the first day it was open nearly 50,000 people visited the new Arcade. Many people consider this to be the first shopping mall, which is a pretty cool fact for Nashville. I don’t know if it actually is the first shopping mall in America but it definitely was one of the first. This was a hopping place for people who worked downtown and wanted a place to hang out and shop and what have you. All of the rented spaces were full with businesses ranging from a hair salon to a roasted peanut shop to a post office, most of them containing awesome little neon signs hanging outside there shops. The vibe of this building was generally on the good side and even in 1970 there was a good atmosphere and people seemed to be happier there. Some customers stated that it gave them a sense of nostalgia of earlier times.

The Arcade's roof

Photo by Derek Bruff

Now these good times can’t always be there, no that is impossible. In 1980 an article in a Nashville newspaper reported that the Arcade’s reputation was decaying like the building itself and wasn’t as nice as it was ten years earlier. Now that’s understandable, a lot of stuff can go down in ten years. But the Arcade was going through a tough time. The floors were dirty and the glass roof wasn’t looking so good the neon signs were taken down in fear of them falling on people’s heads. This place needed a facelift. In fact, in 1987 the dark dingy dirt covered Arcade gets renovated to make it more appealing to the public. It’s about time considering that at that time the building was nearly 85 years old.

It’s crazy but some of the stores that were in there decades ago are still there. Businesses like the roasted peanut shop that has been in business since 1927. This place is important to Nashville I think, because it has stuck around through thick and thin, which is sometimes really hard to do.

outside the Arcade

Photo by Joseph

The Arcade has been through a lot and it is still here although it isn’t as nice as it once was but that is understandable for a building over a century old. A review from stated that,

“I never am sure when I go here when something is going to fall apart, or someone will die of heatstroke, or a car will go through dead center and smack into someone, however I’ve got to say this is a place that must be experienced…The place is in a delicate balance at the moment between decrepit and hipster, between condemned and trend, where you can get pizza, hair ties, art and a cake or hit up by transients who wander through. There’s a charm to this place I’m not conveying, and a warning to stay out when it’s been over 100 degrees out, but I’d advise if you have not been to this little place, go and visit it.  If nothing else, it’s a place you can say you know where it is, and definitively state that it does not have one single Pac-Man machine on premise.”

Quite a few of the rented spaces are used for art galleries and the Art Crawl usually goes through which keeps this building going. It’s definitely not the nicest place but it does have a sense of nostalgia that is still nice to see and is worth going and checking out if you haven’t been.

Inside the Arcade

Photo by Brent Moore

Weiss Liquors

20 Apr

Weiss Liquors

Weiss Liquors Neon Sign

824 Main St in East Nashville

By John Whitman

East Nashville is no stranger to iconic vintage neon, and the long stretch of businesses along Gallatin Road feature some fantastic old signage. From the northern edge of Nashville with Madison Bowling’s giant bowling pin neon, down to Weiss Liquors sitting just across the Cumberland from downtown, vintage signs abound, some in great condition and others rusted into disrepair. Weiss and their massive neon sign featuring an overturned jug pouring neon liquor drops has been at their current location of 824 Main street since 1961. When I lived down in lower East Nashville, Weiss was my liquor store of choice because it was walking distance from my apartment and showcased some of the sweetest staff and craziest clientele of any liquor store ever. Or as Janet S. of Nashville wrote on Weiss’ Yelp Page,

“Ahh, a great place for character observation. If you need book material, hang out in the cluster—k that is Weiss Carpark. Never a dull moment, but watch your fender, its a jigsaw puzzle getting out.”

Weiss has surely created a history for itself at its current location, but what many may not realize is that Weiss and its sign date back to the 1930s and earlier. Nicholas Weiss started his liquor business in downtown Nashville on North First Street in the 1890s. In the 1930s the business moved to 218 Meridian Street near the railroad tracks. It was here that Weiss purchased the neon sign. In the late 1950s Weiss moved to 4th and Main Street, but was quickly forced to relocate due expansion of I-24. As Kenneth Weiss, current owner and grandson of Nicholas, put it, “We didn’t have the asphalt down hardly, before we had to move.” As a result Weiss moved four blocks north to their current location in 1961. From what Kenneth can gather, Cummings Signs made the bulk of the sign in the 1930s, adding the large triangular arrows sometime in the 1940s. After moving to their current location, Weiss expanded by opening a next-door corner market in the fall of 1964. Like the newer market, the “Drive In” neon sign sitting atop that store dates back to 1964.

Weiss’ neon sign has been the backdrop for many a Nashville musician press photos as well as being featured in 2010’s Hollywood film Redemption Road. As Jennifer Justus noted in August 26, 2011’s Tennessean,

“In a scene from the film Redemption Road, actor Luke Perry leans against the hood of a car, channeling James Dean. But behind Perry, it’s not Los Angeles or a Warner Brothers set that we see. It’s the neon lights of the Weiss Liquors sign off Gallatin road in East Nashville.”

After a century, Weiss Liquors continues to thrive alongside its iconic, seventy year old neon.

Weiss Liquors

Weiss Liquors

Weiss Market

Weiss Liquors