Food Republic “How Benjamin And Max Goldberg Built A Booming Restaurant Empire In Nashville”

Dec-30-2013

article by Food Republic written by Chris Chamberlain

In just a decade, brothers Benjamin and Max Goldberg have established themselves as the premier restaurateurs in Nashville, a town that is definitely booming on the national culinary scene of late. Elder brother Ben was the first to leap into the industry, opening Bar 23 in 2003. This fashionable lounge was a reflection of the types of hotspots Ben had discovered in his travels around the country and was decidedly unlike any bar that Nashville had previously experienced. That is to say, it had no potted ferns or tallboy cans of beer.

His next venture was a music venue called City Hall, and since bringing his younger brother into the business, the Goldberg touch has created a portfolio of six vastly different bars and restaurants, all of which opened white hot and still burn brightly. We sat down with them recently in the lounge area of their latest endeavor, Pinewood Social, a coffee house/bar/restaurant/bowling alley/pool deck/karaoke club that has the town all abuzz. As workers tweaked the ball return mechanism in the 1940- era lanes that the brothers moved here from Indiana, they discussed what knocks their pins down.

What’s it like to work with your brother, and what did you have to do to convince him to join you?
Ben: After Bar 23 and City Hall, we decided to open our third property, Paradise Park Trailer Resort, an upscale honky tonk and burger bar right in the middle of Lower Broad. At that point, I knew that I needed help. Nashville was booming, and I knew that our business could grow as well. So I figured I could hire in some help from the outside or go with someone I trusted to be all-in with me. So I convinced Max to give up his nerdy life in New York and come home.

Max: I’d been working in financial consulting, and I was really tired of telling businesses how they could make more money by cutting jobs. I wanted to actually create something instead of tearing down. Plus, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with my best friend in my hometown. Benjamin is the real restaurant visionary, and I can’t imagine working with anyone else.

You’ve built quite a broad portfolio, from a private rooftop event space downtown to an elevated speakeasy to what is acknowledged as Nashville’s premier dining experience at The Catbird Seat. What inspired your decisions to open all of these different types of spots?
Max: If you track our portfolio growth, it represents what we were interested in as part of our personal lives at that point in our lives. We always want to open places that are like where we’d want to hang out if we weren’t so busy all of the time.

Ben: When my friends and I would come back to Nashville during breaks from college, we’d argue about what bar to meet up at. Then we realized that they were all basically the same bar. With Paradise Park, we wanted a fun kitschy beer joint where you could still get food until 4 in the morning. So we opened one.

What about The Patterson House?
Ben: I had a flight to Chicago early one morning and was waiting for a band to load out after a gig at City Hall. When I complained that I might miss my flight, one of the band members tried to make it up to me by telling me about a bar I had to visit called the Violet Hour. I made it a point to drop in and was fascinated by Toby Maloney’s approach to cocktails. The Rolodex of flavor recognition on his palate is remarkable. Max had drunk with Toby at Milk and Honey in New York, and we knew we had to partner with him to bring the artisan approach to classic cocktails to Nashville with The Patterson House.

Plus, Toby brought you Josh Habiger, right?
Ben: Oh yeah! Toby and Josh met while they were both working at different spots in Minnesota and Josh asked him about a job. Toby said, “I’ve got a job for you. But it’s not in Minnesota. It’s in Nashville.”

Max: Josh developed the menu at The Patterson House and managed the whole operation for us for a couple of years before Grant Achatz brought him up to Chicago to help open Aviary. We knew it would take something special to get him back to Nashville.

And that was The Catbird Seat.
Ben: Exactly. The concept of that restaurant was inspired by the opportunity to work with Josh, one of the most talented people we’d ever met. We wanted to give him an opportunity to spend a year or two building out his own restaurant and developing some amazing menus with Erik Anderson. But it was never intended to be a retirement job for either of them.

So after a couple of years, Josh bumped up to corporate in your restaurant group to help develop Pinewood Social and new projects, and Erik recently announced that he’s moving back to Minnesota to be with his fiancée. What’s next at Catbird?
Ben: We always intended to find the next Josh or Erik to develop their talents in the kitchen at Catbird, and we have a line on a new chef that should really be spectacular. Other than a short holiday break, we don’t expect to miss a beat after Erik moves.

Would you consider a new project outside of Nashville?
Max: Nashville is one of the most supportive and accepting places I’ve ever been. The attitude is entrepreneurial but still friendly. Folks really want you to succeed around here, and the restaurants are really collaborative. There are a lot of things we want to do.

Ben: We’ve been offered opportunities elsewhere, but we always gravitate to home. We bought a ridiculously cool old downtown restaurant called Merchants right before it was due to close. We were nostalgic and didn’t want to see it go away…especially when we found out our grandparents used to go there on dates. With three floors and three separate kitchens, it’s a handful, but we’re glad we did it.

Max: I really believe Nashville is the most exciting city in the world right now, and we’re still crazy dreamers.