TennFold Brewing, a popular family owned restaurant and brewery in Donelson, is celebrating its first anniversary in business.
TennFold turned 1 year old after completing a successful year of operations despite opening its doors March 26, soon after an EF-3 tornado ripped through Donelson, and just as the COVID-19 pandemic started to cripple the foodservice industry.
And with the challenges facing the small business during a difficult year, TennFold Brewing was in a constant transition during most of its inaugural year. But it still managed to commit itself to be part of the community and help take care of its neighbors who were hurting.
Sitting at a table in the middle of the busy brewery soon after the lunchtime rush, the first year “was challenging,” said TennFold general manager and beverage manager Erik Woodward. “We kind of already have been three different restaurants within a year.
“Opening up on day one, we couldn’t even open the restaurant. All we could do was sell pizzas out of a window, and we had two beers on draft, and we made it happen with what we could. Then we transitioned into a picnic-style restaurant where you ordered your food, then you went and just sat down, and we came out and cleaned up after you. There was no proper service. And then finally, we transitioned to a full-service restaurant.
“Besides COVID, we had just come out of a hard time because of the tornado. There were a lot of people in need. Obviously you have to keep the lights on and pay the bills, but money is not our primary focus.
“If you put quality of product, hospitality and your guests and staff first, the financial pat will follow. That’s our mindset here – not running it from a profit-and-loss sheet but running it from a guest experience standpoint first.”
Putting people and community first at TennFold was never more noticeable than during the pandemic and holiday season last year. Although facing its own struggles amid shutdowns last summer, TennFold was quick to lend a helping hand to service industry colleagues who had a tough time making ends meet when county mandates all but eliminated restaurant and bar service.
For weeks, TennFold distributed free cheese pizzas to servers and bartenders who wanted it. Woodward said he then extended the generosity to teachers, after some of them at his daughters’ school lost their jobs.
“We opened it up to people who are committed to serving other people but found themselves in a hard situation. We originally thought we were going to put a limit on that, but we just didn’t say no to anybody. We just kept it going,” said Woodward. “It was nice to see some smiles come in the doors during that time.”
Before last Thanksgiving, an exchange of superior customer service occasions between Woodward and Packard Shell Service led to the businesses matching donations to provide free turkey meals for anyone in the community. Neither businessman would reveal how much was donated, although it was described as “very generous.”
“When word got out, we had other businesses come in and drop off money. We almost had more money than we knew what to do with to give back,” said Woodward. “It has always been important for us to give back to the community.”
“Those are top folks over there. I can’t speak enough good things about them,” said Bill Packard, owner of the Shell service station, as his reason for partnering with TennFold to provide free holiday meals.
Packard, a humble and longtime upstanding businessman in the community himself, did not want any attention for his generosity.
“Without them, all of that stuff wouldn’t have happened,” he said, pointing toward the TennFold building catty-corner to his service station. “All I will say is God creates us to be a giving person. It’s up to us to figure out how that works.”
With some funds left over, TennFold decided to provide free meals again at Christmas. This time, it let customers participate in making donations through the sales of pizza-shaped ornaments, similar to an angel tree program, where the value of ornaments sold covered the amount of meals. The program was wildly successful.
“The checks started rolling in so much that we had to partner with other nonprofits to get these meals distributed, because our reach wasn’t big enough to give them all away without help. We partnered with the [Downtown Rescue Mission], churches, a couple of different schools and Nashville Food Project,” said Woodward.
Woodward recalled helping put together more than 1,200 meals for the Nashville Food Project.
“I wish I could say we had the vision for it, but it was something that grew organically. The giving became infectious between our staff, patrons and business partners in the community,” said Woodward.
“The community support that we have received has been just overwhelmingly unbelievable. This neighborhood is very appreciative and supportive of new businesses trying to come in and make the community better. That a lot of us who work here, including myself, we live in the area, so it’s important that we do our very best job to service the community that we live in.”
With one year under its belt and restaurant dining starting to look normal again, TennFold used its anniversary date to expand on the menu and make it the restaurant they really want it to be.
The food menu was small initially, and those early offerings mainly consisted of Neapolitan and New York-style pizzas and a whole-chicken family meal designed for curbside delivery. From the fresh dough and bread to the beer, TennFold prides itself in making fresh, homemade foods and drinks.
“No low-end products of any king are to be found in this restaurant,” said Woodward. “Everything we serve here should be as good as our beer. Everything should have the same love and effort put into it as our head brewer, Chad Mueller, puts into making the beer. Our anniversary was an opportunity to open up as the restaurant we have wanted to be,” he said.
The food selections now boast a larger variety, which includes about 12 new items such as pasta, steak, trout and more salads.
“It was finally our opportunity to say, ‘This is who we actually wanted to be in the beginning.’ One year later, we are going to execute that idea and make it happen,” said Woodward.
When it opened, the brewery only had two beers on tap, Flat Pedal Golden Ale and Curbside Session India Pale Ale, a beer name that was born from all the curbside business TennFold did during the early days of the pandemic.
Currently, 25 beer tap handles line the wall of the full-service bar that pours plenty of beer, a bigger selection of liquors and new craft cocktails. TennFold serves about 13 of its own brewed beers on tap, and the remaining handles are reserved to feature local and regional beers.
“We envision this as a community, not a competition. So, we like to help out a lot of the other Nashville breweries. In this business, you make friends, and we want to support our friends. We wanted to take it to the next step and help out the people we thought were making a great product and needed to be recognized,” said Woodward.
Moving forward, the focus at TennFold is to bring up the ambiance of the place, said Woodward.
Plans are in the works to possibly add some live music, games and include some things to keep younger customers busy, so their parents can enjoy the brewery, said Woodward. Some changes will include a reinvestment into the building by adding a green space, shade and mounting fans to its popular outdoor patio dining area. Another goal for TennFold is to start distributing its own beer to other restaurants and adding merchandise.
“If we can keep our work ethic and service standards where they are, the sky’s the limit. There’s no reason this shouldn’t be the most popular places in Donelson and not stopping there, in Nashville and as a destination for people to travel to get here,” said Woodward.
“Our hardworking staff, I am blown away by the extra efforts and the genuine care they have for the people that walk in the door. They definitely appreciate every single person who walks through those doors. We appreciate all of our guests and the community support we’ve received from the neighborhood folks. Without them, it would have been done by now.”