2015 EAST NASHVILLIANS OF THE YEAR

  • The start of 2016 can only mean one thing: the announcement of the 2015 winners for East Nashvillians of the Year!
         Awarded by the Historic East Nashville Merchants Association (HENMA) from nominations submitted by the general public and selected by HENMA members in a secret ballot, these awards recognize contributions to the local community that stand out — ones that “pay it forward” and exemplify the values we share in our humble neighborhood.
         The awards are presented in two categories: Business and Citizen. This year, for the first time since its inception in 2008, there was a tie in the Citizen category. Darrell Downs of East Nashville Little League and Kelly Perry of the East Nashville & Inglewood Lost and Found Pets Facebook page will each receive the Citizen’s award. Matt Charette, the proprietor of the popular 5 Points establishments Beyond the Edge, Drifter’s BBQ, and Batter’d and Fried Boston Seafood House is the recipient of the Business award.
         We’d like to offer our congratulations to the winners and wish them all the best in the coming year.
     
    BUSINESS: MATT CHARETTE
     
    By Randy Fox
     
    In the spring of 2003, Matt Charette was driving south on 11th Street. He was just half a block from 5 Points when he noticed a red brick building set back from the street.
         “I drove past the building and wondered what it was,” Charette recalls. “I stopped and looked around and there was a For Rent sign leaned up against the building behind a fence. I called and left a message three times. Finally, this guy called me back and said, ‘Well, Matt, you passed my first test — persistence. Tell me what you’re going to do with my building.’ I said I was planning to open a bar and restaurant, and he goes, ‘Wait a second, Matt. If you’re going to do business with me, you’d better be a helluva lot more enthusiastic about what you’re doing!’
         “I didn’t know what to say,” Charette continues. “No one had ever talked to me that way before. It felt like there was five minutes of silence, and all of sudden this big, booming voice started laughing. ‘I’m just messing with you, Matt. But seriously, if you’re not enthusiastic about what you’re doing, how do you expect anyone else to be? Now you tell me what you’re going to do.’ ”
         Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Charette’s first conversation with his soon-to-be landlord, David Knoble, embodied the three elements that would lead to success — persistence, a belief in what you are doing, and openness to advice. It’s a trinity upon which he has built his East Nashville culinary landmarks — Beyond the Edge, Batter’d & Fried Boston Seafood House, and Drifters BBQ.
         Charette’s journey as a successful restauranteur didn’t happen overnight. A native of Palmer, Mass., Charette is the youngest of seven children and learned about good food and great restaurants from his father.
         “My father is a French gourmet chef,” he says. “He never owned his own restaurant, but I did a lot of catering jobs with him, and I was around the whole food experience growing up. It was something I thought I might want to do, but my dad always discouraged me. He’d say, ‘You don’t want to be in the restaurant business because you work too damn much.’ ”
         In addition to fine food, Charette also had a passion for sports that led him to majoring in physical education at Springfield College in Massachusetts. After two years of classes, he was still unsure what he wanted from life. That restlessness led to the Marine Corps.
         “I was in through the whole Desert Storm thing,” he says. “That changed my perspective on a few things. I think a lot of veterans experience that kind of change. You begin to question some things when you see a different side of what the world is like.”
    After four years of service, Charette returned home in 1994. He was still unsatisfied and desiring a drastic change. He recalled a fellow marine’s stories about growing up in Nashville. Although Charette played guitar and wrote songs, music wasn’t what brought him south.
         “I needed a change after getting out of the Marine Corps,” he says. “I had some things to figure out, and Nashville appealed to me. I really came to town to finish my degree at TSU, but at that time, the attendance was way up, and the dorms were overcrowded. I was 25 years old at the time and tired of living in barracks. I ended up living in East Nashville in an apartment with some other guys.”
         Between his classes, Charette found employment at the Wildhorse Saloon. There he learned the bar and restaurant business from the ground up, working the front door and on through a variety of positions — bar-back, server, bartender, and eventually general manager, a position he held until 2002 when he suddenly and unexpectedly was let go.
         “At first, I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he says. “The experience of being fired for the first time in my life actually turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge when he woke up and realized that he hadn’t missed Christmas. It was a chance for a fresh start. I was getting job offers from vendors and suppliers that knew me from the Wildhorse. I went on a lot of interviews, but soon realized that what I really wanted was to open my own place.”
         Charette began his search for a potential location, looking at real estate in several locations, including midtown and 12 South, but East Nashville kept calling him back. Even though he had moved away from the East Side, Charette had several friends who were buying houses in East Nashville to renovate, and he was familiar with the 5 Points revival that was just getting off the ground with the Slow Bar and the recently reopened Radio Café. That led him to his discovery of the former vending machine warehouse on 11th Street, and his fateful phone conversation with Knoble.
         “David has been a tremendous mentor and friend to me,” Charette says. “Even before I signed the lease, I started calling him and asking for advice because he was the first person on my journey that gave me real, honest feedback. He would talk to me for an hour, or two hours. That’s been my relationship with him for the last 13 years. If I have a problem, I call him. If I need advice, I call him. He’s an amazing guy.”
    Although Charette was receiving encouragement from his landlord, several of his friends had different opinions about the prospects for a bar in 5 Points.
         “All of my friends thought I was crazy,” he says, “but the folks that were over here were so welcoming and friendly. Margo’s had just opened a few months before, and the Alleycat Lounge signed their lease at the same time. Bongo Java was here, and the Lipstick Lounge had just opened. Sometimes you just know you’re in the right place.” Opening in the early summer of 2003, Beyond the Edge became the newest addition to the Five Points renaissance and Charette found immediate synergy with 
    his neighbors.
         “When I first opened I didn’t have a beer license,” he says. “We were just serving high-alcohol beer and liquor. The Slow Bar only had a beer license and no liquor. So I would get real busy before and after Slow Bar shows. We were very disciplined about staying open until 3 a.m., and we became the last stop for a lot of musicians and restaurant industry folks that lived over here.” In addition to late-night stops by locals, Beyond the Edge quickly became the favorite bar for many East Side sports fans, and the combination of those two groups of customers quickly proved to be a winner for the 
    new business.
         “I had worked for a corporation that demanded business plans, profit and loss statements, and quarterly projections, so I did those for Beyond the Edge, too. I found out I could throw them all away because the business kept beating my forecasts. The real boost came when the Red Door Saloon and 3 Crow Bar both opened [in summer 2004]. That doubled my business. People started staying in East Nashville to bar hop, and that’s when we really became a destination.”
         By late 2005, Charette was ready to expand his business. He cast his sights across the parking lot of Beyond the Edge, on a building that had formerly housed a barber shop and laundromat. For inspiration, he thought back to the local Massachusetts seafood restaurants he had grown up with.
         “There were several family restaurants that my dad would take us to as kids,” he says. “So it was very important to me personally to start a restaurant where families can have a great experience. I chose to go nonsmoking before Metro’s smoking ordinance was passed, and that was a big deal at the time.”
    Opening in February 2006, Batter’d & Fried Boston Seafood House quickly gathered a loyal following among locals. Duplicating the experience and quality of Massachusetts seafood over 1,000 miles from Cape Cod proved to be a challenge.
         “We stumbled when we first opened, but I learned a lot,” Charette says. “Kay West, who was food critic at the Nashville Scene, wrote a stinging review to say the least. It got the community up in arms. Some people who supported me attacked Kay unjustifiably, but I stuck up for her. She called me and asked how she could thank me, and I said come talk to me. That started a process of improving the restaurant. We put all of that great feedback into improving the menu, and the next year we were voted best seafood restaurant in Nashville [in the Scene’s readers’ poll].”
         One of the changes at Batter’d & Fried was the addition of the Wave Sushi Bar — an innovation that made the restaurant appealing to families and couples that find themselves split across the great sushi divide.
         “I had visualized an oyster bar at Batter’d & Fried originally, but that hadn’t worked out,” Charette says. “So I had this bar, and the idea started floating around about doing a sushi bar. Sushi chef Hide Watanabe contacted me and said he would love to be the guy that did it. It was so popular, we thought maybe we’d become partners on a separate restaurant.” Opening in November 2008, the next addition to Charette’s culinary empire, Watanabe, brought sushi and Asian fusion cuisine to Riverside Village in 
    East Nashville.
         “Opening Watanabe on Riverside Drive was a leap out of the 5 Points comfort zone,” he says. “As an entrepreneur, you’re always looking for the next challenge. The restaurant had a good run (2008-2014), but after the Japanese tsunami in 2011, Hide decided to move back to Japan to be closer to his family. We tried a little bit different direction, but it just wasn’t right for us. Sometimes things just don’t add up and it eventually became apparent that closing Watanabe was the best decision.”
         Charette’s fourth culinary endeavor, Drifters BBQ, was launched just a year after Watanabe’s opening. That idea came together quickly when Beyond the Edge’s back door neighbor, the Alleycat Lounge, announced it was closing in early 2009.
         “My landlord called me and said, ‘Put something there! Sell bologna sandwiches! Do something!’ Andy Trexler, the chef at Batter’d & Fried, suggested barbecue and I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ ” Opening as a family-friendly restaurant with a catering business on the side, Drifters quickly became a favorite with locals and a destination for traveling barbecue fans, and the restaurant’s patio became a popular venue for many 
    local musicians.
         “We have a great lineup of eclectic music at Drifters, and all of the musicians that play there are phenomenal,” Charette says. “My impression is that people just have a great time playing.” Although he has no definite plans for further expansion at the present, he’s still open to new ideas and suggestions.
         “People ask me all the time to open another Batter’d & Fried in other neighborhoods,” he says. “For many people it’s become a once-a-month date night even though they live as far away as Hendersonville or Murfreesboro. I’m always looking for that right opportunity, but the good side of closing Watanabe was that it gave me the time to focus more on the three core businesses. All of them are still growing, and it’s phenomenal to still have double-digit growth after 13 years in business.”
         Although Charette has built his businesses on the three elements embodied in that first conversation with his landlord, when it comes to the “secret of his success,” he emphatically points to others.
         “A big part of my success is because of the fantastic people that I’ve had the privilege to work with,” he says. “I didn’t create all of this. I just got the ball rolling. My customers don’t know me, but they do know Jessica, Cat, Jason, Terry, and the other great employees. I’m proud of that. The biggest thing I’ve learned is how to give them some direction and then get the hell out of their way.”
     
    CITIZEN: DARREL DOWNS
     
    By John McBryde
     
    As a child growing up in Pilot Mountain, N.C., Darrell Downs was frequently trying to beat his sister to the TV. If she was first to the set, it meant soap operas ruled the afternoon. But on the days Downs outraced his sister, he got to enjoy another installment of Chicago Cubs baseball.
         “When we started getting cable television [around the late 1970s] in the small town where I grew up, we didn’t have that many channels,” says Downs, the 43-year-old president of the East Nashville Little League. “But we did have [Chicago’s] WGN, so if I could beat my sister to the television, I could spend all afternoon watching a baseball game. That’s how I became a Cubs fan.”
         His allegiance to the Cubs is just a part of Downs’ passion for baseball. It’s a lifelong fascination that helps to explain why he can be found well after dark mowing the outfields or raking the infields of the baseball diamonds in Shelby Park. It provides a clue as to why his twins — son Amos and daughter Lydia, born this past September — are often dressed in onesies bearing the East Nashville Little League logo. And most tellingly, the baseball in his blood gives rise to why he so wants to be sure that America’s pastime helps to form the basis for continuously improving the East Nashville community.
         It was his mission from the get-go, when he became president of the ENLL just prior to the 2012 season. Downs and his wife, Denise, along with their children, daughter Brittany and son Clay, had moved to East Nashville in January that year, and Dad wanted to be certain Clay, then 11, had a place to play organized baseball come spring. He found what were basically the remnants of the old Jess Neely Athletics league that had played under the sanction of Dixie Youth Baseball in Shelby Park, and it was then that Downs discovered his calling in 
    the community.
          “When Denise and I took it over, we felt like there was a big community responsibility,” Downs says. “It was bigger than baseball. Little by little, I think people are seeing it evolve. They’re seeing it that way, that it’s not just baseball. It’s a community feel. But we’re trying to play good baseball, too. That’s what we’re working toward now, getting better and better, but not losing that whole community feel.”
         Many parents, youth baseball enthusiasts, and others who have stakes in East Nashville liked what this newcomer was preaching, and before long Downs had a solid group of supporters. He says he couldn’t begin to name all those who have volunteered in one way or another, but he lists a core group that includes Brett Vargason, Michael Bell, Jamie Hollin, Pete Hawes, Nick Ewald, Lauren Napier, and Kathy Truitt. “There are so many volunteers that do so much and help out in so many ways,” Down says.
         Much of that comes from the inspiration they’ve received, Vargason says. “[Downs] has revitalized this program. His heart, his mind, and his passion — it’s infectious,” says the league’s director of sponsorships who has a son that plays. “When I brought my son down there [to sign up], just being around Darrell and his vision makes you want to buy in to what he’s doing. He’s a great leader. He’s someone who inspires people to want to do things for the community. He inspires change, so that baseball’s the front-end piece to being about community and helping others.”
         Downs’ childhood was spent in the town that was the influence for Mount Pilot, the fictional name of the next town over from Mayberry in The Andy Griffith Show. Pilot Mountain is just 12 miles from Mount Airy, where Griffith is from and the town that formed the creation of Mayberry. Downs’ dad was sort of the “Sheriff Taylor” of the area, only as a high school baseball coach instead of a lawman.
         “It was the East Surrey Cardinals, and Dad coached there for 30-plus years,” Downs says. “He was head coach, then turned that over to the assistant coach when my sister and I were small. He stayed involved with it throughout. He’s retired now, but he still keeps up with 
    the games.”
         Downs figures he was introduced to baseball when he was about 2 months old, and he began playing within just a few years. “I started playing when I was 5, all the way through high school,” he says. “I wasn’t the best player, but I wasn’t the worst. I was a left-handed pitcher. I probably learned more about the game from my father than actually from playing. I knew more about the big picture of the game — the rules, the positions, everything you’re supposed to do — than me focusing on my game. I might have been born more to be a coach than a player.”
         Downs moved to Charlotte, N.C., and began working for Mac Paper, a company he has been with for 18 years and one that brought him to Nashville four years ago when it opened a distribution facility here. Darrell and Denise had lived in a Charlotte arts district known as NoDa, and wanted something similar when they moved to Music City. “We called a Realtor and said we wanted a place with the same look and feel as what we had in Charlotte,” Downs says. “We looked at other areas, but we could tell East Nashville was just the right fit. It felt like home right away.”
         The Downses are now completely a part of the East Nashville fabric, and their enthusiasm for making baseball a working arm of community endeavors has helped to bring on not only volunteers, but also a slew of sponsors. The league has garnered support from businesses in and out of East Nashville, including Five Points Pizza, Edley’s Bar-B-Que, The Turnip Truck, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Region’s Bank, and The Pancake Pantry.
         “Local businesses … have been tremendous to support us,” Downs says. “I can’t emphasize enough that, without their funds, we really don’t have anything.” 
         It’s a relationship that works both ways, says one of the owners of Five Points Pizza. “We’ve been a sponsor for about three years now,” Tanner Jacobs says. “It started off with them just being great customers, and then they asked if we’d be interested in sponsoring. It has worked out well. It’s been one of our best sponsorships, and it’s a relationship that’s back and forth. We’re happy to help out with their league, and we get some good promotion in turn.”
         The ENLL continues to grow, Downs says. For one thing, the league now comes under the umbrella of what’s known as East Nashville Baseball. ENB is comprised of the spring league play with nearly 30 teams, a summer program, and fall baseball. The total number of kids participating in ENB was over 400 in 2015.
         “This year it will probably be closer to 500,” Downs says. “A lot of that is the changes in East Nashville that have a lot of people moving here with a lot of young kids. But also we continue to reach out to those who have been here, but maybe haven’t played because of the [previous negative] reputation of the [Shelby Park fields]. Now that it’s better, the kids are coming back to play.”
         The baseball itself is improving as well. Using the sport to strengthen the community is, of course, the main goal of ENB, but it’s also critical that players and teams work to get better. To that end, the league has been able to secure space inside a hangar at the old Cornelia Fort Airpark for indoor drills during the winter months. In addition, there are more opportunities for players to step outside their “comfort zones” of Shelby Park and compete elsewhere.
         “We’ve put together some teams to play in tournaments outside of recreation baseball, so those that want more, we’re providing that,” Downs says. “They get to compare themselves to people outside of this area, and it has opened a lot of kids’ eyes to see where they need 
    to improve.”
         As for Downs himself, he says the return on investment is well worth the long hours he and Denise put into ENB. “At first, it started because I saw a need,” Downs says of his getting involved. “Now it’s continuing the vision. I’ve met some of the most amazing people, and they’ve become friends through the baseball program. It’s very good from a social standpoint. It’s rewarding for me to go down there and see the kids enjoying the atmosphere. 
         “Plus, I enjoy seeing good baseball,” he adds. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the pros or 8-year-olds, if you’ve got a good pitcher against a great hitter, you want to see that matchup, that competitiveness. That’s really rewarding to me.” 
     
    CITIZEN: KELLY PERRY
     
    By Randy Fox
     
    With the tireless devotion that Jack Kitsch has brought to the cause of reuniting lost pets with their owners through the East Nashville & Inglewood Lost and Found Pets Facebook group, one might imagine a dashing and heroic figure — an Internet superhero whose organizational and social media skills are matched by his compassion.
         The real Jack Kitsch, aka Kelly Perry, is a bright, friendly, and unassuming woman, quietly sipping her coffee at Sip Café. Though she may be missing the cape, cowl, and rippling muscles as she discusses the chain of events that led to her mission in life and her accidental secret identity, there’s little doubt that she has risen to the challenge of a “great responsibility.”
         A native of South Carolina, Perry moved to Nashville in the mid-1990s. “I was married to a drummer,” she says. “He wanted to move for the music. Once we were here, he found a girlfriend, and I found Nashville. I wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t for him, so I’m glad I did.” Eventually, the charms of the East Side proved to be irresistible.
         “About 12 years ago,” she recalls, “I went to a show at The Family Wash and just got hooked on the neighborhood. I loved East Nashville and Inglewood because it had that vibe of, ‘We’re all making it together.’ I bought in East Nashville first, and then after I remarried, we moved to Inglewood. My husband is a professor at Vanderbilt, and he’s tenured so we’ll probably be here until we die.”
         A dealer in vintage décor and collectibles, Perry writes for several vintage lifestyle and collectibles blogs under the name Eartha Kitsch. Although she has loved animals since childhood, she never planned that caring for their well-being would become a central part of her daily life.
         “I had done small things like scooping litter boxes for cat rescues and worked on food drives,” she says. “We had a stray cat that showed up in our yard, and I reached out to a cat rescue to find it a home. Soon I was on several mailing lists.”
         That experience gave her an awareness of just how many pets are lost and found each year — and how many reunions fail to happen simply because there was no central point of contact connecting owners searching for their lost pets and well-intentioned people who have found them. She began scanning Craigslist and local Listservs in her spare time, attempting to match lost pet notices with found listings. In August 2011, she reached a turning point with the disappearance of a tan Labrador named Skippy Lou.
         “I received a group email from a mailing list I was on about a lady in Franklin who had cancer,” Perry says. “While she was recovering from surgery, her dog, Skippy Lou, had gotten lost from a pet sitter. It was a heartbreaking story. My husband and I went down to Franklin to help search for the dog, but it was never found.”
         Continuing to help with the search for Skippy Lou, Perry became the administrator of a Facebook group set up for possible sightings and launched a blog to coordinate information. At the time, she was using a Facebook account under the name “Jack Kitsch,” a joke name she had created for an online contest, and never expected it to become a full-fledged alter ego that she would still be using four years later.
         As the search for Skippy Lou continued, other people in the Nashville area began posting lost and found pet notices to the site, and the Facebook group gradually transformed into a lost and found pet group for the Nashville metropolitan area. Although Skippy Lou was never found, the group named in her honor has acquired over 5,500 members and has played a central role in reuniting hundreds of Nashville-area pets with their owners. As successful as the Skippy Lou group was, Perry still saw a need for a group with a tighter focus on East Nashville and Inglewood.
         “I wanted to do something that was centered closer to home,” Perry says. “The lost pet situation in East Nashville and Inglewood is particularly bad. East C.A.N. Rescue struggles to find homes for all the pets they take in, and they were trying to help with lost and found, too. I started the East Nashville & Inglewood Lost and Found Pets group in February 2014, and it caught on like wildfire.”
         Both groups that Perry administers provide a central point of information for lost pets, found pets, resources on how to search for pets, and a place where pet owners can find support, encouragement, and empathy.
         “When you post about a lost pet on general community pages or Listservs, sometimes people can be really mean,” Perry says. “Like, ‘How can you be so careless to lose your dog?’ People who have lost a pet need practical advice, and they need someone that understands what they’re going through.”
    When it comes to resources, both groups provide lists of Nashville area shelters and rescue services, downloadable files for lost and found posters, and detailed procedures on what to do when a pet is lost or found. When it comes to the procedures for finding a lost pet, Perry says one size definitely does not fit all.
         “Most of the time indoor cats revert back to their instincts — get tight, get hidden, and stay quiet. The cat could be in your crawl space or under a neighbor’s shed and stay there for days and sometimes weeks. It’s like a game of hide and seek. On the other hand, dogs very seldom hide. When they get lost they just keep going. Often they’ll roam the neighborhood in ever widening circles, and can go past their own house several times.”
         Although cats and dogs may be as different as, well, cats and dogs, Perry says it’s important to think like the animal rather than a human. For both Fluffy and Rover, that means using the nose.
         “You have to set up a scent perimeter around your home. Put the cat’s litter box outside, sprinkle litter from it around. For dogs, put some of your dirty clothing in the yard or the dog’s bedding material. Some people think I’m crazy when I tell them this, but it truly works. There was one dog that got lost, and they put all the dirty bedding material outside. The next morning the dog was found sleeping on it.”
    It’s not just cats and dogs that Perry has helped. Over the last four years, she’s also assisted in the return of a veritable Noah’s Ark of critters.
         “We have a lot of lost chickens and several found roosters that turn up in Shelby Park. I think people dump those because they’re not supposed to have roosters in the city limits. There have been goats, smaller birds, ferrets, lizards, and even a turtle. I didn’t know the science behind hunting for a turtle, but I said start low and slow. He was eventually found, trapped in a flower bed.” But along with the joyful reunions, there is an ample supply of heartbreak and frustration.
         “Many people look for their pets for months and months and you see that heartbreak. Beyond that, every day I wake up to 15 or 20 Facebook messages and many of them are photos of cats or dogs found dead in the street and wanting to know if I know them. Then we have cases of someone moving away and just leaving a cat or dog behind to starve, which happens a lot. We also have people writing because they saw a neighbor kicking a dog in the face and want to know what they should do.” Even when pets have been recovered and are safe, there’s a responsibility for making sure they are returned to their rightful owners.”
         Conflicts with owners who feel they do not need to provide proof of ownership can be difficult. Even more troubling are people who prey upon lost animals for profit and even darker reasons.
         “Sometimes it’s almost like we’re at war with people who want to make money off found pets,” Perry says. “With smaller purebred dogs or pit bulls, people will call and pretend that they are the owner. People want to sell them or use them as fighting dogs, and then there are serial animal abusers. It’s a roller coaster ride, but you can’t get off. We have to give animals a fighting chance against what humans do to them.”
         Despite the discouragement that is a natural result of her work, Perry is optimistic about the growth of both lost and found pet groups she administers and the growing numbers of people that want to help directly.
         “I’ve added four new administrators to the page recently,” she says. “They’re young and have more energy so they want to do more things with the page — set up microchipping clinics, work more closely with animal rescues — stuff that I just did not have the energy to do by myself.”
         Although Perry may lack the super-human energy and appearance of a caped crusader, ultimately heroes are people who do the right thing, for the right reasons, despite the obstacles. And that’s where the heroic mantle fits nicely on her shoulders.
         “There is no worse feeling than being lost,” she says. “We have to help them, and there is strength in numbers. If people realize there’s a system and procedures in place to help lost pets, they will be more likely to step up and do their part. I have to keep doing it because in the end, every tiny step can make a huge difference.”