Can you take the heat? Hattie B's is coming
In exactly one week, Hattie B's Hot Chicken will open in the former Easy Way store on Cooper, bringing the food as wed to Nashville as Johnny was to June to an Elvis-and-Priscilla city.
But don't worry, says owner Nick Bishop Sr. You're going to like it, and you don't have to hurt yourself. Food doesn't have to be painful.
"We all have choices," he said. "You can get plain old fried chicken like your grandmother used to make. If you want to step things up a little, we have mild, just a slight touch of heat. Medium is very tolerable, an enjoyable experience. My personal favorite is hot. We call it hot chicken for a reason. That to me has the best flavor profile with a level of heat that to me is tolerable.
"For those people who want to risk their afternoon and maybe the next day, well, we have 'damn hot' and then 'shut the cluck up,'" Bishop said.
Like Memphis chicken joints Jack Pirtle's and Uncle Lou's, Hattie B's is a family business — and a family name as Hattie is the name of Bishop's grandmother, mother and his granddaughter.
It all goes back a generation, when Gene Bishop took a job serving on the line at Morrison's Cafeteria. He spent his entire career there, working his way up to president and CEO. While he encouraged his son to stay out of the restaurant business, he didn't stand in his way when Nick Bishop applied at Morrison's.
He spent most of his career there and just two months after retirement, felt the urge to get back in the business (and is now joined by his son, Nick Bishop Jr.)
"I found a place in Cool Springs (outside Nashville) and I took about half the money my wife and I saved for retirement and opened Bishop's Meat and Three," he said.
That was in 2007 and around 2010 he saw how on fire Nashville hot chicken was, so he and his crew started playing around with recipes.
"It took us about a year to get it right," Bishop said. "A lot of everyday customers would come in and we'd say, 'Joe, I want you to try our Nashville hot chicken and tell me what you think.' Well, people can be brutally honest."
But soon they got it right and put it on the cafeteria line. In two months, it accounted for 30 percent of the restaurant's sales. When they found a building in Midtown Nashville in 2012, the first Hattie B's opened.
Now there are three in Nashville, one in Birmingham and next week the fifth opens in Memphis, followed soon by a sixth in Atlanta.
The Memphis store was scheduled to open in 2017, but things take time. The space has been renovated to seat 63 people inside and 60 on the patio, which will be winterized for year-round use and also has an area for games or for kids to run around. It's fast casual style, so you'll order from a counter, take a number and your food will come to you.
Local beer will be available on tap and all sides except the crinkle fries are made from scratch.
"Memphis is a great food city," Bishop said. "It could easily have been our first restaurant outside of Nashville because we've been looking for a place for years. We like finding old places and repurposing them, and we're particular about site selection. We like where we are."
Hattie B's will open at 11 a.m. April 18 at 596 S. Cooper and will be open daily for lunch and every night for dinner except Sunday.
Three generations of restaurateurs, Gene Bishop Sr., center, with his son Nick Bishop, left, and grandson, Nick Bishop Jr., at Hattie B's Chicken on Monday, June 15, 2015, in Nashville Tenn. Nick Bishop and his son Nick Jr. opened their second Hattie B's together and Gene Bishop Sr. was CEO of Morrison Cafeteria and Rudy Tuesday's. MARK ZALESKI/FOR THE TENNESSEAN
Construction crews work on landscaping and some of the finishing touches at the new Hattie B’s hot chicken restaurant in the Cooper Young area, which is slated to open on April 18. JIM WEBER / THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL