This is the third in a series (check here and here for the first two) of posts about the people and stories that inspire us. We’re motivated by the dreamers and fearless doers who mold matchless products from their deep passion. Telling their stories is our way to salute their success and say thanks for the inspiration to be better at our craft.
Once upon a time not very long ago, we'd drive the long way around what's now the Gulch. Today we head straight to it. One particular place is working as a bright-orange honing beacon: The 404 Kitchen, a remarkable restaurant wrestled into a shipping container. For decades, bluegrass has packed the room of next-door neighbor Station Inn--but now, just on the other side of those walls, an act of culinary artistry is taking the stage.
Led by Chef Matt Bolus, whose résumé includes positions at Flyte, Watermark, and Charleston's FIG, The 404 Kitchen is an inspiration to CREMA.
And it's not just their fresh take on classic European cuisine--it's also their emphatic passion for coffee. Others are taking note, too: they've been recognized as a semi-finalist in the Best New Restaurant category of the 2014 James Beard Awards.
We've had the opportunity to work with Matt and his team from the start, helping craft The 404 Kitchen's exceptional coffee offering. We think you'll be inspired by their enthusiasm for food (and drink), too. As we found out one evening a couple weeks ago, inspiration tastes better when it's right there on your plate.
CREMA: So, you’ve opened a restaurant in the heart of the Gulch. It’s such an interesting pocket of Nashville--you’ve got the history at Station Inn, which is literally right next door; yet there’s also the feeling of youth and hip-ness, with the condos and bars and fashion boutiques. Then, of course, the Gulch has a recent history of being a culinary hot spot. Where does The 404 Kitchen fit into this ever-growing urban neighborhood?
Matt Bolus: The 404 Kitchen fits right dead in the middle of it all (pun fully intended). Like other projects and ideas before us in the Gulch, we are different. We took an old bus garage and a few shipping containers and created an upscale casual restaurant and boutique hotel. In the design, we tried to embrace both the old (history) and new (young and hip) in the same building. We kept the outside of the original building the way it was: industrial, chipped paint, and concrete block. The shipping containers were painted with a color that was as close to the original as possible, while also being aesthetically pleasing, both embracing the history. The embracing of the young and hip comes in interior design.
From the chic appoints to the sustainable use of materials we have paired luxury with sustainability.
We built all the tables in the dinning room using the floors removed from the shipping containers. The candles on each table are made in house from rendered beef fat that we are cutting from our meat deliveries. And we are planning our roof top garden, where we will be growing as much food as we can fit into a 630 square-foot space.
CREMA: And speaking of being in a close-quartered neighborhood, you should expound on that rooftop garden thing. It’s a unique idea, and really shows your commitments to cooking fresh food and doing things the right way.
Matt Bolus: It's a small space, but we intend to make the most of it. As it is planned right now, we will have just over 630 square feet of garden. Rain water will be collected from the roof and stored in flat containers held under several of the raised beds, allowing us to save space. The collected rain water will be dispersed, utilizing a solar powered pump, allowing us to save energy. We are also working on a composting schedule for each bed, where we can compost our vegetable scrap from the kitchen. We are also developing a plan for proper crop rotation. While we do plan on having several permanent items such as fig trees, plum trees, blueberries, lavender, and rosemary, we will utilize the remaining beds to grow various fruits, herbs, and vegetables in a manner that focuses on the greatest yield, while also maintaining good soil health, and always considering what we grow in terms of how well it can be preserved.
CREMA: The 404 Kitchen is an intimate place. The dining area is cozy and inviting. Also, the kitchen doesn’t offer much in the way of elbow room. There are surely challenges involved in having limited space (we are learning that at CREMA ourselves), but there are benefits, too. On our visit, we noticed an undeniable camaraderie within the team (on one occasion, the kitchen staff eagerly invited the dishwasher to jump in the group picture). The teamwork could partly be a byproduct of the shared space, but is the close-knit group more of an intentional thing?
Matt Bolus: The close-knit group is both intentional as well as a byproduct. As we designed the space, we realized how tiny the kitchen was going to be. That meant we had to hire strategically. In the space we have there is no room for egos, tempers, or show-boats.
We all work together, knowing that while we each have our own tasks, there are no tasks beneath any of us.
CREMA: Do you personally make an effort to bring customers into that intimate experience? It seems that way.
Matt Bolus: Absolutely. We want customers to come back and see where we work. Most have the same reaction: "Wow, that's a lot smaller than I thought it would be!" The food that we cook here is what you would get if you came over to my house for dinner. With that being said, of course I want you to hang out in the kitchen while I am cooking. To me, it makes the restaurant feel more like a living room than a dining room. It's more inviting that way.
CREMA: Your coffee setup is superb. You’ve reserved an entire station just for coffee prep, and your equipment is excellent. We tried not to watch over the shoulder of our server, but we kind of did--and she poured our French press like a pro. Why did you choose to make coffee such an important menu item?
Matt Bolus: Coffee is typically the last thing you have at dinner, so it has to be amazing. I don't want you to finish up what is hopefully an amazing meal with mediocrity.
Coffee is typically the last thing you have at dinner, so it has to be amazing. I don't want you to finish up what is hopefully an amazing meal with mediocrity.
CREMA: With so many other things on your proverbial plate, why go the extra mile to make sure the coffee is excellent?
Matt Bolus: You have to be consistent in everything you do. Why use high quality in one aspect and rubbish in another at the same place? Everything we do, make, and create is from the heart, and fresh. That means the coffee has to be of the same quality. Plus, I am a coffee fanatic, and I don't want to drink shitty coffee!