When I think of your restaurants, I see a ton of nostalgia, playfulness and creativity. Where do you get your inspiration?
Bar Twenty3 and City Hall were Benjamin’s first projects, with business partner Austin Ray at that time. Benjamin then opened Paradise Park in March 2007 and Max moved back from New York to form Strategic Hospitality in Fall 2007. Our first venture, Paradise Park, reflected where my brother (Ben Goldberg) and I were in our lives at the time. It was a great concept—reclaimed building in downtown Nashville, beer joint and great burgers. But then, we added an element that people didn’t expect: Not only were our burgers made from scratch with 81% lean beef, they were the best burgers in town.
Do you consider yourself a huge risk taker?
No one expects what they get when they walk through our doors. Every project we do is risky. Tons of people say our concepts are founded on great ideas, but they probably will fail. When I hear that, I want to keep going. Opening the Catbird Seat was like falling in love. So much of the credit goes to Josh Habiger. It was inspired by his vision, his passion and his hard work. The Catbird Seat pushes the culinary edge, no doubt. And, Josh succeeded. Now, I am happy to say that he is the force behind Pinewood Social.
Tell me about the experience you want to offer your guests at Pinewood Social.
The idea of a 3rd space mentality—a great place for coffee, lunch, Internet access, equally as good for a breakfast meeting or casual dinner. We have created a space that is welcoming, warm and versatile. For example, the room* we’re in would be great for a super bowl party.
The bar offers classic cocktails with a twist, such as the Mezcal Mule made with Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, lime, ginger and clove, as well as the Humble Magnificent, made with Pimms #1, Laird’s Apple Brandy, lemon, cinnamon, orange and mint. There are also large format cocktails, which are ideal for groups, along with a vast selection of craft beer on tap, bottled domestic beer, an extensive whiskey, bourbon and rye list, as well as a great wine list.
Today I saw my grandmother and her friends next to a group of college students, all enjoying their experience. No defined demographic, but more important, just embracing what it means to be hospitable.
*SB Note: The room where we chatted with Max was gorgeous, with an oriental carpet and streaming with sunlight.
But where do you get your inspiration? Your ideas?
We go to lots of cities to consult other restaurants and see what’s going on. When I think of hotel lobbies, they’re comfortable, cozy and inspire conversation. There is the same feel at Pinewood Social. We’re a great coffee house, workspace, restaurant, place to have fun and bowl. For as creative as Nashville is, we felt people would really embrace a place like Pinewood Social.
Our partnership with Crema is a great example of collaboration—a coffee partnership. They offer amazing coffee and we thought, why not bring in their brand? If you have one of their coffee cocktails, you’ll see what I mean. The Pinewood Social is 5 or 6 businesses in one—coffee house, meeting space, restaurant, bar, bowling alley, but most important, a gathering place.
Merchants Restaurant is an interesting part of your restaurant group. In some ways it fits, and in many ways, it is completely different.
The building that houses Merchants is a Nashville landmark. My grandparents used to go there on dates. We heard that they were putting a closed sign on the door and negotiated to buy it that same day. For the most part, we were able to save an important part of Nashville history and lots of jobs. I am proud of this.
What’s up with the buzz about Nashville, especially when it comes to the restaurants?
Lots of people are flying into Nashville to see what is here. The city is in the spotlight because of many different things. People like Butch Spyridon and Bert Mathews are great ambassadors. We want Nashville to be successful, and we are supportive of our competitors. Bottom line, we all like each other and often refer our customers to other restaurants, as they refer customers to us. We’ll be successful because everyone else is, too.
Any notable trends?
There is lots and lots on the horizon. I see an interesting food trend—sort of food as medicine. Food that is good for you and tastes good. For example, Josh Habiger used historic menus uncovered at the New York Public Library for his inspiration behind dishes including pot roast, served with roasted carrots, turnips and gravy, or a mushroom pot pie, created with a variety of fresh mushrooms, root vegetables and herbs. These dishes, along with fried chicken, will be available in family-style servings, as well.
Breakfast at Pinewood Social
Lunch at Pinewood Social
Dinner at Pinewood Social
And a final question. Where do you think Nashville is right now?
I think Nashville is the most exciting city in the world.
Thanks, Max! Expect to see us soon for some bowling! (Note: even with 8 a.m. traffic from Green Hills, we were at Pinewood Social in just over 10 minutes.)
Learn more about Pinewood Social at their website: pinewoodsocial.com.