Nolensville Pike has a lot in common with other neighborhoods in Nashville. Restaurants line the street, development is taking place on every corner and the new is blending with the old. But it is on Nolensville Pike that Nashville’s diverse community is the most clearly represented. A Kurdish market is only a few blocks from a Salvadorian restaurant, which sits across the street from an Indian market that is catty-corner from a Mexican grill, which is down the road from a Middle Eastern market — and that is only the beginning. Here, the diverse community is most clearly represented in the food options.
It is also in this Nashville neighborhood that Diane Janbakhsh grew up, although Nashville was a different place when she moved here in 1985. As the only Hispanic student in her school, Diane was introduced to a culture different than the Mexican one in which she was raised. “I grew up in Mexico and the South. It was the best of both worlds,” she tells us. It is the South she has chosen to call home, but Mexico that has influenced her most recent business venture: Plaza Mariachi.
When the Elysian Field Kroger on Nolensville Pike became available, Diane and her husband, Mark Janbakhsh, seized the opportunity to purchase the property, though they were not yet sure what that opportunity was. Little by little, they began to see the needs of the community and landed on a plan: create a one-stop shop that is safe and family-friendly. They brought all of their current businesses, which include America’s United Financial Partnerships, LLC, the Auto Masters Automobile Dealership Group, 15 radio stations and the Hispanic Family Foundation, under one roof, and they added a new one — Plaza Mariachi — to the list.
Plaza Mariachi is a mixed-use development in south Nashville designed to be a cultural and retail epicenter that celebrates Hispanic culture and history. In 2010, Hispanics made up 10% of Nashville’s metro area population; projections show that number will jump to 34% by 2040. That makes Nashville one of the fastest growing Hispanic cities in America, and this growing community is celebrated at Plaza Mariachi.
During our recent visit, we approached an older couple who had stopped in for a late lunch and they explained that the crowds at the Nashville Zoo were too large, so they redirected to Plaza Mariachi. The couple was upset that Madera Restaurant didn’t serve fajitas, so Plaza Mariachi’s Chief Marketing Officer Cristina O. Allen explained to them that the restaurant had a focus on Cuban cuisine, not Mexican. “We have to re-adjust people’s mindsets and taste buds,” Diane tells us, and that is something she is excited to do. As much as Plaza Mariachi is designed to impact the local Latino community, it is also designed to educate and excite non-Latinos. “We celebrate all cultures and how they intertwine,” Diane says.
During a trip to Mexico, Diane and Mark fell in love with the streets, the archways, the doors, the windows and just about everything else they saw. The architecture, as well as the quaintness of the community, sparked their imaginations and ultimately dictated the design of Plaza Mariachi. They brought their experience to life in the 70,000-square-foot space, transforming it to mimic a traditional Mexican marketplace. The transformation took time and much attention to detail — and Mark and Diane’s blood, sweat and tears. With the help of more than 10 artisans, Plaza Mariachi emerged from a now-unrecognizable Kroger, and as a result, it has created 200 jobs. In place of numbered aisles and stocked shelves are streets named for Mexican revolutionary heroes and storefronts bearing Latino names. On these five calles (streets) you will find eateries, retail shops, service-based businesses, an art gallery, a fresh market and more. Take a look …
Maz Fresco is the Plaza’s fresh market and international grocery store. On the shelves, you will find Latin American products from Mexico to Columbia and beyond. “Each country has different food and flavors, and we want to cater to everyone,” Diane explains. “We want to bring the authenticity and flavors of the different cultures.” The most popular spot in the market is the tortilla counter. Three hundred fresh tortillas are made per hour, and that isn’t fast enough. (After trying a fresh tortilla while still hot, we can attest to the fact that they are the best in town.) Alongside the fresh tortillas, you can purchase freshly made salsa, meat, seafood and fresh produce and bakery items. If you are looking for food on the go, visit their hot bar, which serves mostly fresh Mexican cuisine.
Cristina refers to the Food Hall as the Plaza’s central meeting place. From the moment the doors open, the crowd enters. Early risers take advantage of the morning juice, coffee and complimentary WiFi before the lunch rush starts. The 300-seat space is often filled to the brim with diners and those listening to the live music. Everything from Mariachi to blues can be heard throughout the callas.
In the food hall, you will find more than tacos and fajitas, as we and the older couple came to learn. “Just like in a small town, there is a little bit of everything. All Latino communities are represented — Peruvian, Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, Nicaraguan — and there is something every nationality can be proud of,” Diane tells us of the selection. Currently, there are 10 vendors in the food court, plus a popup cantina.
Botanas Lokas is a snack stand serving antojitos (street food). If it is in fact tacos you are after, this is the place for you. In addition to tacos, you will find hot dogs and variations of what is best described as nachos — everything from Friots to Cheetos are topped with anything from nacho cheese to jicama. We can vouch for the tacos and the authentic elotes (Mexican street corn) but will leave the taste testing of everything else up to you!
El Ceviche Loco serves up some of the best ceviche we have tried, Kouzina Cafe is a Mediterranean cafe serving gyros and subs, and Las Tablas Bar de Tapas offers Spanish tapas and fire-baked pizzas. Madera Cafe comes in two parts: a Latin American coffee shop and a dine-in grill featuring Cuban sandwiches, yucca frita, ropa vieja and pollo sofrito (if you don’t know what those are, go learn!). Nina’s Nieves de Garrafa makes a water-based sorbet that is unique to Mexico, plus açai bowls, chamoyadas, fruit bowls and snacks. Paletas Tocumbo serves something sweet in the form of authentic Mexican-style cream and fruit-based paletas. Tres Gauchos is an Argentinean-style steakhouse — Diane recommends this for the meat-and-potato lovers. Xenoté serves gourmet, authentic Mexican cuisine, while Zumito is a juice bar with Latin flair and delicious house-made agua frescas.
Retail and Services
Diane and Mark have been intentional with their tenants, and those chosen meet their high standards for the space. “We are not a flea market,” Diane explains. “Flea markets are wonderful, that is just never what we intended to be.” The retail tenants are as diverse as those that occupy the food hall.
HFF Gift Shop features artisan gifts from Mexico, Guatemala and Peru, and the sales from this shop directly support the Hispanic Family Foundation. Dia y Luna and Native Southwest sell clothing for women and children, while Santo Recuerdo focuses on party favors and souvenirs for quinceañeras, weddings and more. Deportes Panamex sells gear and apparel from Latin American clubs, and opening soon is a shop dedicated to all things Frida Kahlo, a store by the name of Mariachi Moments.
Ethnic wares and gifts are available, but so are modern pieces. Browse the shops and find something you might not have been looking for but are sure to love.
In addition to the retail shops, Plaza Mariachi is home to businesses designed to serve the Latino community. “We are changing lives where we can,” Diane shares. Cristina adds that these services are here to help Latinos grow mentally. While undocumented Latinos and professionally educated Latinos are the ones who make the news, it is the people in the middle who are often forgotten. Cars and homes can be purchased with the help of an auto dealer and real estate service, and insurance agencies are in place for auto, business, motorcycle and renters insurance. H&R Block is ready to assist in tax filing, planning and preparation, and Bank of America will soon open in the space as well. Reforma Law offers law services for immigration, criminal and personal matters. MetroPCS, Boost Mobile, Sprint and Boss Revolution offer cellular services. And for more personal needs, Salon Ixchel is an upscale spa that pampers its clients.
Art is used in the space to educate and expose through an immersion-type approach. Ceiba Art Gallery is a fine arts studio showcasing local and international talent. The hope is that the art will tell stories and connect people of different backgrounds. In connection with the gallery, weekend art projects are held for kids. By exposing kids to this art they will be able to learn about the different cultures in Latin America. The art rotates regularly and brings in new people with it. Within the gallery is a kiosk that houses information on the current artist, offering yet another opportunity for education.
Art also has a place in the form of music and dance at Plaza Mariachi. Children can learn about the Hispanic culture through the dances at Baila Dance Studios or simply test out their moves in the food hall. At the front of the food hall sits a stage and an area for dancing. As musicians play everything from mariachi and salsa to blues and rock, folks young and old move on the dance floors. The most popular night is Thursday night, which is salsa night. Salsa lessons start at 7:30 p.m. followed by salsa music by DJ GeorgeX at 8:30 p.m.
“Give it a try,” Diane urges. “Come see what we are doing!”
We second that!
Plaza Mariachi is located at 3955 Nolensville Pike, Nashville, TN 37211. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
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