From the Pizza Issue
When I ask Emanuel Reed, one of three owners of Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria, where exactly we are in Nashville, he responds with a location unfamiliar to me. E.J., or “Slim” as he’s better known to his partners Derrick Moore (Mo) and Clinton Gray (Clint), tells me we are “out north.”
It’s a powerful statement, especially to someone like me who has called Nashville home for fifteen years. During that time, I’ve watched a big town that feels like a small town transform into a bigger town that’s still trying to fit into a small town.
To make more sense of things, one must understand the explosive growth of the Music City. Most Nashvillians would agree the city has historically focused its expansion efforts westward, to the haughty neighborhoods of Belle Meade, and the more affordable Bellevue. As you head south, new money Brentwood and family friendly Franklin dominate the public-school systems and vast expanses of strip malls and chain eateries.
Perhaps what has changed the most is Nashville’s east side, an area that’s attracted a Brooklyn-like attention, as pioneer chefs like Margot McCormick created a reason for residents to take up their westside passports and cross the Cumberland River with spots like Margot Café and Marche Artisan Foods, transforming the neighborhood’s Victorian and craftsman homes one at a time until the home prices became almost unbearable—especially with the influx of the five thousand Amazon jobs soon to gobble up what’s left of Five Points.
I’ve lived in all of these neighborhoods, including the north. During my bachelor years in Germantown, the idea of getting a pizza delivered after dark was laughable. Rhythmically errant crimes ensured drivers would not deliver to my Madison Street address. If you make your way to Germantown nowadays, a veritable slew of high-rise apartments, coffee shops and retail stores abound; the neighborhood is almost unrecognizable to me. But while I have meandered on the topic in the past, progress is still a good thing.
Reed is poignant in his description. “Out north” refers to an area more outstretched than Germantown or Salemtown. This community, specifically known as Buchanan, has long served as a predominantly African American neighborhood. While poverty rates in most other Davidson County neighborhoods hover around twenty percent, the Buchanan neighborhood more than doubles that figure. This is a place that has been overlooked by most eagle-eyed capitalists trying to transition and cash in on a city on fire.
Certainly, this triumvirate of entrepreneurs has strong Nashville roots, especially in this neighborhood. Reed, Gray and Moore—who have known each other since childhood—outpaced most of their peers as they studied at Tennessee State University and beyond while picking up advanced degrees in business and law.
While most say friendship and business do not mix, these three have defied the odds, humbly. Gray tells me each man threw about a thousand dollars into their first enterprise, The Green Truck, an eco-friendly moving company that used rented vans to move whoever, wherever. “The restaurant business makes the moving business look easy,” says Moore when I ask him if they ever missed their old gig.
Upon selling their moving business, Reed, Moore and Gray began to venture into the world of cooking and selling food. Which is how I’ve found myself out north.
Rather than locate their first establishment, Slim & Husky’s Pizza and Beeria in established Nashville neighborhoods, the trio sought to bring their earnest concept closer to home, providing the Buchanan residents with great food, and an opportunity of local employment. The restaurant is walkable to the many homes where residents must rely solely on public transportation to find viable incomes.
“We purposely try to put our restaurants in more diverse areas—those places that most people ignore,” says Gray as he discusses their second location in Nashville’s Antioch suburb. While that methodology might sound incongruent to most entrepreneurs, the hour-long wait times and five-star reviews would prove otherwise. As such, locations in similar underserved neighborhoods are also slated for the upcoming expansion to the city of Atlanta.
Standing in the space and gazing at the menu, I peruse the hip-hop inspired names of pizzas—which Moore tells me are fired at 500 degrees Fahrenheit—like the “Rony, Roni, Rone,” “The Smokn’ Herb,” and my personal favorite, a vegetarian option known as “Nothin’ but a V Thang.” Tongue-in-cheek, you can satisfy your Slim craving with a ten-inch pie, or move up to the sixteen-inch Husky. I’m hungry, and perhaps trying satiate my curiosity, I order all three in their huskier version. Craft beers and canned wines round out the rest of the menu, although it’s a bit too early in the day, pre-10 a.m. for me to indulge.
Perhaps what is most surprising is The Smokn’ Herb, a white sauce pizza with sharp red onion, spinach and earthy mushrooms, enhanced by a last-minute addition of smoked salmon. All three of the boys are adamant I add the salmon, and it’s not until I indulge that it makes sense. The salmon is flakey, slightly smoky, and provides just the right amount of savory to this otherwise simple pie. Dare I say, I even added a fried egg on top, to enjoy the leftover slice as an indulgent breakfast.
Moore, who takes the lead on construction, and the team spent about two years developing their menu from their nearby garage test kitchen, now turned into “The Rollout,” offering slices and cinnamon rolls at a walk-up window.
A unique twist to the offering is their array of house made “drizzles;” trust me, this ain’t just ranch dressing. The barbecue purist in me typically avoids sauces like a Nashvillian would Broadway during CMA Fest, but I’m hooked on the tangy sweet balsamic molasses when drizzled over The Smokn’ Herb.
Reed, Moore and Gray all seem to relish their success by giving back to the community. “This is not a business. This is family. This is community,” Moore tells me.
“There are no shortcuts to success, and there is no substitute for hard work,” says Reed, as the team unassumingly touts a pilot reading program they’ve pioneered at nearby Cole Elementary in Antioch, offering kids weekly reading incentives rewarded by free slices and cinnamon rolls. The goal is to expand the program to as many Nashville schools as possible.
If the gooey cheese and chewy crust weren’t comforting enough, it’s these three—Moore, Gray and Reed—who provide living and working examples, starting with the underserved youth, laying out clear stepping points for forward progress beyond the typical saving graces of athletics and entertainment. It’s a lesson that reminds us that it doesn’t matter who you are; hard work and success awaits those ready to hustle.
With lines starting to form outside, I forget entirely that I’m “out north” altogether. Instead, this place, and those inside it, feels like the best of home.