15. Prince’s Hot Chicken is more than a restaurant, it is a Nashville melting pot of people and culture.

From the journal: 16 September 2017

FIELD NOTE: Our decision to begin this story with “Hot chicken” is truly the right place to start with discovering Nashville. But we must be careful not to miss all the other Nashvilles, for I suspect there are many. Still Prince’s is a good place to start because this restaurant is a melting pot of cultures and people. Nashville history goes deep at this uniquely Southern place.

People I meet at Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack:

Last night at Prince’s I met Clarence. Tall, kept calling me “friend.” He stood in line, a regular. He lingered. I followed him outside where other people linger—selling homemade cds of their music, homemade popcorn, t-shirts.

Prince’s isn’t just a restaurant. It is a community. People come and linger for hours, drift in and out of the shop, sit in their cars, visit. “Go out there in the parking lot and… see those two old ladies sitting in their car right there? Go meet them!” Miss Andre’ says. “This is what they do! They just come park and sit in their car and watch the people and eat their chicken!”

The place is its own universe of characters and activity.

I met a group visiting from Nebraska. One guy was eating “XXtra” hot. Said he is an “aficionado of heat.” His friends said he is a farmer. He was a big white guy, looked like a pro football player. His pale face turned purple and I thought he would cry. He sputtered, “Nah, this is just right.”

I met Reisha, an East Nashville dance instructor and long time Hot Chicken Shack regular. She was quick to talk about the “gentrification” happening in her neighborhood. Lots of outsiders coming in to her Nashville neighborhood, she said. She said she would be happy to talk to me about the new Nashville, as she sees it. A place must change, she said. It is ok. And there are kind ways to go about change, if people can find a way to hear each other.

I met a Japanese film crew and actresses filming a television episode for a Tokyo show. They were extremely nervous about me taking photos of the two actresses. “They have a contract,” the fixer kept explaining. The two girls ate the chicken and laughed and talked and I think one of them cried.

Two celebrity sisters came to eat at Prince’s. Aleia recognized them from their Disney television days. Aleia was so excited she came out to tell me. Not only did they come to the restaurant, but they came on a late Saturday night! The sisters said they came late because they wanted to experience the place in the after hours. In the restaurant at that moment were the two actresses, a couple from Oakland, California, a table of radically- dressed guys with make-up and jewelry, a father and two sons from Florida running from the hurricane, and a crowd of locals.

I met Jace and McKinlee again, the grandkids. They come in after school, still in their private school uniforms. They volunteer to work, but just a little. Mostly they stand by their grandmother Miss Andrea’ and banter with her seated in her chair just inside the kitchen door. McKinlee moves between the kitchen door and the serving counter, calls out orders: “NUMBER 73!” Walks orders out to some tables when it is a large group.


-18 September 2017

Ms Andre’s daughter Yeae’ introduced me to family friend the Reverend Fuzz. We had lunch at Prince’s Hot Chicken South.

Reverend Fuzz is a notorious civil rights era minister. He said things like, “I tell folk, ‘Meet me at Mount Carmel church, not in a back room.’ …I tell people there’s more progress on top of the table than you’ll ever find under the table.” He said he used to cause a lot of headaches in the community protesting injustice. But now… “My gun’s out of bullets. And the bullets I had were blanks.” Instead of protesting he now seeks to build relationships. He said he now sees love is more important than anger. “There are no universities offering degrees in love…” He says. “I can see the mistakes of the absence of love all over our nation…” He said we are all seeking the same thing ultimately, we just don’t know it yet. “We can walk together…” He said we should “be more curious than critical…” and “It’s not easy not to be mad…” I asked him if people say a lot of things about him. He said, “It’s a blessing when people tell lies on you because when they tell the truth no one will believe them.”

Deeper into the heart of Nashville. The map expanding with the people.

Follow the story