Commentary: Franklin loses a jewel in her restaurant crown

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Saffire, the unique restaurant in Franklin’s historic Factory, is named after the precious blue gemstone. Like the gem, it has been the sparkling source of delightful casual comfort dining, blessed with great ambiance, live music and excellent American/Southern classic food since the turn of the latest century. Unfortunately, however, Saffire is closing at the end of the year.

Seventeen years ago, it was the Blue Wind, a tea room with walls of bookshelves. It intrigued Tom Morales of TomKats, the famous mobile catering company whose name you will find in the credits of many an award-winning film. He saw its original beauty, and revived it back as part of the old-fashioned historic Factory. The ceiling is filled with big exposed pipes, and has long high walls of large windows with old panes of glass, with an added accent wall of panes mixed in with blue stain glass (during sunny days, rays of sunlight are magically refracted around the dining room).

All that the original owner asked of Morales was that the Blue Wind still retain the color blue in its name. Morales suggested Saffire, and she agreed. So The Saffire Restaurant and Bar was born, and in the years since, among its many honors from food critics, it would be voted the “Best Restaurant in Williamson County” five times by readers of the Nashville Scene.

When Morales started Saffire, the factory was host to constant weddings, proms, charity events and special musical and theatrical performances. These events, booked by the Factory’s owner at the time, Calvin Lehew, created great walk in-business. “Many times,” Morales said, “with a prom or senior party going on in the Jamison Hall, the teenagers would come with their dates, and would eat there before their prom, and then the parents would come, and sit at the bar, or would gather in small groups to have dinner.”

However, after Lehew sold the Factory, large events became rare, except for the much-needed “dinner and show traffic” that Studio Tenn brought to the Factory.  “The location no longer had much walk- in traffic that a restaurant needed to survive in its daily business,” Morales said.

Morales had wanted a restaurant where he could reroute some of his chefs off his mobile film catering trucks, which were Winnebagos fitted with kitchens, and run by a crew of five. TomKats is the modernized version of the old chuck wagons that followed and fed the cowboys during the cattle drives, except now they followed film sets. Morales has had his catering Winnebagos in 40 states in North America, in South America and in countries all over the world. They even traveled to Easter Island for “Waterworld.”

However, Morales wanted his chefs to be able to come back to Tennessee for rest and relaxation from the fatigue of the constant traveling, along with being able to retire those chefs who no longer wanted the grueling rigors of cooking in something like an army mash unit, and, then, also to have a place to train new chefs .

TomKats is a massive organization, but Morales was born into cooking for large groups.One of 10 kids, and a Nashville native, Morales learned the art of grilling and barbecuing on Sundays when their dad insisted the kids give their mom a break.  Sadly, his incredible mother passed away in March at 91. She had spent almost 43 years, after raising 10 children, as Dismas House’s longest-serving volunteer and founder of its community dinner.

Morales’ love for Nashville and Franklin, and his dedication to their continued growth, has led to a number of other nationally acclaimed restaurants, including The Southern Steak & Oyster, Acme Feed & Seed and Southernaire Market. As with Saffire, all are known for serving fresh locally grown products and meats.

Since Morales, and his business partner, Jennifer Masley, announced their plans to close a few months ago, many of Saffire’s fans have let them know how much Saffire will be missed. Morales, grateful for everyone’s kind words, said, “Maybe this will not be a permanent goodbye.”

Hopefully, he is suggesting a faint possibility of something in the eatable future for Franklin.

However, Saffire’s New Year’s Eve Celebration is a fitting send off. They are serving a special menu that night, a four-course meal complete with a lavish dessert for $75 per person, but reservations are limited. For reservations call 615-599-4995.

So come and join Tom and Jennifer on Dec. 31, and have one last meal at this delightful, one-of-a-kind dining.              

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