By Carole Robinson
Take a step over the threshold and through the vintage 1880s 12-foot estate door into GRAYS on Main and find one foot in the past and one foot in the present.
To step into GRAYS on Main is to step into the fabric of the history of a building that was once a place where the community found solace, friendship, kindness and help; a place where they were part of a bigger family – if only for a few minutes.
For more than a year, owners Michael and Joni Cole have made renovating the circa 1876 building a labor of love. The fruits of their labor are already apparent with visitors’ reactions as they get a peek at the work in progress.
Although the Coles have changed the use of the building still known as Gray’s from drug store to restaurant, they have not changed the purpose, a return to that familial relationship.
By taking the interior completely down to plaster and brick – even removing floors and ceilings – then rebuilding by reusing, repurposing and renovating, the Coles have preserved and modernized a structure and an important part of the history and personality of Franklin.
From tables made with flooring to wood support beams transformed into booth table supports and panel doors that are now booths, they repurposed what couldn’t be reused and maintained the soul of the building.
“Memories are housed here,” said Joni Cole.
It was those memories – maintaining them and providing space for new ones – and the challenge of transforming a drug store into a restaurant while keeping its soul that drove Michael to personally design most of what has is in the building.
Those who remember Gray’s Drugs will instantly be moved by a tribute to former pharmacists on the stacked windows next to the front door. John Moran, D.C Kinnard, Frank Gray Sr., William “Bilbo” Miller, Ralph Duke and William J. Garrett will once again become a part of Franklin life along with the 1956 Gray’s neon sign, cleaned and ready to light the Franklin night, although Michael is still looking for the small triangle sign that hung on the building from 1930-1956.
Once inside the restaurant, old medicine bottles, Moran’s leather pouch, Duke’s scales, Pope’s ledger, soda fountain recipes and more are displayed in a protective glass case. Prescriptions dating back to 1890 were found in hundreds of cigar boxes stored on the third floor wallpaper areas of the restaurant.
A collection of mirrors lining a wall in the main dining room and black and white photos of Old Franklin throughout the building provide patrons a chance to, “Look in the mirror and see new faces versus old faces,” Michael said. “They are the same. That’s our family – the new and the old.”
Many of the walls are left as they were found after removing years of dust, grime, paint and paper revealed the original 1920s colors – several shades of green complete with chips, stains and other marks.
“I know someone is going to come in here and recognize a mark they made or and say ‘I did that stain, I split that plaster’,” Michael said.
Looking around he added, “She (the building) feels dormant now, but when she gets up and running, she will come alive then wait for the family to come together.”
The second floor bar and music hall includes a stage, which was once Moran’s bedroom, for local musicians and entertainers, and the third floor is a casual members-only supper club with a vintage bar for “people who like privacy but would like to get out and feel like they are part of a family.”
The Coles’ hope is for patrons to become one big Franklin family and GRAY’S on Main their meeting place – like it was in years past. The ambience, the menu and the cocktails reflect that desire.
“We offer casual fine dining,” said Lucas Glover, house manager. “The servers will provide great service and tour guides of Franklin.”
Executive Chef Kenneth “Kenny” Jenkins, who came from the Richland Country Club, describes the menu as “staying true to our Southern roots with a modern approach – clean complex profiles. We are not a meat-and-three. We are trying to fuse other cultures into Southern food without loosing its soul. We’re eclectic Southern American cuisine.”
The fresh, local and ingredient-driven menu includes creations like the pork belly Reuben, octopus taco with Tennessee caviar and lime crème, lobster macaroni and cheese with truffle bacon, gourmet pizza with fresh bruschetta and mustard sauce, homemade items like sausage, mozzarella and ricotta and seasonal foods to keep the menu new and exciting will keep the people coming back, said Jenkins. “We have something for everybody – including options for the kids,” Jenkins said. “You can be as adventurous as you want to be.”
Shared plates are offered to embrace social dining.
“The entrées are large enough so everyone can get a taste,” Glover said. “We want people to share – we want them to be a family.”
“The shared concept allows you to set around and talk, enjoy the atmosphere and food,” Jenkins added. “The whole thing in the South, to get to know people you invite them home and feed them. That’s what we’re after – we want to get to know our customers.”
For those who don’t wish to share, single plate servings are also an option.
Bar manager, Evan Slusher is bringing the cocktail culture to Franklin and will feature special Jon Yeager designed brandy-based cocktails influenced by the 19th century’s “Golden Age of the American Cocktail” – although there will be a full bar with craft beer and “an eclectic wine list.”
“We are taking care to make all the bitters, shrubs and tinctures in house,” said Slusher. “As with the restaurant, we are using local ingredients and local flavors. The cocktails will compliment the menu with some cocktails named to honor Franklin.”
He predicts the Sidecar – a classic brandy cocktail “with our spin on it,” the Burnt Brandy and Peach and the Roasted Apple Jack will be very popular with customers.
The experience at GRAY’S on Main goes beyond the ingredients and the alcohol – it’s a relationship. Franklin is known for its own brand of Southern hospitality – Gray’s reflects that.
With the Aug. 1 opening of GRAY’S on Main, the Coles are looking forward to new memories joining old memories and customers becoming a part of the GRAY’S on Main family.
Check back for Part II of GRAY’S on Main – stories from the past
GRAY’S on Main is commemorating its Grand Opening Sunday, Aug. 4 from 7-10 p.m. with a street closure from The Square to Fourth Avenue. The celebration includes tours of the renovated building, food tasting, and entertainment and as darkness falls, the historic Gray’s neon light will come back to life.
Vintage epicurean cocktail creations will be available for purchase.
For more information, visit www.graysonmain.com
Click here for PART 2: MEMORIES OF GRAYS
Posted on: 7/17/2013