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Faces of Franklin: Joni Cole from GRAYS on Main
 



Throughout her adult life, Gray’s Drug Co. held a special place in Joni Cole’s heart. Each time she laid eyes on Main Street’s legendary pharmacy, she was swept into a host of nostalgic memories. 

 
To the Franklin native, that iconic sign signified she was home. 
 
For several years, Cole lived in Florence, Ala. There, the former critical care nurse adopted two girls from Russia and started a dance ministry. It was in Florence that she met Michael Cole.
 
When she and Michael first moved back to Joni’s hometown seven years ago, they immediately began dreaming of restoring the Gray’s building to its former glory. Michael had owned a gallery and music venue in Florence, and had a long love for antique items. 
 
“We’ve known since we moved back in 2006 that we wanted to buy GRAYS and restore it,” Cole said. “So we waited. It wasn’t until five years later that the building went up for sale and Andy Marshall, whom I went to school with, bought it.”
 
Today, GRAYS on Main has been open for nearly 10 weeks. The Coles spent more than a year transforming the ca. 1876 Victorian landmark into a restaurant that honors Franklin’s heritage, a strong indicator of their dedication to the operation. Patrons of GRAYS will always find one, and most likely both, of the Coles in the restaurant at any given time.
 
“It’s like hosting a party in your house everyday. I love people, and I love the family atmosphere that all the merchants on Main Street have,” Joni said. “When I look out my window at night, sometimes I can see New York on a small scale. In its own way, this town has so much energy and opulence.”
 
GRAYS is adding to that nighttime vibrancy. 
 
The three-story restaurant and bar slings epicurean cocktails and late-night bites until midnight on the weekends—the only venue in the immediate area to boast such late hours—and is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. 
 
Though it’s the near 150-year-old history that forms the backbone of GRAYS, it is the menu that sets the three-story destination apart from other spots in Williamson County. 
 
The latest landmark in fine dining, the kitchen is dedicated to creating clean and complex profiles that represent the roots of the local culture with a bit of global influence sprinkled in. 
 
Though many of the chef’s offerings are shared plates, GRAYS tastemakers have prepared several options for those who want to satisfy their own particular palates.
 
“Around here, our social moments revolve around food and drink. Michael and I wanted the menu to encourage friends to carry on that tradition by passing the plate through shared dishes,” Cole said. “Offerings change seasonally and our culinary team picks a majority of locally grown ingredients, so that knowledge can help each dish’s flavor thrive.”
 
GRAYS just launched their fall menu this week, a slate that offers fresh dishes for lunch and dinner and includes the likes of cornmeal Carolina trout and bourbon brined pork chops. 
 
In September, the eatery also incorporated a Sunday brunch into its schedule. The extensive menu, offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., features unique items local tri-tip steak and eggs with a house-made chorizo hash, and Hoppin’ John and poached eggs.
 
Though she takes noticeable pride in the menu, Cole says GRAYS is just as dedicated to its bar program, which leans heavily on the brandy culture of the 19th century. Syncing with the seasonal menu, GRAYS is revealing a new beverage line this week that will incorporate French-press cocktails, an innovative method that allows for quick infusion of heat. 
 
“We’re the only brandy bar in America, so that’s special,” Cole said. “Our drinks are epicurean, they coincide with the kitchen, and they are over the top, different and visionary. Like the French-press cocktails – I know people will love them.”
 
Though she and her husband often don’t leave the restaurant until the wee hours of the morning, Cole says they make a point to take a break each day to walk Main Street and say hello to the other small business owners. 
 
“Most merchants have their doors open, and we love to pop in and say hello. It is truly one big happy family down here.”
 
“Faces of Franklin” is part of a series on merchants and small business owners in downtown Franklin, Tenn.
 

Posted on: 10/10/2013

 
 

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