Nashville Dinner Series Aims To Curb Gentrification, One $100 Hot Chicken Sale At A Time | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville Dinner Series Aims To Curb Gentrification, One $100 Hot Chicken Sale At A Time

Aug 23, 2018

A series of dinners starting Thursday in North Nashville and running through Saturday is taking aim at gentrification.

On the menu — hot chicken — and it won't come cheap: Diners are being asked to pledge $100 a piece.

Tunde Wey, the New Orleans-based chef behind the event, says the goal is go beyond talk and to put some real money in the bank to preserve affordable housing.

"Everybody's welcome to come and eat, to come talk about the issue," he said. "But we are trying to get somewhere, right?

Wey is originally from Nigeria, but he now travels the United States, raising awareness about social justice issues. Earlier this year, he held a dinner in Nashville that served to demonstrate the effects of income equality.

Even though everyone paid the same price — $55 each — diners at some tables received more food than others. Wey says those with the generous portions didn't notice the difference. And those who got less didn't complain.

That project, as well as his latest one, are both part of the Metro Arts Commission's Build Better Tables program. Wey will be making hot chicken based on his recipe for suya, a dish associated with the Hausa people of northern Nigeria.

He says he chose hot chicken because it ties together his specialty, Nigerian cuisine, with Nashville's emerging dining scene. Upscale restaurants, he says, are often on the leading edge of gentrification.

These dinners will be at the Westwood Baptist Church on Albion Street, in a pocket of North Nashville where developers are beginning to snap up low-priced homes, tear them down and replace them with fancier ones.

"I think that we need, just generally, (as) individuals to begin to understand on this spectrum of complicity where (we) are," he said.

The base price is being set intentionally high. For each piece of chicken, diners are being asked to pledge $100 to an affordable housing fund that's working with the city's Barnes Fund to acquire properties before they're redeveloped.

But Wey says the pricing isn't meant to keep out. No cash will be collected on site, and neighborhood residents are allowed to eat for free. 

The hope, though, is to build a nest egg that can make a dent in what Wey calls "the robust tragedy" of gentrification in Nashville. He notes that last year the mayor's office projected Nashville is on track to have a shortage of nearly 31,000 affordable rental units by 2025.