Rising Rents Mean Longer Commutes For Nashville Restaurant Workers | Nashville Public Radio

Rising Rents Mean Longer Commutes For Nashville Restaurant Workers

Nov 9, 2015

It’s early on a Tuesday night at the Tin Angel on West End, well before any dinner rush. The candles are lit, the white linen napkins are folded, and Heather Malm is bringing a bottle of pinot noir to her first table of the night.

Eight years ago, Malm moved into a house a couple of blocks away. She got a job here three days later. Most of her coworkers, like her, could walk to work. 

“We just had more of a community then," she says. "It was a lot easier to just say, ‘Hey, want to go get coffee real quick?' "

In areas of Nashville with a lot of restaurants, like Midtown, the growth can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, the population has grown here more than the rest of the city, which means more potential customers. But so has the cost of living.

From 2009 to 2013, the median rent in this part of town rose 22 percent, compared to 11 percent city-wide, according to census data — which can mean many restaurant employees are finding themselves living farther away from their jobs.

Last year, Malm says, her landlord raised the rent by $300. She decided to move south, to Woodbine. Other coworkers have scattered to Madison, Donelson and Hermitage. Malm has noticed a change.

“The bonds aren’t as strong as the coworkers used to be when we all kind of lived in the same area,” she says.

Less Flexibility

When Rick Bolsom opened Tin Angel in the early '90s, half his staff biked to work, he says. It wasn't uncommon for waitresses to live together in a house in a nearby neighborhood.

"Is that something too terrible to give up in order to grow and develop? No, it's not the end of the world. But it's real."

 “There was a greater closeness. People who’ve worked here eight and 10 and 15 years ago are still closely in touch," he says. “Is that something too terrible to give up in order to grow and develop? No, it’s not the end of the world. But it’s real.”

Another real challenge, now that his staff is peppered around the city: flexibility, which is important in the restaurant business. 

For example, Bolsom has pretty much given up on snow days.

“Last year, when we had those two storms, we had to close," he says. "We weren’t willing to risk their safety.”

In previous years, the restaurant could gather a small staff from people who walked to work. Even on a daily basis, he says, “people get sick, they can’t show up for work, you turn around and all of a sudden you have 30 more reservations than you thought.”

It’s harder to get reinforcements when they live out by the airport — like waitress Meggan Haase, who started working at Tin Angel this summer.

“If you’re close, it’s not too bad," she says. "But for me, it’s like, ‘OK, I’ll be there in 45 minutes.' "

Haasse is already tired of the commute, but the places she found in this part of town are too pricey. So she's eyeing rentals in East Nashville. A 20-minute commute, she says, will feel like a breeze.