A couple years back Tiffany Hancock, a devoted vegan, had a crisis of conviction. It was over a doughnut.
"I said, I want a Krispy Kreme doughnut so bad, but I can't eat it," Hancock recalled. She remembers driving by the pastry shop, wondering if she should cave. Just this once. "Because there was no kind of pastry like that out there for vegans," she added.
Hancock didn't succumb. Instead she decided to fill the gap.
"I said, 'I'm going to make a doughnut that we can eat, all the time!'"
She did. It was delicious. And the idea for The Southern V was born, with Hancock as the cook and her husband Clifton, a speech therapist, as critical support staff.
Since then, The Southern V has served up vegan soul food from a tiny blue shack in North Nashville. Weekends only. No indoor seating. Just an order window dolling out vegan hot chicken, biscuits and gravy, and their famous pastries.
It's become a staple, never without a line and often selling out the menu before the day is through. And this spring, the café will open a full-service restaurant on Buchanan Street, joining a handful of other thriving, black-owned businesses that line the historic North Nashville corridor, once a thriving hub of African-American music and culture.
The Southern V has become a destination for all types of eaters thanks to its down-to-earth, wide-ranging menu. Which is part of why songwriter Jazz Murray can't get enough.
"I just love the variety of foods that they have, and I just like vibe I get whenever I come here. It's so chill, and laid back," Murray said.
Cultivating that vibe are things like "The Question of the Day," posed to every customer when they order. Tiffany says it makes an instant connection.
On a recent Sunday, the café's sole employee leaned out the window taking orders: "And our question of today is, 'What is something you want to accomplish this week?'"
The answers come in all shapes and sizes:
"I want to clean my house and write two songs."
"I need to study this week."
"I need a new job."
"Going to the gym more than once this week."
Providing a sonic backdrop to their answers is Clifton's music rock, a speaker tucked in next to a bush that plays soulful tunes for patrons as they eat or wait in line.
"The thing that we love about The Southern V," he said, "is that when we look out that window, that service window, you see all see all walks for life."
The couple says choosing to expand on Buchanan Street, instead of neighborhood where a vegan option would be immediately embraced, was a conscious decision. It allows them to join a burgeoning scene of other African-American-owned eateries. But it also does something bigger.
"From my perspective veganism has always been that upper-class type of lifestyle," Clifton said. "And the options for that has always been in those areas where that type of demographic lives."
Tiffany and Clifton say they hope to move from their little blue shack to the full-service restaurant in the next few months. They also hope the line follows them.