Nashville is known for some great eateries, but none of them focus nearly as much on original music as they do on their food. Ri’chard’s Louisiana Café in Whites Creek is known for having some of the best Cajun cooking and seafood in Middle Tennessee, but it’s also known as the place to go to hear some of Nashville’s best aspiring and undiscovered singing and songwriting talent.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Broadway, Whites Creek is a quiet rural suburban area about 20 minutes northwest of downtown Nashville, a place where generations of families have farmed and run small businesses. When Richard Trest moved into the location of the former Star Café at the corner of Old Hickory Boulevard and Whites Creek Pike in 2005, he did so not only with the idea of opening a great Cajun restaurant, but also with the notion that his restaurant could also be a place for songwriters to perform in an atmosphere totally different from anything else in the area.
“The guy I opened the restaurant with, Scott Sanford, and I knew a bunch of writers in town,” Trest says, “and it seemed like it would be nice to have a place where writers could play, but could also bring their families and have some good food, some Southern Louisiana style cookin’.”
Trest is a songwriter himself who has had some independent cuts. But the surprising thing is that he had never been a chef before opening Ri’chard’s.
“This is my first restaurant,” he says. “I was a financial business manager who came from big corporations, and I had been messin’ around with cooking and found out I just had a knack for it. So I decided to try my hand at it seriously. The menus are about 90% my creation, pretty much me and my staff.”
“I grew up in Mississippi on the Gulf Coast,” he continues, “and spent time in Baton Rouge and Houston and I’m originally from New Orleans. We’d have big parties at my house or somebody’s house, and somebody was always cooking something. It was just sort of passed on to me. You never really know what you’re good at until you try it.”
Musically, Trest came up with the same influences so many teenagers in the ‘60s and ‘70s listened to, though it may have been a little different for someone who lived so close to the Gulf of Mexico.
“I lived in Gulfport but I went back and forth to New Orleans, and Mississippi in general is very country,” he recollects. “That side of me, and the music I listened to from, say, 16 to 21, that’s the music I remember during those changes in my life. That’s your heart at that age, that becomes the music of your life. Some rock ‘n’ roll, some Jimmy Buffett, and the kind of rock I was listening to, Crosby, Still, Nash and Neil Young, the Beatles, Aerosmith—at the same time, some I was hearing “Pop a Top” and the country side of things. What I came up on was actually kind of what defines what Nashville is today, rockin’ country.”
Trest also points out that the Whites Creek area has its own musical claim to fame, as so many country stars have spent time in that area of Davidson County. “The MuzikMafia got started in this area,” he says. “Cory Gierman, Jon Nicholson, John Rich, they’ve all eaten at my place. Chris Young has been out here, and Damien Horne has eaten here a number of times. Rodney Atkins did a video across the street.” Whites Creek is also home to Fontanel, the concert venue that was once home to Barbara Mandrell.
This restaurant in sleepy Whites Creek is often filled with diners looking for good etouffee, crawfish and more, and Trest says that reservations are highly recommended on the weekends. But pretty much every night that the restaurant is open, one will hear tunesmiths ranging from some of Nashville’s finest to writers who just pulled into town and are testing the waters.
In the end, Trest has the best of both worlds at his restaurant: “It’s a great pleasure, probably better than having somebody applaud for my song, to have someone be leaving my restaurant and say, ‘Man, that’s the best gumbo or jambalaya I’ve ever had,’ or ‘Your beignets are better than they make them in New Orleans.’ I love being able to give people great food and great music.”
Ri’chard’s Louisiana Café at 4420 Whites Creek Pike is open Wednesday through Saturday. For more information call 615-299-9590.