October 12, 2023

Joe Muer Seafood: ‘We want to be as local as possible’

Gone are the days of big-name restaurant groups opening a Nashville outpost and finding success based on their brand.

As Nashville’s culinary scene has evolved, locals and tourists alike expect the city’s food to be good. 

Detroit-based Joe Vicari Restaurant Group understood this change when it opened doors to the 300-seat Joe Muer Seafood in Capitol View this August, bringing fresh seafood from across the globe to Music City.

“Maybe ten years ago, a lot of brands came to town and said ‘Well this is a hot market, I’m going to open a restaurant’ and maybe didn’t take it as seriously, and banked on domain and image and likeness, so to speak. I think that’s changed in the past several years,” said Oleg Bulut, general manager of Joe Muer Seafood. “I think people come more serious about how they approach this market. It’s no longer ‘Oh, food this good in Nashville?’ It’s expected.”

Joe Vicari, founder and owner of Joe Vicari Restaurant Group, and his wife Rosalie Vicari visited Nashville around eight years ago for the CMA Awards and already having a passion for entertainment, fell in love with the city and took note of its growth. The restaurant group had been looking for the right place to open Joe Muer Seafood in Nashville for around six years before settling on 500 11th Ave. N. after developer Boyle Investment Company reached out to Vicari.

The Business Journal spoke with Bulut, who’s worked in Nashville’s restaurant industry for around 20 years, about the Capitol View neighborhood and goals for the restaurant’s first year.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve been in Nashville’s restaurant industry for a while, what do you feel like Joe Muer is bringing to the scene?

In general, this market has been missing a seafood restaurant with such a vast offering of seafood. Let’s not forget we still offer steak … but the fact that we offer such a variety of seafood freshly off the boat is something that Nashville has not really seen before. … We’ve been in this business for so long and Chef Jim [Oppat] and Master Chef Daniel [Scannell] have so many relationships with fisherman and seafood houses from Boston all the way to Honolulu. … We have a lot of tools in our box and a lot of experience we can utilize that we’re bringing something a little bit different, something people are not used too. It’s not difficult to do, you just have to commit. 

What stands out about the Capitol View neighborhood?

It is very diverse, and it’s conveniently located off of the interstate. There is free parking and valet it available as well. 

What are you goals and focuses in the first year?

We just want to introduce Joe Muer and its rich history to this community. We need to make sure that we introduce ourselves in a proper way and people understand who we are. Yes, we are from Detroit, but our people are local. We want to be as local as possible. We want to be participating in the community, the Joe Vicari family is very philanthropic. … A lot of restaurants come to Nashville for a specific reason. We came here because we love the market and people so we want to be here for a while. We want to be a part of this growing community and we want to do everything in our power to grow with the community.

Who is Joe Muer’s target demographic?

We are here for everybody. … We do see a lot of business dinners, birthdays, anniversaries, but we are really here for everyone. … We have seen a lot of neighborhood guests recently, which we really love. … There’s good support here, there’s about 380 apartments around here. 

I’ve heard people say that service in the industry got lost in the pandemic. Talk about your emphasis on that here.

I feel like a lot of it got lost during Covid-19 and some of it did not come back. … We feel our guests deserve the best and we strive to do the best on a daily basis. We do a lot of tableside service, for example, all of our lobster tails that come out, we offer to take them off the shell. … One person cannot deliver that promise so it has to be all hands on deck. We have a wine service. … We have a dessert cart. … It’s old school and a bit lost and forgotten trade. It requires dedication, and the Vicari family has been dedicated to excellence and doing everything we can do to translate the full experience from Detroit down here. 

How has hiring and retention been and what strategies have you used?

We all pull from the same sample. We use the same tools as everybody else, with job boards and whatnot. I think it was important for us to be able to draw on some of these partnerships we’ve had in the past. So far, I’d say retention has been really good, especially in the front of the house. Kitchen is going well as well. … We have 80 employees altogether. 

What can people expect from the atmosphere?

It’s pretty classy. … We usually play a couple of different Motown music playlists, which is fitting because we’re from Detroit. Then we have a piano, it’s kind of along the same line, but not too loud. It’s still where you can sit down and have a business meal or have a romantic date. There’s table lamps with dim lighting. So the restaurant at night dims down a bit, it’s really moody.

How would you describe the menu?

There’s a lot of seafood. There’s a lot of technique here. … It all goes down to basics. There’s a lot of French technique here, a lot of sauces, and that’s what really describes French food. We let the ingredients speak for itself. We have seafood come in everyday, or twice a day, three times a day. …That’s really where the focus is, what’s in season, what’s fresh, not a lot has to be done to it to make it great, but compliment it with some techniques and methods.

Originally published by The Nashville Business Journal.