Tribe Video Bar and Red Restaurant turn four-years-old this month – May 13 to be exact. In a dual interview, owners Keith Blaydes (KB) and David Taylor (DT) talked with O&AN about starting their business four years ago, some of the challenges they faced, and what they’ve learned.
O&AN: How did the concept for Tribe come about? Were you friends before becoming business partners?
KB: We were friends before starting the business.
DT: We’d been friends for a long time and both were bored with our jobs and looking for something new and different. We had decided we wanted to open a business together but didn’t quite know what that would be. We felt like there wasn’t a nice early place for people to go. We created Tribe on the same model as Sidetrack in Chicago – [a] friendly [atmosphere], [and that] played music videos and had great energy. A great place people would want to go from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and then go out to other places.
O&AN: One of the things that you have done in the last four years is constantly reinvested in your business. Since you’ve opened you’ve expanded Red Restaurant into its own space and recently paved your back parking lot. Why do you think its important to constant show your customers you’re providing improvements?
DT: Please mention the paved parking lot—it was not an inexpensive thing to do but yet it was so important to our business. We have always wanted Tribe and Red to be the nicest places they can be. Places you can take your parents and grandparents.
KB: We’re excited about reinvesting in the business and the community. We feel like that is a very important part in what we’re doing. We think that is going to be one of the keys of our longevity.
DT: There will always be something new and different here. If not, it’s not fresh. One of the overriding philosophies that we’ve always had is that we love our customers and they don’t owe us their business, we earn their business. We earn their business by creating a place for them to be happy and to have a good time. We’re grateful everyday that people come in and have a good time and support us. Our customer base always lets us know when things aren’t right. They have a lot of ownership in this place, and we’re proud of that.
O&AN: What was the biggest challenge you faced when you opened?
KB: One of the biggest challenges we had was a lack of knowledge of this industry.
(Blaydes was director of purchasing for a large manufacturer and Taylor was a management consultant for higher education).
DT: This is a really tough business to be in. The profit margins are much lower than people think they are and the expenses are much higher. We absolutely have come into a situation here where we are more richly rewarded because we love what we are doing, even though the financial reward may not be as great as what we had in our previous professional lives.
O&AN: How did you come about the name Tribe?
DT: Well it was the best out of the 800 names that we wrote down on a piece of paper.
KB: Actually it was the one name that nobody hated. We had a list of at least a hundred names and we showed that list to people. Names are so polarizing. We finally narrowed it down to two or three and Tribe was the one name that no one had a negative feeling about.
DT: We worked closely with Jerry Joyner on the logo, and we wanted the logo and name to say “we represent a group of people” but yet be inviting to a broader community. We spent a lot of time on the name and the graphics.
KB: We generally think things to death and that’s why things we do take longer. We try to take our time to think through and do the right thing for the right reason.
O&AN: Have your sales increased over the past four years?
DT: Yes, they have grown. Business has grown. We’re really happy with our levels now. The first couple of years we had out-of-towners who are just finding out about you and it takes time for that business to grow. With the restaurant being a separate entity we now have a much broader appeal, so we’re seeing people that we’ve never seen before. We will always be predominantly gay because that is our tribe, [but] the restaurant has a much broader appeal and that brings people to Tribe that might not normally come in.
O&AN: What does the future hold?
KB: We’ve been very busy with the expansion of the restaurant and opening the new patio area. We plan in the next few months to redecorate the room that use to house the restaurant. It’s taking on a life of its own. We put in a pool table. On busy nights this room is becoming packed because it’s non-smoking. To have this many square feet in a bar that is non-smoking is a wonderful thing.
DT: We try very hard to please all of our customers and that’s been a tough issue – the smoking versus non-smoking. We really plan on making this a nice comfortable lounge type room.
O&AN: How do you view the growth that is occurring on Church Street and do you think Tribe has acted as a catalyst for that growth?
KB: We’re very proud that the community has grown the way it has.
DT: We weren’t the first to move onto the street. The World’s End was here for 20 years, and OutLoud has been here for quite some time. One thing I think we did do was change the nature of nightlife in Nashville. We provided something that wasn’t there – that was that people could come out early. That didn’t exist and we did add that to the fabric of the community. It’s exciting to us.
O&AN: Did you intentionally select Church Street to locate on or was your location just based on available space?
DT: We intentionally selected Church Street. It had a great gay history with the World’s End, and over the course of time there have been gay bars on or around Church Street. And it’s as convenient of a location in town that you could want.
O&AN: What do you think about all of the new developments on Church Street?
DT: It’s very exciting for us. We believe strongly that new clubs like Lucky’s and Blue Gene as well as the new Church Street Café will only attract a broader group of people to our area, and that this will be good for everyone. We certainly wish all of the new ventures well.
O&AN: How many employees do you have?
KB: Between Tribe, Red and Play, we have about 70. Probably for Tribe and Red, it’s around 40 employees.
O&AN: Your business has quite an economic impact with 70 employees.
DT: We’ve definitely support a lot of people and their livelihoods. One of the things that we knew we wanted to do early on was to offer a retirement plan and health insurance. Not many bars or restaurants offer that to their employees, and for a lot of our staff that has made a difference.
O&AN: What’s your philosophy behind community giving?
DT: I was involved in the community before we opened the bar. It was really frustrating when I was helping in an event to see the level of participation that some of the places in town didn’t provide. They rarely gave financial support. The Chute is the only place that ever gave back in substance to the community. We want to be a part of these organizations in town because they are important to us as customers. It has been a lot of fun, and we’ve been able to make some financial contributions that were firsts in Nashville and hopefully set an example for others to follow.
O&AN: What’s been one of the biggest unintended consequences of opening Tribe?
KB: David has a great story that he can share, one that surprised me on the impact that we have made in the community and one that I never thought of.
DT: One of the things that wasn’t on our radar screen. We had some people from Vanderbilt tell us that they were so happy we are here because it helps them recruit people. When you have companies like Nissan that move to town, they have a lot of gay employees, and they are looking for places like ours that really add to the fabric and make them feel welcome and an embracing community. We opened the bar for Nashvillians so we could serve them, and serve them well. We never thought of how broad the impact was.
O&AN: How do counter the criticism that some in the community have said that Tribe is a cliquish bar.
KB: I, personally, don’t believe it and don’t see it. Our customer base is so broad. There are a lot of people here but I don’t see any one clique or type of people. It’s a very diverse crowd.
DT: We work really hard to make sure we are everybody friend and everyone is welcome. It makes me sad to think that people might not be happy here. We’ve never been known as a pick-up type place, but more as a social place. We have a nice gender mix, and age-wise we have people from the 20s up to their 70s. If you asked me what our average customer looked like, it would be hard for me to define. I don’t really know the answer to your question.
KB And I think a lot of that is perception. People look at the glass store front windows and say “this isn’t what gay bars are like in Nashville.” They are use to seeing windows blacked out or covered with big heavy curtains. That’s not the kind of place we wanted. When you walk in the front door it is different than the more traditional bars that have been in Nashville.
DT: Out staff is friendly and we insist that they be friendly to everybody. I’ve not gotten a negative email in three years about staff issues. I would hope that people would come and have a good time.
Tribe turns four on May 13. Be sure to join them in a birthday celebration on Wednesday, May 10, that will include birthday drink specials, dinner specials at Red and plenty of birthday cake.