What Inspires Us: Gabby's Burgers, An All-American Story

This is the fifth in a series (view previous stories here) of posts about the people and stories that inspire us. We’re motivated by the dreamers and fearless doers who mold matchless products from their deep passion. Telling their stories is our way to salute their success and say  thanks for the inspiration to be better at our craft.

If you’re saddling up to the bar at Gabby’s Burgers & Fries, you’d better make room: for your food, for your fellow burger eaters’ elbows, and, if a plucky Nashville Sound happens to get a hold of one, for the baseball that might land in your lap.

Okay, so, apparently a reincarnated Babe Ruth juiced up with ‘roids and Gabby’s burgers couldn’t hit one that far out of neighboring Greer Stadium. But the point is: Gabby’s Burgers & Fries is a classic place, and eating a burger off a plastic tray feels as much like a pastime as the old ballgame.

Before CREMA was, Rachel worked for Doug Havron, owner and head burger-slinger at our beloved Gabby’s. So we let her sling some loaded questions at him, here’s what he had to say.

CREMA: You talk about “Living the Dream”--that phrase is prominently featured on your website and in the shop, and it definitely seems like something to aspire. What does that mean for you, and for Gabby’s?

Doug: Living the Dream? Long story. Short answer. I decided I wanted to have the restaurant job but without the restaurant job hours. I wanted to spend time with my family. “Work to live” instead of “living to work.” It required me to change my paradigm. Break some business norms. It was a struggle for me. Then the slogan blew up and became more of an expression for our customers.

I decided I wanted to have the restaurant job but without the restaurant job hours.

Gabby's is more than a place to eat a burger. It is a place to come and laugh and forget that the world is a hard place.

CREMA: We know what makes Gabby's special, but what makes it special for you? And what do you think makes it special to your customers?

Doug: What makes it special for me is the same thing that makes it special for the customers. Gabby's is more than a place to eat a burger. It is a place to come and laugh and forget that the world is a hard place. I saw a customer yesterday; I said, "You look relaxed." His response was, "I wasn't until I got here." That is what makes Gabby's special. He had a physical response, and much more he knew that in advance and went out of his way to come get it ....and a burger.

Burgers are the only thing that I could think of that people would fight to get to. So I learned how to make good burgers.

CREMA: Why call it “Gabby’s?”

Doug: Gabby is my daughter--Gabriella. She is 8 now. The cheeseburger (our most popular burger) is called the Seamus--he is 6. And the veggie burger is the Coreen Burger. I will not reveal her age.

CREMA: You were a part of the coffee world before. So why burgers? Why did you go from coffee to cows?

Doug: Coffee to cows? Simple. I owned the building (where Gabby’s is located) and put in it the only concept I thought would succeed. It was about taking what I had and making it work. I had a REALLY small building in a neighborhood that was not so friendly then. Burgers are the only thing that I could think of that people would fight to get to. So I learned how to make good burgers.

CREMA: You’re from Nashville and have worked in the food industry for so long--what do you think is causing this food revolution in our town?

Doug: Nashville is changing. 50 years ago, Nashville was known for meat-and-three’s. Pick a meat and three sides. (Hap Townes one of the best--and it was located in my building for 49 years). Then we became known for our hot chicken. Now we are getting known for variety. People moving in from all over the world, young people growing up demanding more global tastes, and a group of educated and experienced chefs who are getting opportunities. Twenty years ago, Mea West did an article for the front cover of the Scene demanding that the people of Nashville support these local chefs and restaurant owners who were trying something new. Nashvillians just seemed to want Shoney’s and O’Charley’s then. Look how far we have come in such a short time. Nashville is amazing.

Look how far we have come in such a short time.
Nashville is amazing.