MUSIC TO THE EARS AND PLEASING TO THE PALATE
BY RANDY RUDDER
Nashville may still be Music City, but there is plenty of music in Mt. Juliet, as well as a tempting menu of crepes, soups salads, sandwiches, and desserts at Sonny’s Music Café and Creperie on the corner of Nonaville Road and Lebanon Road. Sonny’s features bluegrass and acoustic music six nights a week.
Proprietor Sonny Steiner worked in the food industry, the music business, and ran a video production company, but says he’s had the dream of opening his own restaurant for 25 years. He first got the idea when he was living in Olympia, Washington. “There was a cool old hippie there who had a unique guitar store downtown,” he says. “There was a cool little coffee shop right next door to his guitar store and I would always see people walk out of his store and into the coffee shop, and I would always think, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I could somehow combine these two businesses together?’”
“I’ve always worked in the restaurant business because it’s the ideal industry for dreamers, and people who are chasing artistic ambitions,” Sonny says. “For 20 years it has allowed me to travel the country and play music.” He got into the production business as a by-product of the music business, and found himself getting more and more clients.
“I traveled the country and abroad shooting events, music videos, concerts, commercials and documentaries. Although the production business was successful, I found it to be similar to the music business in the sense that it’s a feast or famine’ industry.” Tiring of the road, he started making plans in 2010 to make his café dream a reality and drew up a business plan. Sonny says it must have been a “God thing” for him to end up in Mt. Juliet. He always planned to open the café in Nashville;—Donelson to be exact. “My business plan, marketing strategies and demographic research, all revolved around Donelson and its void in the market for a good coffee shop and a good music venue,” Sonny says. “When I finally raised all of the money from my investors, bank loans and personal savings, it was time to start looking for the right place in Donelson. It’s no exaggeration to say that I looked at every available piece of suitable commercial property within the city limits of Donelson for this venture. Every time I thought I found a building, it wouldn’t work out for some reason or another.” Then someone told him about a space in Mt. Juliet. “My first reaction was ‘but all of my research is based on Donelson. I don’t know anything about Mt. Juliet or how this type of business would be received there,’” he says. Sonny wasn’t crazy about the original location he saw or the terms on the contract, so he was torn. One afternoon, he went driving around Mt. Juliet. He stopped at the former location of Scarlett’s Garden Tea Room. “As I was eating I kept looking around at the space thinking to myself and praying silently ‘Lord I wish I could’ve found a place like this. It’s big enough to do everything I want to do, it already has a kitchen, it needs minimal work, and it has a beautiful yard for outside seating.” The next day, just before he was ready to sign the contract on the first building, Sonny got a call from his real estate agent telling him that Scarlett’s was for sale. He told his agent to draw up an offer right away.
After working in the restaurant business off and on for 20 years, you acquire the understanding of which foods pair well with others,” he says. “It was really just a matter of (manager) Kristen and I spending time in the kitchen going through trial and error, using her husband Steve and several of our friends as guinea pigs. I also have a lot of very knowledgeable friends who lent their opinions. One is my good friend Nigel Cox who used to be a chef for the Royal Family in Buckingham Palace. He has generously given his time and expertise to helping me perfect our food,” Sonny says,
“Although we sell great sandwiches, salads, pastries and homemade soups, our featured items are crepes,” Sonny says. We have savory crepes and sweet crepes. Our most popular savory crepe is called The Babe. It’s loaded with honey baked ham, Havarti cheese, cream cheese, asparagus, spinach, and it’s drizzled with savory brown Marsala sauce.” The savory crepes also include salmon, chicken pesto, turkey, cheese, and other combinations. “Our most popular sweet crepe is called the Berry Bomb,” he says. “It’s loaded with a medley of fresh blueberries, strawberries and blackberries, homemade sweet cream sauce and topped with fresh homemade berry sauce and whip cream.” The Peach Crepe and Cobbler is another favorite at Sonny’s.
And there is also a full menu of veggie crepes and breakfast crepes as well, as Sonny’s is open for breakfast. The music theme permeates the establishment, from the live music to the bevvy of guitars adorning the walls of Sonny’s.
“With the guitars hanging on the walls, the bars that are painted like pianos, the classic car in the front yard, the vintage Vespa in the window and all the other collectible memorabilia on the walls, I think we have achieved that goal. People of all ages have commented on the comfortable atmosphere and the cool vibe,” Sonny says. “I choose to have live music because it’s the theme and the heart of what we are. We are a Music Cafe. I’m proud of this restaurant and I absolutely love the compliments we receive on our food but my first love is music. Without music there would be no Sonny’s Cafe.”
Sonny says he couldn’t be happier about landing in Wilson County, even if all of his demographic research led him to Donelson. “I’m a man of faith and I believe that where God guides He provides. In my heart I knew that this Music Cafe was something that God had put on my heart,” he says. “This community is awesome! We couldn’t have asked for a better first month. The people in Mt. Juliet seem to appreciate small businesses and it shows in the support and encouragement we have received from them. We already have regulars!” Sonny says. “I love this town and when I pay off all my investors I plan to buy a house here.”