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Pandemic Pivot: How Two Nashville Businesses Turned Lemons Into Lemonade

A pair of Nashville Region businesses show resiliency in turbulent times.

By Kevin Litwin on September 23, 2021

Lisa Rouse, owner of Boro Town Cakes, located just outside of Nashville
Nathan Lambrecht

The largest-selling Black-owned spirit brand in history is experiencing barrels of success, and it’s all happening in the Nashville Region in the cities of Shelbyville and Columbia.

Nearest Green Distillery is headquartered on 270 acres of farmland in Shelbyville, and a four-phase, $50 million construction development is currently taking place that will eventually consolidate all distilling, packaging and distribution operations on the property. In the meantime, those processes are taking place at a production facility in Columbia.

The company’s namesake, Nathan “Uncle Nearest” Green, was born in 1820 and lived as a slave in Lynchburg, where he became well-known for his whiskey-making ability.

“Nathan was the first well-known African American master distiller, and I’m proud to continue his legacy,” says Fawn Weaver, owner and CEO of Nearest Green Distillery. “We launched our Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey brand in 2017, and today, the whiskey is sold in all 50 states and 12 countries. It’s in more than 30,000 stores, including Walmart, Target, Costco as well as restaurants, bars and hotels.”

Weaver says the company actually grew substantially during COVID-19, with her decision to invest during that time while many in the industry were laying off.

“We actually doubled down. We increased our workforce, output, marketing, sales and so forth,” she says. “It’s how Warren Buffett made his money. He waits until people run scared, then he invests. That’s what I did during the pandemic, and now our distillery has more than 90 employees.”

Sweet Success

Other businesses across the region also pivoted during the pandemic.

When Murfreesboro cafe Boro Town Cakes began losing breakfast and lunch customers, owner Lisa Rouse decided to restructure her menu to focus more on sweet treats, such as brownies, cupcakes and cake pops.

“Some people were initially disappointed that we made changes to our business, but we could not ignore the fact that we were losing money trying to do things the same old way. We had to figure out what was needed to survive the new normal,” Rouse says. “We boosted our online presence, and we decided to focus on what we do best and improve that to be more competitive.”

Rouse says other businesses adapted by offering curbside pickup, touchless customer service and alternative means to get their products and services to their customers.

But she says it was the community support that really enabled businesses like hers to get through 2020.

“The residents have recognized the need to support small businesses and how important we are to the community,” she says. “Many small businesses offer goods and services you would not get from a chain. There was also cooperation and mutual respect among business owners. The community spirit has been incredible.”

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