Fried chicken and biscuits. These tried and true Southern food staples have been a part of Loveless Cafe’s history for more than sixty years. In 1951, Lon and Annie Loveless began serving them right out the front door of their home to travelers who passed by on US Highway 100 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Beginning as a party house in the forties, the little white structure that sits next to what is now the Natchez Trace had one of the largest hardwood living room floors around – perfect for dancing the night away. Weary travelers found comfort and refuge in the cozy home and in the food the owners served. As the tiny house became a planned stop for treks along Highway 100, the then private home became known as the Loveless Motel and Cafe. Lon Loveless built and ran the property’s 14 motel rooms while hungry crowds were drawn to Annie’s homemade preserves and scratch-made-biscuits – a secret recipe that remains unchanged to this day.
In 1959 the Cafe lovingly changed hands to Cordell and Stella Maynard following a decline in Lon Loveless’ health, then again in 1972 to Charles and Donna McCabe. Thankfully, Annie Loveless’ biscuit recipe never changed with the ownership, enabling the Loveless Motel and Cafe to maintain its position as a true Tennessee tradition.
In 1982, George McCabe, son of Charles and Donna, became a partner in the family business. He had grown up working at the Loveless cleaning motel rooms, mowing the grass and performing various other chores. He expanded the services of the Loveless Motel and Cafe by creating the “Hams & Jams” mail-order catalog. Motel operations ceased in 1985 and the 14 units were converted into storage to support the growing demands of the increased business. It was during this time that the modest roadside eatery, once Nashville’s best-kept secret, became a national sensation.
In December 2003, George McCabe sold the Loveless Cafe to a few committed Nashville natives who decided to revive the quaint little establishment to a property teaming with authentic Southern charm.
In January 2004, under the new ownership, Loveless closed its doors for the first time in its history to undergo much-needed renovations. When the doors re-opened that June, folks were standing in lines thicker than sausage gravy to get a taste of their favorite dishes! To everyone’s delight, the Cafe menu was the same but better – enhanced with more southern favorites like pulled pork BBQ, lots of fresh country vegetables and, for the first time, homemade desserts! A new smokehouse was built on property and those 14 original motel rooms were converted into unique retail shops – including the Loveless Hams & Jams Country Market. The Loveless Motel Shops provided visitors a wonderful way to pass the time while waiting for a table during busy weekend lunches.
Loveless Cafe’s rich history and story of revival attracted the attention of the media. In 2005, USA Today named it America’s “Top Down-Home Dining Spot.” Loveless’ famous “Biscuit Lady” Carol Fay was a much-requested guest on many television shows including the Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Today Show, the Martha Stewart Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
In 2009, the Loveless Cafe furthered its commitment to the Nashville community by adding The Loveless Barn, a 4,800 square foot live music and event venue. The Loveless Barn has since become the “it” place to host parties, weddings, fundraisers and other large-scale events, even becoming home to Music City Roots: Live from the Loveless Cafe, a public television and radio-broadcasted concert series held every Wednesday.
In October of 2012, an unexpected surprise came knocking on Loveless’ door. The prestigious James Beard Foundation extended an invitation for Loveless Cafe to serve dinner on Valentines Day 2013 in the famed James Beard House in New York City. The team of participating chefs included Loveless Cafe Chef, Daniel Dillingham, Senior Pitmaster George Harvell, Loveless Cafe Pastry Chef, Alisa Huntsman, and Loveless Event Catering Executive Chef, Bart Pickens. Together, they pulled off one of the most successful dinner events in Loveless history, appeasing sophisticated New York palates with five courses of authentic Loveless cuisine, and warming their hearts with true Southern hospitality. The dinner enabled the Loveless chefs to stretch their culinary skills and show Nashville, and the rest of the world, how honored they were to be representing the heart and soul of Southern cuisine, and the delicious food that has made the Loveless Cafe a culinary destination for decades.
Despite cultural changes that dot the timeline over the years, the Loveless Cafe remains true to what started it all in 1951: Serving true southern comfort food, encompassing a time when people ate what was indigenous to where they lived. Before the “super highways,” the rural South was a remote area with back roads leading to treasures known only to those who ventured down them. For years the Loveless was one of those treasures, located just yards from the northern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway, one of America’s oldest roads that extends south from Central Tennessee 444 miles to Natchez, Mississippi. The Loveless Cafe represents a treasure trove of memories “out Highway 100” and the generations of families who regularly return to relive those memories. Take the Oliphant family, for instance, who has eaten Easter Sunday breakfast at the Loveless Cafe every Easter for the past 49 years – now, that’s a family tradition!
Today the Loveless Cafe serves more than 450,000 guests a year and makes between 4,000 to 7,000 biscuits a day — still using that same secret recipe from Annie Loveless all those years ago. If only Lon and Annie could see today what their little cafe has become. As Donna McCabe, another long-time owner of the Loveless said, “People just like real food.”
The Loveless Cafe will always be a place where real people are welcome to come enjoy real Southern food!