Ernie Chaires opened Rosepepper Cantina in 2001 at 1907 Eastland Ave. near the corner of Porter Road. Josiah Johnson, Rosepepper’s bar manager and now acting operations manager after Chaires’ death, began working at the restaurant in 2002.
“I think a lot of the Rosepepper staff are in shock. The rest of us are just showing up and doing work the way that we should,” Johnson says.
Chaires was diagnosed with and treated for lymphoma four years ago, his daughter said. He beat it and was completely clear of cancer for several years. "Then four weeks ago he showed symptoms of the lymphoma's return, and sadly this time, was unable to beat it," she said.
"Up until weeks ago, we thought our dad was healthy and that even if he was sick, that we would have more than 4 weeks to be with him," she added
Johnson said Chaires was undergoing treatment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and even when his symptoms worsened last week, Johnson expected him to pull through.
“He joked around and said he was thinking about retiring after this last stint in the hospital,” Johnson says. “He was such a fighter. It was going to be a long road. But it didn’t work out that way.”
Johnson says he informed the staff of Chaires’ complications at their annual spring meeting on Tuesday, March 18, though all knew of Chaires’ health battle.
With almost 35 years in the restaurant industry, Chaires began his career as part of his father’s restaurant chain El Taco, Nashville’s first fast-service Mexican restaurant. In its heyday, the chain had seven locations between Nashville, Clarksville and Fort Campbell. He became a successful Taco Bell owner in Southern California, owning and managing 25 locations.
But Chaires’ heart was in East Nashville, and he returned in 1994, purchasing the now-closed Es Fernandos restaurant, on North Gallatin near Briley Parkway, from his father.
After he opened Rosepepper in 2001, it became a landmark at the intersection, which in recent years has become a restaurant hotspot, with Eastland Cafe, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, The Wild Cow, The Silly Goose, Two Ten Jack and more.
For a while, Chaires also owned and later expanded the popular music venue FooBar on Gallatin Pike,
selling it in September 2012.
“Our hearts go out to his family and his staff at Rosepepper, and to the staff at FooBar,” Joshua Goble, the bar’s owner, says, adding that many of the bar’s current staff worked for Chaires during his time as owner.
Chaires is survived by his wife Virginia, his daughters Andrea and Melissa, and his son Aaron.
In lieu of flowers, the Chaires family asks a donation be made in Ernie’s name to the Red Cross, a cause dear to his heart.
A memorial is planned at Rosepepper Cantina on Monday, March 31, at 7 p.m.