Family Business 

Fate Thomas Jr. does his father proud with West Side barbecue joint

Fate Thomas Jr. does his father proud with West Side barbecue joint

Fate’s Pig & Pie

7108 Charlotte Pk. 356-3060

10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

What’s in a name? When it came to Nashville politics in the ’70s and ’80s, few names carried more weight than Fate. A Nashville native who worked as a fireman on the railroad, then for the Sheriff’s Office, Fate Thomas was elected Davidson County Sheriff in 1972. The man was immensely more powerful than the office he held: Officially, Fate the sheriff ran the jail and served warrants, but in his day, Fate the man could make the difference between winning and losing an election.

Quite simply, if you were running for political office in the city, county, or state, you called on Sheriff Fate Thomas and hoped you walked away with his blessing. A staunch Catholic and Democrat, and a leader of the old Courthouse Gang, Thomas seemingly knew everyone in town. He was color-, class-, and money-blind, and he treated the Belle Meade elite no differently than blue-collar Joes from East Nashville. ”Hello, fellow worker, how’s the struggle?“ was his standard greeting to one and all.

He was, say those who knew him then, the quintessential good ol’ boy and the best grassroots politician who ever lived in Nashville. He knew the value of a firm handshake, a slap on the back, a favor profferred, a ride to the polls, a cold beer on a hot day, and a heaping plate of barbecue just about anytime at all.

According to Evelyn Rotier, Fate started cooking barbecue at Rotier’s Restaurant when he was still a boy. When he was in the service and stationed at Fort Campbell, he owned and operated a little barbecue joint off the base. Later, when he returned to Nashville, he had a place out by the fairgrounds. Fate’s barbecue—often cooked and dished out by Sherriff’s Office employees at political rallies and fundraisers—fueled many a volunteer, loosened contributors’ purse strings, and persuaded uncommitted voters.

It all came crashing down in 1990, when Thomas was indicted on federal charges of using his office for personal gain. His legion of friends and supporters still scoff at the notion. What did he gain personally, they ask, by using Sheriff’s Office workers to repair a senior citizen’s roof, or mow the lawn of a disabled veteran, or cook barbecue to raise funds for the myriad of charitable causes he supported? He was just being Fate, trying to help the helpless.

Thomas was defeated in his 1990 reelection bid by crusading, straight-arrow former FBI agent Hank Hillin. Later that year, he was convicted and sentenced, serving four years in federal custody in Texas before returning to a changed city and political landscape. He was not, however, forgotten by his powerful friends—among them former Govs. Lamar Alexander and Ned McWherter and former Mayor Richard Fulton—who contributed to a series of fundraisers held to pay off his debt to the IRS. Today Fate Thomas Sr. sells cars for Bob Frensley Chrysler.

Several days a week, if you want to say hello, you can find him hunkered down over a plate of barbecue at Fate’s Pig & Pie, his son’s roadside barbecue joint on Charlotte Pike just past the Super Wal-Mart. Besides his name—and a pretty good connection that led to a career in Metro Government—Fate Senior passed something else along to Fate Junior: how to cook a pig and the secret recipe for his barbecue sauce.

”I’ve been around politics and barbecue all my life,“ Fate Jr. says. It was politics that got him a job in the Sheriff’s Office in 1977, when he was still in high school at Father Ryan. It was his barbecue expertise that got him a job cooking for TomKats Catering in 1987, the first time he cooked for pay. He did that for a year, before being hired as a court officer by then-Judge Tom Shriver. He always wanted to get back into the food business full-time, and last summer, he took a leave from his job to join up with an old high-school buddy, Michael Mudd, after they won the concession contract for Nashville Shores. The venture was so successful that they began looking for a place of their own.

”I have a wife and two daughters. I’ll be 40 years old this May,“ says Fate Jr. ”It was time to step up to the plate and chase my dream. I knew this was the right place as soon as I saw it. If I was going to build a place, it would look just like this. But Ididn’t have to, because it was already here.“

Last November, Thomas gave official notice at his job and devoted himself to opening Fate’s Pig & Pie with partners Mudd and John Hamilton. Not even his name or connections could grease the wheels of the different Metro departments that had to extend permits and approvals: Though the partners were able to sell to-go orders almost from the start, the opening of the dining room was delayed until the beginning of this year.

These days, Fate’s is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:30 a.m to 8 p.m. There’s no sign on the building, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped anyone from finding the place. On any day of the week, at any time of day, there are a half-dozen people at the bar, nursing a cold beer and waiting on a to-go order. Groups of people sit at one of the dozen indoor tables or out on the screened patio, while young men and women play a game of darts. As the weather warms, the roll-up garage doors that separate the dining room and the patio are opened, and blues music wafts out to the dirt parking lot.

At least one of the three partners is always there, greeting customers, checking on the progress of the ribs, chicken, turkey, and pork (”Nashville’s Best Butts!“), or testing the sauce, which is made in six-gallon batches. The pretty waitresses are friendly and efficient, though they don’t rush you, which is good, because Fate’s Pig & Pie is the kind of place where you’ll want to stay a while.

Is it the best barbecue in town? I know better than to get into a barbecue discourse. But I will testify under oath that, in spite of the fact that I arrived at the Scene offices one afternoon right after lunch, a slab of ribs, a whole Mojo chicken, a pound of smoked turkey, two pounds of pork barbecue, three pints of slaw, and a 12-pack of buns was polished off in about 30 minutes.

What’s in a name? When it comes to barbecue in Nashville, not many carry more weight than Fate Thomas’. Fate Jr. is doing his daddy proud.

Foreign relations

Almost three years ago, Ali Shahosseini, a.k.a. Ali Shaw, a native of Iran, opened Ali Baba Restaurant in a little strip center on Thompson Lane. It became immensely popular for its fabulous eggplant appetizer, dolmeh, kabobs, and other Middle Eastern fare. Last year, Shaw opened another Ali Baba in the Arcade downtown.

The strain of operating two restaurants has been tough, and has meant little time to spend with his two young daughters, so Shaw recently sold the original Ali Baba—with the stipulation that chef Sohail Shabrokh, a fellow Iranian, stay on. The menu will also stay the same, though the name of the restaurant is being changed to House of Kebab. Shaw will remain at Ali Baba in the Arcade, where he hopes soon to introduce more exotic elements of Persian cooking.

Island hopping

The bad news for downtowners is that Allison Wills Brooks, who with husband Phil opened her first Calypso Cafe in Brentwood 10 years ago, has closed her Arcade Store. The good news for customers of the Thompson Road store is that she has closed that one as well and has opened another, much larger store just a few doors away. The newest of the three Calypsos, known for their rotisserie barbecue and Jamaican curried chicken, seats 70 indoors and more on picnic tables outside. The other two stores are on Elliston Place and in Madison (though the latter is a licensed store). Calypso has also moved its catering operations and offices to a much larger location.

Rumor mill

Word on the street—and in Nashville kitchens—is that there are signs of life at the former Slice of Life building on Division Street. The space is now undergoing an interior transformation and, sources say, will soon emerge as a jazz club/restaurant.

No details have yet been released on the restaurant going into the space in 12South formerly occupied by Laurell’s Central Market, though the new venture will be open for lunch and dinner, and the concept is strongly rumored to be tapas—Spanish for ”small plates.“ Word has it the eatery will be named Mirror.

That’s not the only restaurant news on 12th Avenue South. A restaurant that will be co-owned by a Florida chef—whose work is familiar to Nashvillians who vacation in Seaside Beach—is in the planning stages for a building currently under renovation. A fall opening is the goal.

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