A large, out-of-the-blue tornado hit downtown Nashville in early March, leaving casualties and demolished buildings. It was the type of natural disaster where, if power outages were the only thing that people experienced, it seemed like a reprieve.

David DavoudpourDavid Davoudpour, Chairman and CEO, Shoney’s, Nashville, Tenn.Nashville-based Shoney’s, a family dining chain with 150-plus units, decided to keep its restaurant closest to the storm’s path open. The restaurant offered warm meals in a comforting environment at no cost for those affected and all first responders. For three nights following the tornado, Shoney’s provided comfort, camaraderie and much-needed sustenance to those affected by the disaster, along with first responders.

Q: How did Shoney’s organize the food and service following the tornado?

A: Shoney’s is America’s Dinner Table, and we treated those affected and first responders like royalty in their time of need. Our guests could enjoy everything we have to offer for free. Our team members stepped up with the great food and friendly service we are famous for. Both staff and our guests needed this, and we were privileged to provide it.

Q: How did it turn out?

A: It was phenomenal. There were tears and smiles under the same roof, and both proved therapeutic. Our warm, free meals were almost secondary. People needed to congregate, see one another and console one another. We were blessed to provide the setting and food. We treated hundreds over the three-day call to rise up for our community and wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Q: Did you have mostly first responders attend?

A: Anecdotally, it was a mix. We had guests whose homes are no longer there, neighbors without power, and first responders who were simply whipped and in need of a meal and a place to sit down. We didn’t categorize a thing. We just wanted to be there for everyone.

Q: What kind of food was available?

A: Freshly prepared original recipes from Shoney’s team of culinary experts. We cut no corners with the free meals. We offered everything served at the industry’s highest-quality standards. Our menu appeals to everyone. If you want it, you’ll find it here. And they did.

Q: Did the food and comfort connect people?

A: Without a doubt, we created lifelong friendships and brand affinity along the way. One of our guests, a firefighter
named Tony Murrell, returned off duty to console those affected. He was grateful for the comfortable respite and meal after his 14-hour day following the tornado. He said, “Shoney’s offered me a chance to talk to people who had been affected by the storm. Even off duty, I wanted to listen to people’s stories and offer what comfort I could.”

Q: Has it been an all-out effort to help those in need?

A: I’m in awe of all the people who have offered to help out since the tornado hit. The response from the people of Nashville coming together is amazing. It’s unbelievable. It really shows what we can do as a whole, working together. I believe it is human nature to give. You want to do as much as possible. You try to do anything you can to help.