This story is part of a series marking the one-year anniversary of the 2020 tornadoes. Visit the series page here.
A year after a tornado tore through Germantown, one corner seems stuck in a time warp, where two neighborhood staples have yet to reopen their doors.
Extensive damage, drawn-out insurance battles and a global pandemic have slowed renovations to a crawl.
By the time the tornado passed by Dave Trett’s home in East Nashville, he knew something bad had happened. But it wasn’t until a friend in Germantown texted him that Trett realized his coffee shop, Red Bicycle Coffee & Crepes, might be in big trouble.
So, he hopped in his car and headed over.
“The window was shattered, and I climbed through, and there was just water streaming down from the ceiling,” Trett says. “I wasn’t thinking long term that, ‘this is bad.’ It was just more of, like, ‘Hey, I need to go get the water shut off.’ ”
Thus began a lengthy insurance battle that brought any hope of rebuilding to a halt. Trett says the coffee shop, the restaurant next door and the six condo owners upstairs each had their own insurance. He says it took about four months just to work out a deal.
Then there was COVID-19. Normally, businesses get reimbursed for all of their lost revenue when a crisis like a tornado shuts them down. But Trett says insurance only gave them about half of what they made the year before, assuming the cafe would have made less during the pandemic.
“All the money just kind of — it dried up. It went towards paying our continuing expenses. We’ve kept some people on staff through this entire time, and it went to paying them,” he says. “So, now, we’re at the end of the road where we’re trying to finish up our renovations, and we’re basically doing it out of pocket.”
Trett says the repairs are finally down to the finishing touches. Once Metro Codes signs off, he hopes to be serving to customers again this month.
But his next-door neighbor, the Germantown Café, is just getting started on its renovations.
“It has been a very, very slow process,” says Jeffrey Martin, the restaurant’s chef and managing partner. Instead of cooking gourmet meals, he’s spent the past year at home with his four kids.
“Most line cooks don’t have knuckle hair on their hands or anything. And the hairs on my hands have all grown back,” he says. “So, it has affected me, just not being able to go to work, from day one. I mean, it was my life.”
Martin says he wouldn’t trade the past year with his family for anything. He says he’s loved playing with his kids — and that he’s been taking the extra time with them to teach them how to bake.
But Martin can’t wait to make his beloved French onion soup and curried salmon for the masses in his new kitchen. He expects to be back at work by this summer.
“My hopes are that everybody gets to come back to a little normalcy,” he says. “Everybody is ready to get back to work and have everything open back up — restaurants open back up, everybody be able to just gather and be present in everybody’s everyday life.”
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.