Aaron McClain, Owner Crafty Bastard and Mike Frede, Owner St. Lucille's, 8 Emory Place, November 2023
Emory Place has undergone tremendous change in recent years. Most of the northwestern side has gotten a complete overhaul, adding apartments to second floors and businesses below, including French Fried Vintage and Design AF. Pivot Point Gallery opened on the corner of the square and Lilienthal Gallery opened just on the other side at 23 Emory Place.
The southeastern side of the square has long featured Crafty Bastard, owned by Aaron McClain, beside Central Street at 6 Emory Place, with a long line of offices beside it. That is now changing, as St. Lucille’s plans to offer Cajun Food at 8 Emory Place in an area that has its share of breweries, but not so much restaurants. Mike Frede, owner of Last Days of Autumn Brewing and St. Lucille’s, will open the restaurant and will coordinate service with the adjacent Crafty Bastard, much as Hole in the Wall Pizza does at their west location. Hole in the Wall is also owned by Michael.
The space is large and abuts Crafty Bastard, but will remain a separate business, but customers will be allowed to order from the menu in both Crafty Bastard, as well as St. Lucille’s. A large kitchen to the rear will accommodate food preparation for customers in both businesses. In order to reduce requirements for grease retention, there will be no fried food on the menu. The space includes a large skylight and a second floor which may eventually be used for events.
Aaron saw the space come open and felt strongly it was time for the spot to revert from office to commercial space. After eight years at the location, Aaron had identified their two main issues as “lack of extra seating . . . and more importantly, food.” While working with some great food trucks helped them with the second issue, he longed for help with the first issue and a more steady solution for the second. With the cooperative relationship with Hole in the Wall in mind, he reached out to Mike to gauge his interest and Duane Grieve, owner of 8 Emory Place (Aaron owns 6), to secure a lease.
Duane Grieve, who has owned the building since the 1980s was happy to see the shift from office space to commercial, though he was also pleased to keep the previous tenants, Baker Foster Potter P.C., who moved to a larger space next door. Grieve said, “Crafty has been a great neighbor. I’m excited to see there is going to be a full-service restaurant on Emory Place.”
Mike was on board immediately and knew the concept he wanted to put in place. “I always do a lot of Cajun specials at Last Days. We do red beans and rice, gumbo, and po’ boys. When I went to culinary school, fifteen years ago, they offered weekend classes as well . . . and a lot of them were Cajun cooking . . . I learned how to make green gumbo and make my own boudin . . . So I’ve had this in my head for a while. It’s going to be Cajun, but we’re going to gear it toward vegetarian and seafood dishes and lean into that. It seems like we have more of a need for vegetarian food.” Aaron said his crowd often prefers vegetarian from the various food trucks.
I had dinner recently at Last Days of Autumn to sample some of the fare we might expect as they (Michael along with chef Eric New) offered a Cajun menu as a teaser for what might be available in the restaurant. I enjoyed barbeque shrimp (good) and a crab cake sandwich (awesome). The menu (pictured here) also included garbanzo hot cakes, both sausage and cochon de lait (suckling pig) po’ boys, chicken and sausage gumbo, and mushroom and kale etouffee (vegetarian). He said to expect a changing menu, with seafood and other specials. “Right now we are testing what people like . . . I’ve always liked to play with recipes.”
Aaron also, though born and raised in east Tennessee, has a strong connection to the cuisine. “My mom and my dad and as far back as anyone knows from either side is from New Orleans to Pensacola . . . Even though I’m not from there, I spent so much time down there, and all the family stories are from down there. I’ve eaten that cuisine a ton and I’m really excited to pair with that. My grandfather on my mom’s side was a firefighter and he was the cook for the firehouse . . . he did gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, shrimp boils. That’s how I grew up eating every time we went to see my folks.”
While the two spaces won’t be connected, the St. Lucille’s menu will be available in Crafty and items will be delivered to your table. A less extensive beer selection will be available in St. Lucille’s, but it will include the Crafty Bastard Marquis De Pils, which will be exclusive to the restaurant. “It’s made with French ingredients and pairs well with French cuisine . . . I’m good at making beer, Mike is good at this.”
The name carries a couple of references. Michael has a friend whose grandmother is from Louisiana . . . her name is Lucille and her grandmother name is “Saint.” She’s 94 years old and still making them gumbo for Christmas and they call her “Saint Lucille.” Aaron said, “We were looking at different names and he called me one day and said ‘Saint Lucille’s’ and I said ‘that’s it.'” He also pointed out the resonance with the location of iconic Old City bar, Lucille’s which operated in the 1990s, just a few blocks to the south.
In addition to beer, the restaurant will offer wine and liquor. The west location of Crafty produces and sells their own wine and that hasn’t been possible at the downtown location because they haven’t had a food menu. As that changes with the opening of St. Lucille’s, you’ll be able to buy their wine there, as well.
I asked about the timeline and the two of them laughed. They have a good construction crew and the city has, by their accounts, been easy to work with so far. Still, things can go awry, so they are cautious. It sounds like the first quarter of the year is likely. In the meantime, you’ll want to follow them on Instagram and Facebook so you can get the news as it develops. I’ll meet you in the spring over a pot of gumbo!