Know Your Neighbor: Melanie Cochran
"The main reason we opened a restaurant is to try to make people realize maybe they can enjoy a meal that doesn’t involve animals. We never want to push it down anyone’s throat, but we thought maybe if they come here and enjoy their meal they might say, well, I don’t have to eat meat with every meal. That’s happened a lot, actually. Every meal we serve is vegan, and people sometimes don’t even realize that, and sometimes they’ll come in and talk about how much they like the food, and they’ll find out it’s all vegan and think, ‘Oh my gosh, I can eat vegan food and like it?’ So I think that’s one of our goals is to make vegan food good.”
It’s commonly accepted that motherhood of a toddler is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Doubling the amount of toddlers pushes it to the top of the list. Owning a restaurant is probably fourth or fifth down on that tally. Now, imagine owning a restaurant, parenting a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, and being an adjunct professor at Vol State, and, just to round it all off, playing in a band! It’s a wonder Melanie Cochran doesn’t look like some harried, bleary crone with a beeping phone and notes written on her hand. Instead, she’s a composed, pretty brunette with lively eyes and just enough tattoos to fit in on the East Side. Perhaps it’s the healthy diet.
She and her husband, John, opened up The Wild Cow on Eastland Avenue six years ago, and are on the precipice of opening their second place, Graze, around the corner in the space which until recently held The Silly Goose. The Wild Cow is a cozy, woodsy place with a dozen or so tables and paintings of cows on the wall, which is really about as bovine as the place gets. (Cheese is an option on a few dishes, though, if you want it.) Everything is organic and fresh. They do not own a microwave or a freezer.
It’s a small place, and indeed part of the attraction of opening a second venue is so they’ll have extra room over there to store the fresh produce and other items they need to make Buffalo Tempeh Strips and the Far Eastland Bowl, which is sautéed garlicky kale served over organic brown rice and topped with organic grilled tofu, carrot-daikon slaw and sesame seeds with a drizzle of house-made peanut sauce. Just typing that out makes a fellow hungry.
A Jackson, Miss., native, Cochran came to Nashville 20 years ago to go to Vanderbilt, where she majored in history. (And that is the subject of the two classes she teaches at Vol State on Gallatin Road.) “I lived in East Nashville when I was going to Vanderbilt, when it was not like this,” Cochran says, sipping on a coffee at Ugly Mugs, right around the corner from The Wild Cow. “I was probably the only Vanderbilt student who lived off Shelby. It was a lot less hip than it is now.”
It was while working at Beyond the Edge in 5 Points 11 years ago that she met John, who worked there also. They’ve been an item ever since, and married for six years now, which puts their matrimony at about the same age as the restaurant. Three years ago, their son Damien arrived, and a year ago, he was joined by his little brother, Killian. John helps keep the kitchen stocked and works in the kitchen. He used to be the main chef before he passed that baton to Nick Davis a few years ago.
Graze will open in March, with more vegan fare, but on an expanded plane with extra hands on deck. “When we started thinking about opening up Graze, our general manager and one of our other managers were interested in partnering with us,” Cochran says, “so that’s what we’re doing, and they’ll be running Graze for the most part.”
The extra space will afford expansion into areas the Wild Cow couldn’t contain. “There are things we’ve wanted to do at the Wild Cow like fresh juices,” Cochran says, “but we don’t have room for anything else, so we’re putting those things in the new place.”
And, oh yeah, the band! They’re called The Swanies, and you can find them on Facebook. Melanie plays bass and absolutely doesn’t sing. “We played Foobar a couple of weeks ago, and have a gig coming up at the East Room,” she says. “I suppose I’d say it’s punk rock, if I had to say.” Don’t look for a record release gig anytime soon. There are nappies to change, juice bars to stock, history to be taught, and carrots to shred. All in a day’s work.