“When we started Lockeland Table, I knew I wanted our happy hour to give back to the community,” Cara Graham says. “There were so many ways to do so. At the time, a tree was planted for every featured bottle of wine sold. There are so many awesome companies out there doing things like that, and if we support each other, we can really make a difference.”
When Graham speaks of giving back to the community, she isn’t bragging. From her tone of voice and enthusiasm, it’s plain she considers locally focused-altruism as integral to business as proper accounting or creative marketing. It’s a conviction she shares with her business partner, Chef Hal Holden-Bache, and it’s a commitment that has propelled Lockeland Table to its beloved status in East Nashville.
“[Community involvement] is just something I’ve always taken part in whether it was Big Brothers Big Sisters or donating to charity auctions,” Graham says. “Hal has supported the Leukemia Association for years. It’s just part of who we are and what we do.”
This powerful East Nashville team also creates great restaurants. When Graham and Holden-Bache first met in 2006, they already had years of separate work experience in fine dining. With Graham as general manager and Holden-Bache as Executive Chef, they guided Eastland Café to the top of Nashville’s dining community. In 2012, they made the decision to strike out on their own with a new venture, Lockeland Table.
From the beginning of Lockeland Table, a strong emphasis on giving back to East Nashville was front and center, but Graham soon believed supporting worthy charities wasn’t enough. She wanted a personalized and locally focused effort.
“I wanted to give even more back to the community,” she says. “My son was a kindergartner at Lockeland Elementary, and I started talking to other parents. I told them I wanted to have a happy hour where a portion of the proceeds would go directly to the schools, and I would get this weird look from them. It took me three months to figure out the program, and I had to change the name because parents were associating happy hour with drinking.”
While adult beverages remained a part of Graham’s concept for Lockeland Table’s “Community Hour,” the program expanded far beyond the alcohol-fueled, end-of-the-workday unwinding typical of most happy hours. Instead, it has become a daily neighborhood social gathering frequented by locals and their children, along with an ever-growing number of tourists looking for a homey, locally focused taste of East Nashville.
Each Community Hour brings great food, great drinks, and an ever-popular supply of creative toys to engage young minds while mom and dad socialize. (For a taste of the typical Community Hour, check out the feature story in last month’s Food & Drink Issue).
The money raised from the Community Hour goes directly to the PTOs for Lockeland Elementary Design Center and Isaac Litton Middle School. The funds pay for student supplies, classroom iPads, and a variety of other learning needs.
“As it has grown, more people have supported it, meaning more money we can give,” Graham says. “It’s definitely my baby of community service.”
Community Hour may be the centerpiece of Lockeland Table’s service to the community, but both Graham and Holden-Bache are active in a variety of other forms of community service.
“I’m currently co-chair of the Martha Maddox Fund, which has a special place in my heart because I see the impact it has on children,” Graham says. “I see the literacy program in action. I see kids receiving swimming lessons paid for by the money we’ve raised, and it makes me want to work even harder. It’s a foundation that’s so important to our community and one of the things that make East Nashville, East Nashville.”
Ultimately, Lockeland Table’s success goes beyond the financial and the culinary, and while receiving the award for East Nashvillian of the Year is an honor for Graham and Holden-Bache’s business, simply belonging to East Nashville’s business landscape carries its own rewards and responsibilities.
“You have to start in your backyard and support the people around you,” Graham says. “You don’t give to get, but it is true that building a stronger community helps your business thrive. More businesspeople need to understand that concept — giving back is a win all the way around.”