Old New Nashville

Old New Nashville

Sperry’s Restaurant is entering its golden era

Words by Ashley Locke
Photos by Jackie Osborne


Finding a born-and-raised Nashvillian can feel like discovering a rare vinyl at a yard sale. Nashville, the thriving metropolis that's become a must-visit destination in recent years, is constantly reinventing itself. Yet, amidst the whirlwind of progress and growth, one place stands as a timeless gateway to old Nashville—the legendary Sperry's Restaurant.

Founded in 1974 by brothers Houston and Dick Thomas, Sperry’s has become a beloved part of Nashville's culinary history. Known for its Old English heritage and Southern charm, the restaurant exudes warmth and comfort. Its dim lights, dark wood, dark carpet, and crackling fireplaces create an atmosphere that feels extra cozy, especially when the temperature drops—a perfect setting for an intimate dinner.

Now owned by Houston's son, Al Thomas, and his wife Trish, the restaurant changed hands, but not heart. Al's connection to Sperry's goes back to his teenage years, where he started as a dishwasher at age 14 and gradually worked his way up. In 2000, he fulfilled his dream of taking over the restaurant from his father, navigating challenges and changes with a commitment to maintaining Sperry's timeless allure. Sperry's has not succumbed to the pressures of changing culinary trends or the rapid pace of modernization. Instead, it has found a new audience while staying true to its roots. "The thing that people say about Sperry’s is that it doesn’t change—that’s what’s made it so important to everybody," said Al. 

In the face of rumors about changes to the restaurant when he took over, Al remained steadfast. "We’ve done minor remodeling—pictures, light fixtures. I don’t want anyone to walk through the door and say ‘Wow, that’s different.’" The commitment to tradition extends beyond the ambiance to the menu itself. Sperry's prides itself on using only the finest products, including aged heavily marbled Western beef and the freshest seafood. The famous salad bar, a Nashville first, remains a staple.

Over the years, Sperry's has become a place of cherished memories for Nashvillians—wakes after funerals, parties after weddings, and kids' first nights out. The establishment has become a generational tradition, opening even on holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, and closing its doors only on Super Bowl Sunday. "It’s tough to do it, but the staff loves coming in and seeing all their old customers," said Al.

With hospitality driving tourism in the area, Nashville has seen numerous restaurants come and go—yet Sperry's stands. "Nashville goes in cycles. We’ve watched people open up everywhere. We’ve had people come into town and fall on their faces. We’ve watched people become really successful,” Al said. “But Nashville still embraces a lot of this old stuff. This is what it is—we just try to maintain it.”

The story of Sperry's is not just about the past; it's about passing the torch to the next generation. Al is preparing his daughter, Kate, to take on more responsibilities, ensuring that the restaurant remains a family tradition. Succession, as Al notes, is the hardest thing in any business, and Sperry's success in this regard is a nod to its deep-rooted place in the hearts of its owners and patrons alike.

As Sperry's gears up for its 50th anniversary celebration, the restaurant is inviting the community to join in the festivities. Al knows that the celebration is not just about the restaurant; it's about the people, the memories, and the traditions that have made Sperry's a timeless gem in Nashville's ever-evolving culinary landscape. 

In a town where change is the only constant, Sperry's has become a sanctuary—a place where generations of Nashvillians will continue to forge memories and traditions that withstand the test of time. 


Customer Memories:

“I finally graduated from college at the age of 80 while working a full-time job. My best friend and I celebrated this dream of mine at Sperrys with a special steak dinner.” - Linda Rhine

“Summer 2004, I had just graduated from St. Cecilia. I was at a friend’s graduation party when my friend got a phone call from her grandmother saying to stay calm, but Prince William was just a few tables away from her at Sperry’s. She said that my friend and maybe two others could come by the restaurant to gaze upon his Royal highness, but there could be no contact with him since he was surrounded by Scotland Yard. Of course we skipped the party to see a Royal in person! There were four of us, giggling teen girls giddy to see the Prince. We shuffled past the salad bar to the bathroom, side-eyeing the Prince’s table the whole time. Once to the bathroom we let out silent screams of excitement, calmed ourselves, and then walked back through the restaurant and out the door. We then waited in our friend’s car in hope of one more glance. Our patience paid off, because a short while later he came out with his friends. They stood outside of the front door for a bit talking, and we giggled and watched the whole time. He’s a lot taller in person! That was a memory I have and will forever cherish. Side note: a reporter wrote about a group of fawning teenage girls gawking at the Prince. Guilty! That was us.” - Ivie Murphy Hoffman

“When Steve Searcy and I spent our first Valentine’s Day together in 1970, I’m sure we thought that we would be spending Valentine’s Day together 50 years from then—but we had no way of knowing that we would be separated for 47 of those 50 years. Steve and I met and fell in love during the summer of 1969. A couple of years later we became engaged, but parental interference led to our breaking up. Steve asked me to elope, but I feared what my parents would do, and I said no. We broke up early in 1972 and married other people a few years later hoping that we would find the same love we had experienced together, but unfortunately that never happened for either of us. In 2019 Steve found me and called me—It was the phone call for which I had waited for 47 years. He told me that he had never stopped loving me, that he had thought about me everyday, that he had looked for me everywhere and that he knew he was going to love me for the rest of his life. It was hard for me to even imagine that he felt the exact same way about me that I felt about him when we hadn’t seen each other for 47 years. Not long after that phone call, I turned 65, and then eleven days later on Steve’s 67th birthday we got married in the foyer of my home with our children and closest friends present. We celebrated after the wedding by having dinner at Sperry’s with our family and friends.” - Janet Searcy