Hattie B’s Heats Up Nashville’s Hot-Chicken Scene

Editor’s note: During each Chips Quinn orientation and multimedia training in Nashville, Tenn., scholars are required to complete a mobile media reporting module, which includes producing videos and reporting and writing stories. Their work is displayed here.

0715_nguyenby Brian Nguyen

Shanghai residents Luan Jun and Chen Li knew what their first stop would be while visiting their daughter in Nashville, Tenn.: Hattie B’s Hot Chicken. The couple made a beeline for the eatery after leaving their hotel.

This was their second trip to Hattie B’s. Their first occurred during their initial visit to their daughter, a student at Vanderbilt University.

“Very hot,” Chen Li said, as she wiped the sweat off her brow.

Hattie B’s is the latest incarnation of the Nashville staple by Nick Bishop and his son, Nick Bishop Jr. In 2012, the Bishops opened Hattie B’s in the Midtown neighborhood after demands for the hot chicken they served at a restaurant owned by the elder Bishop, Bishop’s Meat and Three in nearby Franklin, kept increasing.

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Shanghai residents Luan Jun, 46, left, and Chen Li, 42, right, eat hot chicken at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, Tenn. The couple are visiting their daughter, who attends Vanderbilt University. (Photo: Brian Nguyen/Summer 2015)

The Bishops “ended up saying, ‘Maybe we need a hot-chicken restaurant,’ and so Hattie B’s was born,” said the restaurant’s general manager, Jordan Luckett.

The restaurant has been a hit, judging by Hattie B’s expansion to other locations in Nashville and the owners’ plans to make hot chicken one of the city’s hottest exports after music.

Last year, the Bishops opened a Hattie B’s on Charlotte Avenue in Nashville. Recently, Luckett said, we “got a food truck and a catering kitchen off the ground so we can do special events. Beginning next year, we’re going to start working on a third store, and after that they’re looking at expanding it out of Nashville.”

Hattie B’s has become a destination restaurant for locals and tourists alike, Luckett said. At the Midtown location on 19th Avenue South, the restaurant averages 100 people an hour, with an even split between locals and out-of-towners. On most days, the line of people seeking their hot-chicken fix curves down the ramp and around the corner before the restaurant even opens.

“I got to Nashville last night and was going to get barbecue, but my friends said hot chicken is the way to go,” said Kristen Bender, a product manager for a Massachusetts recording company. For Bender, the heat was overwhelming. “I love spicy food, and it’s too much for me,” she said.

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An order of dark chicken, prepared at the “hot” heat level, awaits a diner at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, Tenn. A newcomer on the hot-chicken scene, Hattie B’s is expanding throughout the Nashville area, and its owners have set their sights on opening restaurants in Memphis, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala. (Photo: Brian Nguyen/Summer 2015)

Diners at Hattie B’s decide how hot and spicy their chicken will be. They can choose from heat levels that range from “Southern” (no heat) to “shut the cluck up,” which, registering at over 1 million heat units on the Scoville scale, is four times hotter than a habanero pepper. The scale measures the level of capsaicin, a component of chili peppers.

“It’s something you have to work your way up to,” Luckett said of the hottest chicken prepared by Hattie B’s chefs. “We only served the ‘damn hot’ (level) until people born in Nashville told us it’s not hot enough.”

Part of the appeal of hot chicken is the almost drug-like effect it has on diners, according to one popular theory.

“People say that when you eat hot food, endorphins are released,” Luckett said. “You get it really hot one time, and it releases all those endorphins. And each time you eat it, it releases less. So you keep on climbing up and up and up.”

Kiara Johnson, a housekeeping employee at Vanderbilt, was less interested in the heat and more focused on another aspect of the chicken: its succulence.

“It’s really good and juicy,” she said. “I’m going to tell everyone to come try it out, and I’ll come back.”

“Probably tomorrow,” Johnson’s fiancé, Victor Witherspoon, interjected.

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