Monday was a particularly busy day for Tim Ness, owner of the Cool Café restaurant in Franklin.
Like it’s been since he opened the place in 2005, Cool Café was closed Monday while Ness and his staff frantically prepared for an unusually large number of catering orders. What made it unusual — and a bit ironic — is the fact that Ness’ catering business has been slowed to a crawl the past couple of years from the impact of COVID-19.
“My catering is down, and I can’t afford to pay workers,” Ness said. “These last two years with COVID, I’ve not recovered. I’ve tried, trust me, I’ve tried, but I just can’t do it anymore.”
As the catering end of Ness’ operation came to a close Monday, so too will the rest of the Cool Café as it trickles out of business this week after serving Southern cooking and other specialties to a loyal customer base for the past 17 years. Final lunches will be served Tuesday through Friday, and then the doors close for good following the restaurant’s weekly feature of Steak Night Friday and Saturday.
“I’m tired, I’m worn out,” said Ness, who has another 46 years in the restaurant industry on top of his ownership era with the Cool Café. “I’m tired of doing 16- to 18-hour days. It’s exhausting. That’s what the restaurant business demands.”
Ness has heard from many of his customers, some wishing him the best in his retirement and others seemingly angry at his decision.
“Some are complaining and they’re yelling at me,” Ness said. “But I look at most of my customers, who are retirees, and I say, ‘Look, you’re retired, why won’t you let me?’ ‘Well, we won’t know where to go if you do that.’ ”
One who completely understands Ness’ desire to step away is Daisy King, longtime restaurateur in Nashville and Franklin and owner of Miss Daisy’s Kitchen next door to Cool Café.
“Tim and his wife, Pat, are ready to retire, so we can only wish them the best and a happy life with no stress,” King said. “The restaurant business is very stressful. They’re going to be missed by everybody, but they will be out with family and friends and having fun.”
Ness and King had formed a partnership of sorts over the past couple of years. As the Cool Café had to close for a while during the pandemic, King and Ness worked out an arrangement in which he would provide some of his specialties such as fried chicken and banana pudding to be sold as takeout through Miss Daisy’s.
He later cooked items that he wasn’t serving through Cool Café and would have King sell them off her shelves, delicacies such as chicken piccata, beef stroganoff and tenderloin stew.
“It’s been a great, great food relationship,” King said.
While he’s closing his operation, Ness is still hopeful someone can keep it going under new ownership.
“I am still trying to sell the business, very actively,” said Ness, who will be moving with his wife to their cabin on Kentucky Lake. “I’ve not given up on that yet. I still want to get it sold.
“For now, I’m looking forward to having more time with my wife and family.”
To make Steak Night reservations for Friday or Saturday, call 615-599-0338.