In The Kitchen With An Original: Roderick Bailey


Roderick Bailey of Silly Goose

Chef Roderick Bailey needed a break by the time he got to Nashville. He’d cooked in Memphis, Charleston, New York City, Portland and elsewhere by the time he arrived here five years ago.

He was looking for a recharge, a fresh start. So, after a couple of months, Bailey, now 37, went to work with Provence Breads, and soon was managing stores. It was his first time out of a kitchen in years, and it didn’t take long for him to realize he’d strayed from his true passion.

“I love those people, but it turned into a job. I really needed to cook again,” Bailey says. “So I found a tiny little place in East Nashville on Craigslist and opened Silly Goose.”

He was among the first in the mixed-use urban development Walden on Eastland Avenue, which now also includes Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, the vegetarian spot Wild Cow, a coffee shop and others that have sprung up around him. Silly Goose now occupies twice the space of the original.

“I didn’t have an oven or a hood, so I bought a couple of George Foreman grills, a Panini press, a spice grinder, ice cream maker and an air pot for boiling,” he says. “I figured I could make sandwiches and couscous to start. I didn’t even have a dishwasher.”

Bailey would open at 7 a.m., work until 10 or 11 at night and cook until 2 or 3 a.m. It was a grind, he says, but he was doing what he loved. He’d make balsamic reduction, cook bacon, prepare ice cream bases – all the things he couldn’t do in the restaurant. And he did that for three years before he finally added a couple of employees.

In the spring of 2011, Silly Goose closed to expand into the new space, adding luxuries like a commercial dishwasher, six burners and two ovens, along with twice the seating capacity.

“Sandwiches and couscous got me in the business. Some people come in here and order the Bird or the King Kong every time, so I couldn’t just shut that down on the community that supported me,” he says. “Over time we started doing a little dinner insert. You can still order all of the original items, but now we can also offer fish and steaks, ribs, vegetarian dishes… whatever sounds good.”

That element of surprise – mixed with familiarity – is what Silly Goose has become known for. It’s still T-shirts and jeans and good music, a laid back vibe that fits East Nashville and welcomes anyone. Bailey says that you can have fun, even with a $30 entrée, and that treating people right is the only rule.

The menu changes regularly, and they use local purveyors however possible. They buy from the Farmers’ Market and have established relationships all over town. Any bit of bread that they don’t make in-house, for instance, is baked by Provence.

He’s not a “clipboard chef” – Bailey still filets his own fish and works the pans – but the space is already maxed out again. Instead of adding seats, he’s looking at different concepts in the neighborhood. Ideas are still coming together.

“Cooking is what makes me happy, but I want to continue to grow. I realize that I can’t do 12 hour days behind the stove forever, but that’s what I love to do,” Bailey says. “We’re looking at some other concepts, maybe a small plates/tapas kind of thing, where you don’t have to choose one entrée.”

Having lived all over the country, he says Nashville – and particularly East Nashville – has been an incredible place to start a business. And while we’re still a little weak on things like ethnic food, Bailey says the city has grown by leaps and bounds in the last five years. We’ve done it by supporting each other.

Organizations like Nashville Originals help maximize promotional opportunities, celebrate each other and encourage partnerships among members.

“It’s good to be able to support the cause, and things like Restaurant Week can bring a lot of business,” he says. “I’ve never spent any money on advertising, so this just feels better to me – emphasizing relationships and the sustainability of the local economy. Farmers and suppliers and restaurants and customers, all working together. Of my 16 employees, 15 can walk to work.”

All of that fits where we are, as a city. As the Chef puts it, “it feels like home.”