A career as a Chef and restauranteur was always a dream for Sarah Gavigan, the Chef and owner of POP Nashville and Otaku Ramen, but she never imagined it would be Ramen that would make her fall in love enough to take the plunge.
Born to a second generation Sicilian and third generation Nashvillian, raised just south of Nashville Tennessee, Gavigan inherited deep culinary roots between two cultures in her family’s kitchen. The love of food was always present, but it wasn’t until college that the curiosity to cook struck her. It was her grandmother’s scratch manicotti that she craved, and the only way to get it while in school at Arizona State University in Tempe, was to make it. With one trip to the grocery store and one very expensive phone call to her grandmother, the dish was complete. After enjoying her achievement with friends, Gavigan quickly realized the joy that comes with cooking for friends.
After graduating with a bachelor of arts in Broadcast Journalism, Gavigan set her sights on breaking into the film business in Los Angeles. As her career in the film production industry began to take off and her passion for food took a backseat. Establishing herself as an agent representing cinematographers and production designers, Gavigan founded her own agency, Tenth House, Inc. in 1997. Ready for a new challenge, she sold the agency in 2001 and then helped trail blaze the developing field of synchronization music licensing through her second entrepreneurial expedition, Ten Music, an agency which helped independent record labels and worked to get their music played in TV commercials.
In 2010 after 17 years successful and wonderful years in the City of Angels, Gavigan’s family ties beckoned her back home to Tennessee. Upon settling in Nashville with her husband Brad and daughter Augusta, Gavigan realized it wasn’t the excitement of Los Angeles or her former careers that she missed, but instead the Japanese neighborhood’s of the sprawling LA landscape. The Izakaya and Yakitori joints of Torrance to the Ramen Shops on Sawtelle saw Gavigan nearly once a week in her tenure in Southern California.
Without a local source for her beloved Japanese soul food in Nashville, Gavigan set out to make create a pop-up Ramen Shop that she would called OTAKU SOUTH. in the summer of 2013. With zero experience in a professional kitchen, and no resources to teach her how to make ramen, she taught herself the craft by watching Japanese ramen videos online and by good old trial and error. Working in her home kitchen and serving friends to experiment with her style, word got out. Soon Gavigan received a call from Chef Erik Anderson, one of the opening Chef’s of hailed restaurant The Catbird Seat. After one bowl of Gavigan’s ramen, Anderson knew that Nashville needed to know about her, and with one picture and a tweet from the restaurants’s twitter feed and her life was forever changed. People paid attention.
The skills she acquired in nearly two decades in the film production industry served her well in organizing and executing her pop-up restaurant all over Nashville. In just 10 short months the pop-up had served 9 sold out dinners, sometimes serving over 250 bowls in one go.
After one year of going it alone, Gavigan took the offer to deepen her education on Ramen and travel to New York and train with with renowned ramen master Shige Nakamura of Sun Noodle, which would prove to be an invaluable experience. With a new confidence and a giant commissary kitchen in East Nashville, Gavigan was ready to expand the operation and began serving 2 nights a week at the Nashville Farmers Market.
Lighting struck again when ownership of the building her commissary kitchen was within changed hands and the new owner offered Sarah and her husband Brad an opportunity to partner on a new concept. POP Nashville was born in May of 2014, not only giving the couple a first chance at running a restaurant but a “permanent pop-up” concept that gave Otaku South a home in the dining room of POP until a full time brick and mortar was found.
Suddenly Otaku had secured it’s future, while also welcoming new chefs, cuisines, cultures, and ideas into the space. The Gavigan’s had envisioned a convertible restaurant, pop-up and event space that would help people tell their stories through food, art and music.
Gavigan’s creative drive and entrepreneurial spirit provide the backbone to her success. She dreamed of being a chef for most of her adult life (or at the very least, in the business of bringing people happiness with food), and feels fortunate to have found that vehicle through ramen. In December 2015, Gavigan and her husband Brad opened Otaku Ramen in The Gulch neighborhood, their first brick and mortar restaurant and Nashville’s first dedicated ramen shop.
Coming next for the quickly growing hospitality group now named POP Nashville, is another POP incubated concept called Little Octopus, now under construction in the Gulch to open in Fall of 2016 near Otaku Ramen.