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When Mikey Corona and husband Brian Riggenbach started their underground supper in Chicago, Ill. they had the same vision in mind that they keep today: to create a warm atmosphere for friends to eat and enjoy each other’s company. Flash forward years later, and, even in the face of insurmountable adversity brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, that space is still open for business.
A signature piece, the mirrored mockingbird by Chicago artist Phillip Vance, visually serenades patrons into the Nashville dining area covered in flowered wallpaper and classic blue cushioned booths topped in finished wood. It’s not a place you would expect to have experienced any recent hardships.
“We made the decision to close our restaurant before the first orders went into place,” says Corona. “We saw what was happening, and for the safety of all of our staff, we had a discussion with all of our business partners and we were kind of on the forefront of that.”
At just 2 ½ years old, The Mockingbird paused on March 17, shutting down operations and informed their staff they needed to file for unemployment as soon as possible. The couple then went into the kitchen and took all of the perishable foods to distribute to them, offering their staff as many resources as possible to get them through that period. The two bunkered down and waited, while finishing a few projects here and there to pass the time.
“There’s always something to do,” says Riggenbach. “There’s a million little things always on the list.”
The Mockingbird closed down completely for approximately two weeks, then opened back up for curbside, and many of the locals and fans of the restaurant came out to support them. They changed the menu slightly to fit the general needs of the community, transforming the previous business model.
“We have never been a to-go heavy restaurant,” says Corona. “Our venue is more of a place where people come for the atmosphere, the decor, the vibe, our staff’s kick ass personalities as well as the food, so that was difficult for us.”
After a surge of support for takeout in the beginning, the support slowly dwindled down as the pandemic went on. Corona and Riggenbach, both first time restaurant owners, suffered anxiety because of it.
“We spent the past 3 years creating this incredible team of employees, and you become a family, and you want to take care of every single one of them,” says Riggenbach. “In the kitchen, it’s less than ⅓ of what we are used to producing, so some of the positions just weren’t there to be filled.”
“Hard is an understatement,” says Corona. “We all sat in the room, it was quiet, there were tears. It was never ‘goodbye’, it was ‘we will be back together later’.”
The owners say there were some glimmers of hope where one day they would have 50 take out orders, and then the next day they would have two. What they describe as a roller coaster ride of emotions. Being a married couple, Corona and Riggenbach were not in the position of other couples, where one works in a different arena and can pick up some of the slack. They were in the trenches together, riding the same waves at the same time.
Takeout platforms like Grubhub, UberEats and Postmates can take a huge part of that revenue, which Corona estimates at about 30%, so if you have something that costs $10, and they take 30%, and your food cost is 25%, there’s not much room to do anything but break even. The alternative is to lose that sale, so it’s better for some restaurants to throw themselves on that sword. However, calling them directly to order takeout is always more helpful to the business. When you lose 70% of your customer volume to a pandemic, every dime is essential.
After reopening for dinner, stretching tables apart and reducing the menu by ⅓ and rotating seasonal items, the couple revisited foods on their supply chain that were less accessible. Masks were placed at the front door, increased hand washing policies set in place, sanitization stations set across the restaurant, signs were placed about social distancing, and disposable menus were laid out. Suddenly details like brand presentation and decor took a backseat to safety.
The couple fears that a second shutdown would be another gut punch that could be devastating, and right now, they have to give it all they’ve got. Riggenbach is doing all of the prep work and pastries himself, while Corona is running the front of the house, which has caused an increase in hours for both of them.
“We don’t do any work talk at home,” says Corona. “When Brian gets home, that’s sort of his time to set work aside. We have a new studio in our home, and he’s able to focus on his painting. My time that’s really helped me cope is in the afternoon, when I get to go home and visit with our dogs. That’s my time to just cuddle them, and it’s pure love and positivity.”
The federal relief helped, and the couple says they appreciate it, but compares it to a bandaid on a severed arm, and that the industry experienced a traumatic injury. It can’t be solved with an aspirin, we need a surgeon. They say our government needs to create new systems that re-examine how the crisis has been handled.
“This crisis has unveiled the restaurant curtain,” says Corona. “These are the margins we operate off of, and they are very slim. We’ve seen a lot more consideration from the public of what restaurants go through.”
The failure rate for restaurants is enormous compared to other industries. That rate in the United States is above 60% for restaurants in their first year, and 80% don’t make it past their 4th birthday. Nearly 16,000 restaurants across the country have permanently closed since the pandemic began, and that number is growing. The Mockingbird has continued to beat those odds for 3 years in a row.
The couple says before the pandemic, The Mockingbird clientele was 60% tourist and 40% local, and now their business is about 35% of that 40% local, with little to no tourists. Small businesses employ nearly half of private sector workers, with nearly 11% of those working in the hospitality industry. This awakening can put the number of multi-billion dollar corporations receiving tens of millions in federal PPP money into perspective. SEC filings turned up a total of 179 public companies, all worth over a billion dollars, that received tens of millions in aid.
The Mockingbird is not just a small business, but a safe space. The restaurant has not only hosted Dining Out for Life events since its inception, but numerous other events for LGBTQ causes.
“WE MISS YOU QUEENS!” says Corona. “Our community is what sort of gave us the confirmation that we were supposed to be doing what we are doing. That yes, this is why we are here. So we really wanted to create a second home for the community. It’s a relationship that we don’t take lightly, and we miss it terribly.”
A PRIDE flag sits at the entrance of The Mockingbird to greet all who enter, and the owners say it will be there when their family comes back.
Corona and Riggenbach had been together 15 years and were working their way through art school in Chicago when they decided to host supper parties in their Boystown home. Riggenbach would prepare the food, while Corona would set the table and lay out the atmosphere and performers. Their very first private dinner party was a “who’s who” of the Chicago LGBTQ community. The successful parties continued for 8 years before Riggenbach appeared on an episode of “Chopped”, and the couple decided to realize their Nashville dream.
The owners say they purposefully looked to foster their community, and at its core, the restaurant kept the goal of inclusivity in mind.
Corona and Riggenbach say the most popular items on the menu are the “Don’t Worry, Brie Happy” (a grilled cheese with whipped brie, jalapeno jam and chimichurri), “Rice, Rice, Baby” (a pimento cheese arancini with pickled pepper, grilled scallion and chamoy), but Corona’s favorite are the Tatchos (Lamb chili, beer cheddar, tater tots, scallion and crema).
“I grew up in South Texas and we have this dish called frito pies,” says Corona. “It’s basically Fritos topped off with chili and cheddar cheese. Brian, being my husband and a chef, sometimes will do things just to make me happy, so we put that on the menu. Happy Mikey, happy lifey.”
Actress and Producer Reese Witherspoon mentions the Totchos dish in her book “Whiskey in a Teacup”, in which she infuses Southern style, parties, and traditions she loves with contemporary flair and charm.
Favorite beverages at the restaurant include a drink sparked by their honeymoon in Havana, Cuba. The couple kept ordering mojitos during their trip and getting mint stuck in their teeth. When they opened the restaurant, they felt they needed a drink to commemorate that special moment, the Cuba En Fuego. The drink uses Havana Club Rum, mint and lime that’s been pureed and strained, and a jalapeno simple syrup to add a little feisty to the mix.
“Every time I serve it, it gives me that special moment again,” says Corona. “I’m taken back to that time and it’s a brief escape from whatever is going on at the time.”
One thing was evident during this interview before it began. Mikey Corona and Brian Riggenbach have a lot of love to give, and together they’ve created a warm space with great food, tasty drinks, an appreciation for diversity of taste, and a welcoming atmosphere for the community.
The Mockingbird is currently open for dinner from 5-9pm Tuesday-Sunday, with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30am-3:30pm. You can make a reservation by clicking HERE and order takeout by calling them at 615.741.9900.
For those with a thirst to celebrate, Red Bull Unlocked is the key. In city after city, the most exciting bars, clubs, mixologists, performing artists, and more take over a local landmark building to showcase their signature ambiance while also collaborating for a must-see mashup. And now it's Music City’s turn to seize the spotlight, as the event brings 10 bars together in East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood.
Fueled by the best of Nashville’s thriving music scene, Red Bull Unlocked has curated an eclectic night of show-stopping entertainment performances including a pop-up Whiskey Jam show, DJ sets, musicians, and more. The full lineup is here:
- Whiskey Jam (feat. Dozzi, Willie Shaw, and Johnny Hayes)
- A.B. Eastwood
- Daisha / Rap Girl
- Boom Bap (DJ Collective feat. DJ-Rate, Case Bloom)
- Whiskey Disco (DJ Collective feat. Coach, Jim O'Shea)
- Old Crow Medicine Show’s Jerry Pentercost (DJ Set)
- DJ Stretch
- DJ Griffin Green
- The Play Mates (Drag Show feat. Sasha, Vanity, Deception, Aura Mayari, Corlis Todd, and Carmin Triple C)
Counting down to the epic celebration, Daisha shares, “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to perform in so many of Nashville’s top spots all in the same night. Fans can expect a lot of bops and high energy. I want people to dance and have a good time.”
Ward Guenther, Whiskey Jam Founder, adds, “Red Bull has been enjoyed at Whiskey Jam since the very first night, so it's only fitting Whiskey Jam is enjoyed at Nashville's first Red Bull Unlocked. Looking forward to this!”
Red Bull Unlocked Istanbul
Photo courtesy of Red Bull
Local favorites including Pearl Diver, Tin Roof, Lipstick Lounge, White Limozeen, and more will join forces for one epic night. Full list of bars and partners below:
- The Dive Motel
- Lipstick Lounge
- Pearl Diver
- Play Dance Bar
- Rosemary & Beauty Queen
- The Stage
- Tin Roof
- Whiskey Jam
- White Limozeen
- Woolworth Theatre – Opening Fall 2022!
- Eleven Eleven - Opening 2023!
Date: August 21, 2022
Time: 6 PM – 11PM CT
Location: 1102 Forrest Ave, Nashville, TN 37206
Entrance: Ticked event
Rumble Boxing, the boxing-inspired group fitness studio, opened its doors for the first time in Nashville on June 20 at 609 Overton St, Nashville, TN. The hottest workout on the block is hosting its official grand opening from August 4th-7th with daily classes, membership specials, and prizes from local vendors. The new Rumble Boxing studio is currently offering a buy one class, get one free promotion for the Nashville community.
Rumble Boxing delivers 45-minute, 10-round, strength and conditioning group workouts, crafted around teardrop-style aqua boxing bags and high-intensity strength training circuits. This brings all fitness levels together to experience what Rumble is known for: combining the sweet science of boxing with high energy and positive vibes.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
This boutique fitness brand offers serious benefits like increased stamina and strength, with cardio that’s actually fun. The seasoned trainers at the new studio are thrilled to serve their local community while offering this fun, new modern approach to boxing and welcome members of all fitness levels to the Rumble family.
The new Rumble Boxing studio is owned and operated by Blake Baskin and Antonio Compton. With their background in the fitness industry, this dynamic duo is excited to bring their passion for boxing and group fitness to Nashville. As business and life partners, Blake and Antonio aim to create a strong community within their new Rumble Boxing studio and share their message of non-apologetic inclusivity.
Black and Gay-Owned Business
Rumble Boxing Store with Dolly Parton Mural
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“We own who we are, and this brand aligns with that perfectly,” said Antonio. “This is what we want to create and bring to this community: a fitness class that is designed for anyone and a place for people to be who they are. As a Black and gay-owned business, we want to help lower the division we see in the world right now. Our goal is to bring people together through Rumble, set everything aside, and have fun.”
To echo their message of acceptance and inclusion, Blake and Antonio commissioned a local Nashville artist to paint an 11 X 6-ft. mural of Nashville icon and philanthropist, Dolly Parton. The massive portrait features the country star in Rumble Boxing gear in the lobby of the studio.
The excitement and buzz around Rumble allowed Blake and Antonio to recruit top-tier trainers to head up the new studio, including Head Trainer Oronde Jones, a well-known celebrity trainer in the Nashville market.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“Compared to other fitness classes, Rumble is a class you can truly get lost in for 45 minutes. With the dark room, you don’t have to worry if anyone is paying attention to you. The music is awesome and inspiring, and the beat drops right when you need it the most. Also, with boxing being a sport you can never truly master, you’re always improving and crafting your skill. On the floor, you’re consistently doing something new, which prevents you from ever hitting a plateau.” Said Oronde Jones about his favorite part of Rumble.
Rumble has massive brand loyalty and widespread appeal, partly thanks to attracting top names like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Jason Derulo, David Beckham, and Kevin Hart to its studios.
About Rumble Boxing
Founded in New York City in 2017, Rumble is a group fitness concept delivering a mix (or combination) of boxing-inspired circuits and the transformative power of resistance training. Pro and amateur fighters glove up together, no matter their fitness level or skill, to reveal their inner fighter. The experience is a 45-minute, 10-round, full-body cardio and strength workout crafted around specially designed water-filled, teardrop-style boxing bags. Rumble was founded by Noah Neiman (former Barry’s Bootcamp Master Trainer, and cast member of Bravo’s Work Out New York), Eugene Remm (Co-Founder of Catch Hospitality Group (Catch Restaurants, CATCH STEAK, Lexington Brass), Andy Stenzler (Co-Founder Cosí, Kidville), and Anthony DiMarco (13-time IRONMAN, former Managing Director, Google).
Who would have thought that we would have to get through a pandemic in order to appreciate the small things we have, such as the ability to simply pack our bags and hit the road?
For two years, there’s been nothing left for us travel junkies to do but sit at home and try to find new destinations that we will conquer once we defeat what appears to be the biggest villain of the 21st century. But once that happens, hold your bags tight because we will be up for some of the most interesting travel experiences. Take a look at some ideas for your post-COVID traveling plans:
A Gay Cruise
One of the best options to have in mind when all of this passes is a good, nice and long (pun intended) gay cruise. Or cruise in general, for that matter. Bear in mind, social distancing will still be a thing in the post-COVID world. But COVID-19 likely doesn’t mean that cruises will cease to exist. On the contrary, though cruise ships will probably keep the number of passengers smaller than before, it is believed that they will become an even bigger hit in the following period, especially because they are all going to go a lot more environmentally-friendly. On the bright side, is there any better way of celebrating the end of the pandemic than by cruising around some magnificent seas, stopping by at great cities and having romantic dinner nights at nice restaurants?
A getaway in nature
On the other hand, there is always the option of stepping away from the hustle and bustle of large cities, and spending some time in a place that’s not only healthy, but also beautiful. Some of the destinations that plenty of people will look for are the ones that can cater for both peace of mind and amazing things to see or do. One such destination is New Zealand, one of the greenest countries on Earth right now. Not only will you be visiting the magnificent country that gave us the beautiful Shire from Lord of the Rings; this is also a destination that’s excellent for everyone who prefers relaxing to partying. If you’re up for some partying, you will be able to hit Auckland, while if you’re for something calmer, there’s plenty of amazing places that you can see and visit.
Dancing Around at Pride
Pride parades are also events that you want to have in mind for the post-COVID world. Such events have always been quite important, but it seems that they are now more important than ever. The virus has canceled more than 75 Pride parades all around the world, which is one of the reasons why we must support the ones that will see the light of day once the pandemic stops. Truth be told, the upcoming Prides will perhaps be the best Prides ever organized. Give the gays a couple of weeks of quarantine, then let them outside and see what kind of party they are able to throw!
A road trip
If you’re, as well, waiting for the day to wake up and say “long gone are the days when we were not allowed to go wherever we wanted?”, and if staying at one place gave you a lot to think about, then your first post-COVID travel experience should definitely be a nice road trip. You can practically choose which country you want to tour, and you can either take your own car (you have probably missed it so much), or rent one at your destination. Australia is an amazing country for this, though, as it offers the possibility of seeing the Great Ocean Road, which is an amazing thing to see and experience. On the other hand, if you do not want or cannot leave your country, you can also choose to go on a domestic road trip – there are amazing things to see in your vicinity as well.
Holiday for a single guy
If you’re single, or you’re traveling someplace with another single friend, then you should definitely organize a nice vacation for yourself or for you and your single friend, and hit one of the best European cities. Europe has been greatly affected by the virus, which means that now it’s time to pay it back and get it back on its feet by traveling there and seeing all the amazing things it offers. Any city you choose in Europe – you will not make a mistake. Apart from being able to see great landmarks, you will also have the chance to have a drink at great gay clubs and pubs, and join unforgettable gay parties. And if the gay scenery is not your forte, worry not, as Europe indeed has to offer so many different and magnificent things.