As Sarah Gavigan has found at her landmark East Nashville ramen shop Otaku South, the city is hungry for precise bowls of noodles bobbing in shoyu and tonkotsu broth, selling over 200 bowls a day — and we’re talking about in the scorching summer heat. Not necessarily the slurping season. Four years ago, ramen was a simple passion for the Tennessee native, who had been living in Los Angeles for nearly two decades working in advertising — all the while eating her way through the supreme Japanese restaurants in Torrance and Little Osaka.

To be closer to family, she moved back to Middle Tennessee and, as she describes it, “took two years to detox from 20 years of energy.” Once transitioned, she found a business and creative community bursting with energy — you might have heard something about the music scene there. But for a city with such deep cultural and culinary roots, the Asian food scene was kind of crummy.

Partnering with her husband Brad, she opened a pop-up culinary space earlier this spring, Pop, with her “occasional ramen shop” Otaku South operating out of the space Tuesday-Friday. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive and she is currently looking for a more permanent space. “I’ve seen a huge change in the creative class here, just in the way people think,” she says. “They’re becoming much more brave, and much more diverse. You’re seeing an influx of young people moving here from Los Angeles and New York. Musicians, directors. Filmmakers. This whole influx in underway.”

While Gavigan admits that it can be difficult operating a restaurant in a Nashville community undergoing such rapid change (“we don’t have enough great cooks here!”), she is still upbeat about the prospects of her adopted neighborhood. “I’m the most excited about East Nashville because the barriers to entry are still low here,” she says. “It’s still gritty enough that people are gonna take chances. I’m just so excited to see more people open more places here — and to see them do different.”

Gavigan sends word that she will continuing here bi-monthly guest chef series {City} Meets Nashville when NYC/Portland/Los Angeles chef Andy Ricker will cook a Northern Thai feast on October 25. Tickets are $75 and limited to 60 per seating (there are two of them). San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn cooked previously (it was a sell-out hit) and we have a hunch that with Ricker in town, the party might continue at Number 308 across the street when all the laab runs dry.

Otaku South/POP Nashville, 604 Gallatin Ave., Suite 201, Nashville, TN 37206,

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