Between opening Venue Tenn, launching a new album, managing a recording management company in Nashville and co-owner of two rockin’ restaurants/bars, to say Cody Sumpter is a busy and driven man is an understatement. Katie and I recently sat down with Cody, fellow musician Tim McKeon and Venue Tenn co-owner Emily Terrell to discuss all this and more.
The first thing we wanted to know is what inspired the California native and his girlfriend Emily to choose Columbia as their second location for Venue Tenn, the new restaurant and bar that opened on Columbia’s Historic Square at the beginning of 2015. Their other location Venue 10 in Spring Hill has been open for just over a year.
Apparently, Cody had his eye on the historic Venue Tenn building for quite a while. “I frequently play gigs at Wall Candy and for several years looked at this incredible vacant building across the street. When Emily and I finally saw the inside, we knew we had found an opportunity not to be passed up,” he said.
Is Columbia the next Franklin?
From Cody’s perspective, this opportunity extends beyond the building to Columbia as a town. He sees it as the next Franklin but with more infrastructure and opportunity. “The Square has long streets with great buildings on it. Think of ‘Franklin meets downtown Broadway.’”
Given his musical inclination, the major motive for Cody is to bring great live music to town. “Music is the goal,” he stated. “People don’t want to drive all the way to Nashville to see good music. We have bands every week, and I intend to eventually get even bigger-named bands playing here.”
This is certainly possible with Venue Tenn’s 9,000 square foot space. It can accommodate music in the main downstairs restaurant area, outdoors in Whiskey Alley, as well as in the upstairs area, which is fully equipped with state-of-the-art sound equipment and a bar. We asked Cody and Tim if they were concerned about Columbia being able to support all the different music venues on the Square, including Puckett’s and the newly re-opened Lucille’s. Neither believes it is an issue.
Cody said, “The more there is to do on the Square, the more people will be here. People will rotate among them.” Moreover, they have formed a good relationship with the owners of Lucille’s, based on musical camaraderie and a mutual love for the area. As Cody said, “I want to build a music mafia in Columbia.”
From Hollywood actor to Nashville Country Singer
So aside from the business aspect, we wanted to know a little more about the personal side to Cody, like how did a farm boy from California end up in the hills of Middle Tennessee, and how did he and co-owner/girlfriend Emily meet.
Cody was raised on a farm in Dos Palos, California, which he credits as the origin of learning the meaning and rewards of hard work. But when the sirens of Los Angeles beckoned, he moved there to begin an acting career, where he starred in commercials and was on hold for a soap opera. Within a couple of years of also working product placement for a celebrity gifting company and managing several Abercrombie Fitch stores, he realized his heart was in none of these. It lay in music.
So it was music that led him to Nashville eight years ago. With a voice that’s been compared to George Strait, Cody and his band have opened for country artists like Josh Gracin and Chris Kagel. He noted how difficult it is to make it in the music business even in Nashville and hence started his own music management company there, where he is currently recording his new album, "My House," set to be released in April.
When I asked him if there was any meaning behind his song, “Saved by the South,” Tim chuckled that Cody didn’t write that one. But Cody wasn’t so quick to dismiss the sentiment behind the song — whether he wrote it or not (which he actually did). “Tennessee has been the first truly gratifying place for me,” he told us. “I love the people and the pace of life here. Columbia reminds me of the small town I grew up in where farmers helped each other.”
Enter Business Partner and Girlfriend Emily
At about this point in our interview, Emily came in, followed by her Husky, Loki. Emily is immediately likeable and personable. She grew up in Spring Hill in the restaurant business. Her parents owned a pizza palace when she was young, which is where her love for the food business stems from. She said she tried different careers but always found herself gravitating back to the restaurant arena.
We asked her how she and Cody met. They both laughed. “You tell the story,” she said to Cody. With a smile, Cody said, “I was working as a bartender in Spring Hill when she and a friend came in. They told me they didn’t like the drink I made them. Eventually they left, but a few minutes later Emily came back in, took off her boots and went behind the bar to stand next to me.” Emily cut in at this point, “I wanted to see how tall he was, if he was tall enough.”
Apparently he measured up, as the two have been partners ever since.
Plans for a Microbrewery
The couple’s ambition and entrepreneurship seems to know no bounds. When we asked them about their future plans, they laid it out clearly. Cody said, “We want to find and form partnerships with local farmers, so that our food is all local. I call it ‘a love for local.’”
And wasting no time, they have already begun the negotiation process to lease the building next door to open a microbrewery that will feature gourmet pizzas, acoustic artists and beer, of course. They are hoping to open the brewery within the next six to nine months.
With that, Cody was off to work on his new album, Emily to the Spring Hill Venue 10 and Tim to check on the lunch crowd downstairs. Katie and I left with the impression that this couple and venue truly do measure up and are another indicator that Columbia’s downtown Square is taking off.
Cheers to Venue Tenn.
Credits: Black and white photography of Cody Sumpter and Tim McKeon taken by Brian Sherman.