By reinventing the famous pharmacy, Joni and Michael Cole helped reshape downtown.
If you were able to travel back in time and stroll along Franklin’s Main Street 70 or 80 years ago, you’d probably notice a lot of activity and foot traffic going in and out of Gray’s Pharmacy. The original Gray’s operated from 1926 until 1998 and during that time it was an important gathering and meeting-place for locals. Thousands of people went through those doors, picking up prescriptions, buying household items or just catching up on local news and gossip. Much like its earlier incarnation, the Gray’s On Main of today is still an important social center for the city of Franklin.
The modern Gray’s On Main is the brainchild of Joni and Michael Cole. They met in Florence, Ala., where Michael was operating a restaurant with a similar concept. They fell in love and decided to move to Franklin, a place with a big city feel in a small town environment. When they discovered the vacant location of Gray’s Pharmacy, they knew they had found the perfect spot.
“This empty building was one of the biggest voids on Main Street,” said Michael. “It just sat empty for years.”
They traveled to speakeasies, restaurants, bars and musical venues around the country to help shape and formulate their own unique spin. After six years of dreaming and planning, Gray’s On Main opened in 2013.
“We tried to stay true to the building’s history,” says Joni. “We wanted to honor the past, both the history that was here and the Southern hospitality that came through these doors. We want people who visit us to really have that special Gray’s experience.”
It was just the prescription the old pharmacy needed.
Gray’s On Main is quickly becoming famous for its artful blend of hand-crafted cocktails, eclectic Southern fare and welcoming hospitality. It also features live music and an authentic stage that rivals anything you might find off Broadway in downtown Nashville. Along with an enthusiastic crowd of regulars, it’s not uncommon to spot celebrities in the crowd enjoying the sounds of live jazz, blues, soul and R&B.
“We love the live music, but we’re also very proud of our food here,” said Joni. “Michael and I have been blessed that our chef and his staff share our heart to care for our guests.”
The food at Gray’s can be described as upscale Southern cuisine with a twist. With a strong emphasis on locally-sourced meat and vegetables, popular menu items include steaks, fried chicken, short ribs, fried pimento cheese balls, bacon-wrapped figs, fried green tomatoes and banana pudding.
“We want our regulars to feel like they’re at home and tourists to feel like they’re coming home”, said Joni. “We truly want you to feel like your’re part of our family.”
Upstairs at the bar, a talented team of mixologists creates their own syrups, bitters and an impressive array of unique hand-crafted cocktails. Their nationally-renowned brandy-forward bar program thrills patrons with creative concoctions like their award-winning Anthem Spirit cocktail. Guests will notice a deliberate emphasis on the little details of each and every drink.
“We have always kept an eye on detail,” said Joni. “We encourage everyone who works with us to operate with this spirit of excellence.”
The growing crowd of regular customers is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the close-knit Gray’s On Main staff. As a team, they are proud of the legacy they are building on Main Street.
“I love being here,” says Joni. “We love our job. We love this restaurant. And we love being part of the Franklin community. We’re thankful every day that the community continues to walk through our doors.”
The walls of Gray’s On Main are adorned with historical photographs of Franklin luminaries and citizens from throughout the years. Interspersed with the pictures are dozens of antique mirrors.
“The walls are checkered with old photos of past faces of Franklin,” says Michael. “Right next to the photos, people can look into the mirrors and see the new faces of Franklin.”
It isn’t hard to imagine that the faces of Franklin, both new and old, will be walking through the front doors of Gray’s on Main for many decades to come.
For more information, check out their website at GraysOnMain.com.