I live in Franklin, Tennessee. It borders Nashville and is considered a southern suburb of Nashville, yet it has its own personality and personal history.
We have a charming square and Main Street, hosting antique shops, boutiques, and eateries, with lots of Southern charm. There are cool events in the town, including the recent Wine Down Main Street Event, Christmas Parade, a Pumpkin Fest, a Dicken’s Christmas, a Jazz Festival, and the Franklin Classic Race on Labor Day. I often call it Mayberry with a little touch of Beverly Hills. It’s fun to make a day of it, go shopping, browse and enjoy the charm.
A new comer to the scene, Chapman’s II Pie Wagon, knew about the history of the town and decided to bring something back from old days past, a stationary trolley car serving food.
One day this past February, I stopped there thinking it was a hot dog stand. While they have hot dogs, it not a hot dog stand. It’s not exactly a food truck because it’s not self-motored. It’s a replica of a trolley car, but it’s not a trolley car either.
Stationed in the parking lot of Landmark Booksellers in downtown Franklin, it’s most similar to a food truck as you walk up to the window and place your order. The menu is homey and modern at the same time, offering different specials, salads and desserts daily, while making sure the fan favorites are always on the menu.
The chef behind the food is the same warm and friendly woman who is likely to hand you the food. If it’s not Gwen Perkins, it will be her husband Dan. They are a charming duo who decided to spend the last chapter of their working life inside of Gwen’s passion. Dan insists that Chapman’s II is not a food truck, as it does not drive around to different locations and is its own thing. While Chapman’s II, known to us locals as Chapman’s, and sometimes still referred to as the Pie Truck or Pie Wagon has a bit of a “what is it exactly?” identity crisis, it has no problems being identified as a place with really good lunch food.
While Dan is right, it is still a part of the street food culture, which has exploded in the Nashville area. The first food trucks to hit the Nashville area in 2011 pioneered the movement with forward thinking offerings setting the standard high right from the beginning. The food from Chapman’s II Pie Wagon is right on par with the very best of the street food and has become a favorite spot in the historic town of Franklin. In its first year in business, Chapman’s II got it so right, they were put on the Franklin Food Tour on Foot.
How Did Chapman’s II Pie Wagon Emerge?
Gwen Perkins returned to school after working in the corporate world for twenty years and thought she was going to get a law degree. She says her new destiny just hit her sitting in the dean’s office and she abruptly left and went and signed up for a master’s degree in food and hospitality management. Just like that.
She knew she had made the right decision because when the classes started, she literally cried tears of joy for the first few days, knowing she was in the zone she was meant to live in. She ran a healthy catering business serving up to 750 people. She and Dan thought they would eventually settle down and buy an RV park and manage it. Sometimes things don’t work out, because they are not the right thing. The idea to resurrect the Chapman Pie Wagon came to her and she began to do her research. The original pie wagon was run by Effie and James Henry Chapman from 1922 to 1946 in Franklin and it was a treasure serving an eclectic menu to loyal customers.
Local Franklin resident, Rick Warwick put together a book of historical photos of the original Pie Wagon. The original trolley was auctioned off for $1600.
Miss Effie Chapman cooked what was considered “eclectic” food for her time. Gwen studied that and has tried to hold to the same viewpoint. Gwen has always been a fine dining cook and has managed to bring that appreciation for good food into the small kitchen of their establishment.
I asked Gwen a lot of questions about her journey in bringing back the Pie Wagon, and I left impressed. A lot of my foodie friends would like to do something with their food passion. Gwen and Dan stepped a little outside the box in reinventing themselves and in reinventing the Chapman’s Pie Wagon.
How Did They Do It?
They were qualified. Gwen has all the cooking know how and kitchen management skills.
They researched the food business and the history of the area they wanted to be in. They copied a successful model and brought it back at a time when the street food culture has gained great respect in the area.
They were bold and commissioned a replica of the trolley to be built. This is their only visual marketing and the rest comes word of mouth.
They listen to their customer and allow the menu to evolve.
They consistently deliver high quality, affordable food, as Gwen’s food preference has always been fine dining and she wanted to find a way to bring sophisticated, approachable food to a historic, traditional town.
They are nice, homey folks who make you feel like Sheriff Andy Taylor is right around the corner and Aunt Bee just returned from the big city with a few new culinary ideas
Menu items could be as hardy as Guinness Irish Stew or the mile high Reuben made with Boar’s head meat and cheese. The Reuben became so popular it is served daily. My favorites are the salad (she makes a different one daily) and the very large and flavorful cheeseburger. I often joke about downtown Franklin eateries and their chicken salad being the staple of the town and Gwen’s chicken salad will not disappoint you. Not leaving vegetarians out, she has another signature dish always on the menu called the Jazzy Rice Yum Yum. It’s what Mr. Spinach Tiger orders every time, as it’s a healthy selection, but save room for the pie or cake that sits in the window.
Jazzy Rice Yum Yum. Jasmine rice, black beans, sour cream, avocado, tomato and Gwen’s special yum yum sauce.
You all know I’m a cheeseburger fanatic and this is one of the best in town. Huge too.
Grilled Havarti Cheese, sliced pear, spinach. So good, even little boys eat this (and get their veggies). Hands down, my favorite grilled cheese anywhere.
The Pie Wagon serves food from 10-2, Monday through Saturday. Gwen will have a mile high cake or pie sitting in the window. She makes the desserts herself and they are irresistible.
Downtown Franklin is a great place to take out of town visitors over the holidays. Browse the shops and enjoy true southern hospitality at the local eateries. I highly recommend visiting with Gwen and Dan at the Pie Wagon and tell them I sent you. You might just be eating next to a customer whose parents went to the original Pie Wagon. Now, how cool is that?
Follow them on Facebook and find out the daily menu.