Newcomers to “The Merc” are likely to be greeted with a hearty “hello” from a slew of regular customers who’ve formed their own small community within the restaurant.
“We try to get to know people, and who they are,” says owner Graeme Asch, who runs the place with his wife, Corrie. “We see a lot of the same faces every day.”
Walking in to the Franklin Mercantile feels something like a visit to your grandmother’s kitchen: mix-and-match chairs fill the eatery, heirloom cloths top antique tables, and fresh flowers always accompany the Mason jars—the only difference is that live folk music may not be emanating from her dining room. The overall effect is a familiar feeling that’s not lost on the customer.
“It just feels like home to people,” Asch says.
When the upscale deli opened in 1999, it was a lunch venue only. They served homemade soups in bread bowls and offered a salad bar, classic sandwiches, tangy tea, fresh fruit – all of which are still staples. But due to the exploding downtown scene, they’ve since expanded to serving Southern-style dinner over live music Thursday through Saturday, and a hot breakfast every day but Sunday. The restaurant is also a prime spot for private events, and the owners open up the space for free to non-profits on Thursday nights.
“It’s simple food with expensive ingredients and fresh products. We make all of our food here, right down to the soups,” Asch says. “We serve things we want to eat.”
Most of the items on the chalkboard menu are dishes passed down the family line. When The Merc first opened, the Asches used personal favorites as a base for their original sandwiches, like Patti’s Pimento Cheese and Mable’s Pecan Chicken Salad. Most of the items are named after the couple’s loved ones, another way the duo maintains the familial atmosphere.
“There’s the Coriander, named after my wife. And here’s my dad, he’s the Poppy’s Pancakes,” says Asch, pointing to the chalkboard above him. “The Covert Breakfast Burrito was named after a whole family who’s worked for us.”
Morning and night, the food spans a spectrum of influences. The breakfast lineup at Franklin Mercantile leans towards Graeme’s Louisiana heritage, and there’s a decidedly Creole flavor in the deli’s breakfast dishes that sometimes extends to its supper selection (think shrimp & grits). The dinner list hovers over Italian taste and Southern standards, with entrees like grilled portabella mushrooms, shrimp bruschetta, creamy Alfredo pasta, orange pork tenderloin, and port-glazed salmon. For $45, a couple can enjoy a dinner special that includes a tapas starter, two entrees, one dessert and a bottle of wine. The restaurant also recently added a selection of premium wines that includes Jean Bousquet Reserve and Chateau Ste. Michelle. In late March, they’ll introduce a Belgium beer pairing with food items from Providence Farms.
Asch owned the former Jammin’ Java in Downtown Franklin, a coffee shop and live music venue that Southern Living once referenced as “The Bluebird Café of Christian Music.” With a father in the music business, Asch grew up around the industry. He’s stayed with his roots, providing customers at the Franklin Mercantile with live, local music on the weekends.
Asch has been running the deli since he was 24 years old, and says the key to the restaurant’s success lies in the customer service and the community.
“I love the people here,” Asch says. “You know, I’ve been everywhere. When people move here, the first thing I say to them is, ‘Thank God you’re here!’”
“I honestly think it is the greatest place on earth.”
To learn about Franklin Mercantile Deli, visit the restaurant at 100 4th Avenue North, or visit their website.
This is part of a series on merchants in Downtown Franklin.