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5 questions with Nathan Brand, chair of the HZC and co-owner of Timber!

David Floyd • Aug 11, 2019 at 8:09 PM

Local chef Nathan Brand wears a couple different hats in Johnson City.

Since January, he’s served as the chair of the city’s Historic Zoning Commission, a seven-member body that governs the aesthetic qualities of buildings in the city’s historic districts.

For a while, Brand has also been gearing up for another major milestone: Starting a restaurant in Johnson City.

Timber!, which will focus on “American classics,” opened Aug. 7 at 415 W. Walnut St. The restaurant will also offer vegan and vegetarian options and serve beer, wine and cocktails.

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a chef, and what drew you to the career?

My first restaurant job was at Haagen Dazs at my local mall when I was 14. I loved interacting with customers, and loved the ice cream, but never identified with the food preparation side of things. Fast forward to my college years, and I find myself working at a very special restaurant in Athens, Georgia, at a time when the food world was coming alive in the U.S., and being a chef was becoming a more viable and respected career. I watched my mentors make major positive differences in their communities through their work in the restaurant business, and I knew that I wanted to own my own small business. Cooking and being a serious chef are often painful and difficult paths to take — it can be hard to start a family, make enough money to support even yourself, and the industry is traditionally toxically masculine. I knew when I started cooking that I would work to open a restaurant that worked to treat its staff with the utmost respect, and actively contributed to culture in a positive way.

Timber! opened last Wednesday. What do you want people to know about the establishment?

Timber! is the restaurant of my dreams. It is casual, but serious, and focused on fun. We want our guests to have fun, our staff to have fun, and us as owners to have fun. Making the place affordable and neighborhood friendly was a huge goal for us, and I believe that we have achieved that. It is a place with something for everyone, a restaurant for all seasons, and the realization of a whole lot of work and thought over the past couple of years. I want people to know that our amazing staff will make them feel welcome and well cared for. We have great vegetarian and vegan options as well as some delicious meat dishes, and our full bar offers really amazing beer, wine, and cocktails for great prices!

You guys are hoping to incorporate some Appalachian cuisine into your menu. What have you learned about Appalachian food as you've been gearing up for the opening of the restaurant, and how does it fit in to the culinary landscape as a whole?

I have loved delving into Appalachian cuisine, and I have so, so much to learn. I come from the deeper South, where the produce and products are very different, but build on some of the same themes. Appalachia has such a strong home-cooking culture, so meeting with local people and trying their fresh food and put-ups has been deeply rewarding. I am just at the beginning of my journey, so if anyone has a book, recipe, or product they think I would be interested in, I encourage them to contact me! It is truly an honor to meet every person that takes the time to share their foodways with me.

How did end up becoming a member of the Historic Zoning Commission, and what made you decide to join?

I have always wanted to be involved in local government and to give back to my community by sitting on a board or commission, but have never found my forever home until I found Johnson City. I was drawn to the HZC after taking JC 101, a very special class offered by the city to prepare citizens for public service. During the class, I realized I had only ever lived in historic neighborhoods since leaving college, and was familiar with what made those neighborhoods so special. Living in the Tree Streets, I found myself in yet another historic neighborhood and I found a deep passion for working to beautify, improve, and build the neighborhood community, especially as I saw it changing right before my eyes.

How do you think the work done by the commission factors into the continued development of Johnson City?

Historic zoning can sometimes get a bad rap, as it is often misconstrued as standing in the way of development, but I think that argument is short-sighted. Commissions such as ours seek to identify, preserve, and celebrate the special character of a given district, and while that can be an arduous and lengthy process, it is ultimately in all of our best interests. If we don't protect and cherish our special buildings and historic districts, we will lose what makes those places special, and seeing as how Johnson City is such a special place, that would be a real shame.

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