Al Anderson says he fell into the deli business when he opened Big Al’s Deli in the Salemtown neighborhood of Nashville, Tennessee, nearly nine years ago. The food industry was a pivotal part of his early childhood.
"When I was a kid, my dad bought a bar, and my mother bought an ice cream shop," recalls Anderson. "I was making pizza, strawberry sundaes, and banana boats at 11 years old. That was my first introduction into the food business."
When the current space for Big Al's Deli became available, Anderson knew the 100-year-old building came with challenges. "There was a small, little hole in the window, but everything else was padded up. All that was in this place was a hood and a sink."
Anderson bought "collected items," such as mismatched coffee cups, plates, and silverware, to save money. The promotional mugs from long-forgotten businesses give the place personality. But his other collected items, like the dual convection oven and refrigerator, gave Anderson headaches. The second-hand equipment was cheaper than purchasing new, but it would often break or wasn't energy efficient.
"In the middle of COVID-19, I'm struggling to stay afloat. Seventy-five percent of my business is a corporate catering, which disappeared with the pandemic. The only thing that didn't disappear was the bills."
Carolyn Greer, TVA EnergyRight senior program manager, says the mission of CCG is to focus on small businesses in communities that are often overlooked. "TVA has built a mission of service," says Greer. "When you meet people like Al, you see what a game-changer it is for them to save $500 a month on their bills and not have to use old equipment."
"The benefits are unbelievable," says Anderson. "I made delicious biscuits. Now, with this new oven, I make fantastic biscuits. Buying equipment or getting new lighting was never in my budget. It was in my wish budget. But there's no money tree in my backyard."
Greer says partnering with NES helped them provide Anderson with a new, energy-efficient double convection oven, a three-ton air-conditioning unit, and LED lights inside and outside the deli.
"We are a public power. A governmental agency that serves the people," says Antonio Carroll, NES attorney. Carroll helped NES select several small businesses to participate in the CCG pilot. "To see the impact of Community Centered Growth around this neighborhood is phenomenal because you're seeing your neighbors and community being uplifted."
Ed's Fish and Pizza House, just a mile and a half down the road from Big Al's, also participated in the CCG program. The drive-thru establishment is tucked in the corner of J.B. Todd and Buchannan Street in North Nashville. It recently celebrated 50 years in business and is now managed by 24-year-old Anthony Williams.
"My great-uncle opened this place with his son, and they served fried fish with a side of mustard, hot sauce, pickles, and onions. It was a new thing on the scene back in 1972, and it became normal," says Williams.
While their recipe hasn't changed much in the following decades, a few other things have. Some of the equipment, such as their HVAC and lighting, were no longer efficient and put a strain on the small business's monthly utility bills. "The work EnergyRight and NES did would likely not have happened," says Williams. "After they put in the new HVAC, there was a 20% decrease in our energy bill."
Carroll says many small businesses participating in CCG work with very tight budgets. If any were to close, their communities would feel the loss. "Ed's is a multigenerational owner of this restaurant location," says Carroll. "It's transformational for the community. It's also amazing for us to help this business continue on its successful path and help them reduce their energy load."