Head to Head: Derrick Moore x Jon Dalman

Story By: Priya Ollapally
Featuring: Derrick Moore & Jon Dalman
Nashville Design Week 2021

As a Nashville native, Derrick Moore of Slim & Husky’s has watched the Nashville skyline rise over the decades, but he doesn’t wax nostalgic about the Nashville that was. Instead, he credits tenacious newcomers like Jon Dalman (partner and designer at Mesa) with saving Nashville from becoming the kind of city where every pizza joint is a Dominos.

Their collaboration, co-creating the furniture at Slim & Husky’s many locations, and the friendship that underpins it exemplifies how Nashville welcomes burgeoning talent and how its local business people champion one another.

“That’s why he is one of our favorite clients. He trusts us. There’s a lot of trust.”

On trust

When you first started collaborating you were at different places as far as building your businesses. Jon, this was a big job for you. Derrick, you’d already opened a couple locations. Tell us about what it’s been like to work together.

When Jon comes in and it’s time for furniture, I don’t say, “Hey, you have to stay within these lines. [Maybe] the type of wood, and maybe the chairs, but everything else is just free reign. As we’ve progressed we’ve just gotten better and better style.

More functional.

I don’t hold his hand. I don’t say, “Do it like this dude.” I say, “Hey, just show me what you got.” He’ll send me over a few renderings and then I’ll pick one. And then even in one that we pick, we’ll still make changes before we get to the final production.

Yeah. That’s why he is one of our favorite clients. He trusts us. There’s a lot of trust. And, we’ve had a good setup for it because there were three locations under the belt where the design parameters had been sorted out. And so I was walking into something that was established enough to find the things they wanted to fix and change and grow and move forward.

How has your work evolved?

With all the commercial furniture we’re doing, durability starts to win out. When we get to do multiple jobs with one client, the first job is way more focused on design. The second job they start to see some problems with durability. We don’t always have durability on the first step because we really value these design ideas. So it just gets more and more durable.

[The first tables were] eight quarter maple, milled and joined together in these huge waterfall shapes, which are like the highest design value out of all the pieces. But three years later, they’re sticky. They need to be refinished and there’s no way to take the top off and refinish it. And they’ve got mop lines down at the bottom, from the water brushing up against it, and they’re starting to sag a little bit.

That looks the best, but only for a short amount of time. So next we added a metal trestle and a plate around the bottom so that you wouldn’t see the mop lines. But still we knew we’d run into finishing issues.

So then we moved to a metal frame table with inserts of wood that can be removed and refinished really easily. We’ve taken it to the last step, which we were kind of cautious about, which is going to be a laminate top in that metal frame. It’s not wood, but is going to last 10 years in one restaurant. And it might cost a little bit more on day one, but not on year ten. So still the same design, and looks like maple. Most people wouldn’t know that it’s a laminate. But yeah, you can clean it a million times and it’s not going to dissolve the finish on it. And that’s what we’ve done for the past two or three locations: Memphis, Murfreesboro, 5th & Broad.

What has been like for you, Derrick, to work with somebody who’s evolving their craft versus going to a big shop that is predictable from day one?

I value it. I tell Jon all the time that I value his opinion, his craftsmanship, and his expertise. I want to be around smart people — I want to be around people that are smarter than me. I also want to be around people that are curious and creative, right? And that don’t just work in a box. So his evolution has allowed me to trust him more because I see that he’s not one-dimensional in his thinking. He’s not just, “oh this is a beautiful design.” Or, “Oh this is functional and durable.” It’s all of those things.

I never stalled that creativity; I value it and it’s been great for me. I wish I could find that not just in my furniture design guy. I wish I could find that in every position within the company or that I work with.

I think that what we lack in experience, we make up for in tenacity and do-overs and picking up the phone and late nights. We’re willing to fix our mistakes. We’ve rebuilt entire patios, entire sets of furniture before for clients, just because we got it wrong the first one or two times.

And I would do that again because we’re still getting valuable experience and they still trust us and they still pick up the phone.

With Mo, I know he trusts me. We just sat here right before you called. And we’re like, what’s not working about these tables? What do we need to redo? I don’t take it as negativity when it comes from him. I look to Derrick as a mentor. He’s getting a service and we’re delivering, but he’s gonna call me before he talks to someone else. He’s given me every chance to mess up, you know, and he’s calling me out for things and it’s all good.

So, yeah, it’s been a really positive environment to collaborate on, but that’s been our journey with a lot of clients. This relationship with Slim & Husky’s is the most beautiful and longest example of this kind of collaboration for us. But in Nashville, you get to work with other people that are as passionate about the creative energy in the restaurant as they are about making a dollar. And so we’re kind of all speaking a similar language and learning together. It’s just the perfect city to do this in.

On the ‘new Nashville’ and being a local business

As a transplant and a native, what have each of you observed about how Nashville has changed as it grows?

I came here 11 years ago when I was 19 from a small rural town in Indiana. I moved here having no idea what I wanted to do and learned so much about myself as a creative person through the community and the professional opportunities to make money as a creative person. Nashville totally showed me who I was in a way that Indiana didn’t have the community to. And it’s been great ever since. It’s been just bigger and more fun and scarier and it has so much to offer for creatives.

Seeing the skyline change is one thing, but also how receptive people are to local businesses has changed as well. You know, Nashville growing up was kind of behind Memphis. So very close to Atlanta, but we didn’t get the love that Atlanta gets. Memphis was just killing us because it was just a cooler city, all the way around, you know? And Nashville was just straight country music. No diversity. The art scene was horrible. Just to see the evolution with transplants coming into the city, gravitating to the local businesses, that’s been awesome for us. But also just awesome for Nashville’s scene, you know what I mean?

There was one point in time it was all chains. It was just a bunch of chain restaurants around here. You have the few that’ve been around for a very, very long time, like Sperry’s, but I mean, I wasn’t going to Sperry’s growing up. Shoney’s or die, right? Even the pizza scene was Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Papa John’s.

You had a few like Joey’s, but he wasn’t getting that much love because only a select few were going in there, buying slices of pizza. So we came on the scene and people embraced us because we are local.

How has Nashville held onto that, and avoided becoming a faceless sea of chain restaurants?

The business owners in Nashville, they rally behind each other. So we do something, and Daddy’s Dog’s is repping us. Miranda, Frothy Monkey, Martin’s, Prince’s. They’ll retweet us or whatever the case may be, and then we do the same thing. That’s just how it has been. When you’ve got business owners that rally behind each other, the public sees that.

And we have conversations with local leadership. We say, check out Marcus Buggs at Coneheads, call Pat Martin for this, call Max and Ben for this, you know what I mean? When you do those things, you can work together. The public sees that and they can’t miss it. You want a good steak, go to Pelican & Pig. It’s just how it is. I think that’s why Nashville has been able to retain that local feel when it comes to — especially — the restaurants.

On what’s new and inspiring

I love the days I get to go down and do downtown site visits and then just get to cruise around and walk. I love the high-rise architecture right now. The new Whole Foods downtown? You can just sit at the bar and eat, and there’s a high rise being built right there.

And it’s not as sexy of an environment, but the elevator scene in Nashville?! We’re doing some interiors of elevators and getting to be on the floor of these high rises and watching the lobbies come together. The new Amazon building interior is nutty.

I am stuck on the elevator thing. I’ve been blessed to have gone through a lot of cool places, some dope buildings, and if the elevator is spectacular, then the rest of the building, nine times out of ten, it’s just as beautiful. You know what I mean? It ain’t sexy, but it is kind of sexy.

It can be. It can be.

We’re sitting in the new bar we just opened, EG & MC on Jefferson street. It used to be the old Garden Brunch, and we’ve got Mesa all through here. This was a cool project, and it was a lot different than Slim & Husky’s because Slim & Husky’s had already got a concept, but with this we really had to get in there and build out the concept, what we want to look like, the design and everything. But it’s really cool. It’s really dope.