As sales manager for The Loveless Cafe and its properties, Crystal Buttrey sits at the intersection of a locally owned icon that doubles as a must-see tourist destination.
“What I love most about my work is that no week or day is the same,” says Buttrey, a lifelong Bellevue resident. “It’s chaos, but in a great way.”
That’s because for nearly 20 years at The Loveless, including the last 10 as a full-time team member, she’s witnessed a renaissance of sorts that has elevated a quaint roadside respite into a dynamic player on the Middle Tennessee hospitality scene. And it has managed to do so without compromising its authentic small-town charm and aesthetic.
It was in 1951 when Lon and Annie Loveless began serving fried chicken and homemade biscuits to weary travelers along Highway 100. That led to the construction of a small motel and a loyal following that soon evolved into a Southern institution.
Today, The Loveless is a sprawling campus where guests can shop in several retail outlets before or after their meal. And the event venues host everything from civic luncheons and business meetings to weddings and celebrations of life.
Buttrey says that it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes thought, creativity and talent for the Loveless team to pull things together so seamlessly. “We’ve grown and we have to keep up with times,” she says, “But we stay true to the recipes, home cooking and the old-fashioned way.”
Buttrey has been a cheerleader for The Loveless since she began waiting tables there as a Hillwood High School student in 2004. “I’d go to work at The Loveless, then change into my cheerleading uniform and go cheer (for the Hilltoppers),” she says.
That was just as The Loveless was undergoing a remarkable transformation. Buttrey recalls those days vividly, especially the two nights of trial runs prior to the official reopening.
“There was a lot of energy; a little of everything: excitement, fear, hope and encouragement,” she says. “I remember how relieved and happy management was after those two shifts. They were like, ‘Wow, this food is great, and we have a great team in place!’
“It was such a great environment for a high school student. (Management) understood student life and the need to be nurturing but flexible. They embraced and celebrated the high school journey. The Loveless wasn’t just a place to make some money; it became a second home.”
The experience made an indelible impression on the young high school student. So much so that she continued to work weekend shifts not only while attending MTSU, but after graduating and landing a job as a producer and assignment manager at WSMV-TV in Nashville.
Eventually, she resigned from her media job in favor of a career at The Loveless because hospitality is innate to her.
“I love hosting,” she says. “For a couple of years before my two little ones, I would host almost 30 people in my house for Thanksgiving, with linens and my grandmother’s China. I love the chaos. Those who work in the hospitality industry have that in them.”
No matter the occasion, Buttrey and her Loveless teammates bring that spirit with them whether it’s welcoming a first-time visitor from a foreign country or hosting a meaningful event for up to 900 people in The Loveless Barn.
“I returned to The Loveless because I missed working on events,” she says. “We’re helping people celebrate and we’re also here when they experience the lowest of lows, such as the passing of a loved one. It’s humbling to know that people think of The Loveless Cafe for their most meaningful occasions.”
And about those biscuits ...
Biscuit makers are always busy at The Loveless Cafe. It’s not unusual for them to bake 10,000 in a single day, each made according to Annie's original recipe from 1951. The recipe was included as part of the original real estate transaction and all biscuit makers must sign a confidentiality agreement.
“If folks want that experience at home, we can ship the biscuit mix, or frozen biscuits, to them,” says Buttrey. “It might be a little bit of a mess to make but it’s really easy.”
The shipped biscuits are the closest thing to the real thing served at The Loveless Cafe. In addition, hundreds of recipes are available at no charge on the Loveless website, which also includes a link to the online store.
“We’ve grown and we have to keep up with times. But we stay true to the recipes, home cooking and the old-fashioned way.”