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Thompson Hotels Nashville Influencers X Miranda Pontes

Food & Drink

Helping Nashville Eat Cleaner

Nashville might not be BEST known for its healthy eating options, but Miranda Pontes is looking to change that. At her new restaurant, Lulu, which opens this month, she’ll offer fast, fresh, and delicious options. Pontes is well-known in the local hospitality scene for creating warm, welcoming spaces. If you’re in a rush, grab a salad here. If you’ve got a little time, stick around one of the city’s hippest new spots.

 I read that Lulu will feature “hearty” salads. Describe some of the best and why they’ll make the perfect takeout / fast casual meals.

Healthful and hearty to Lulu means more than tofu and greens – it means ingredients capable of standing alone but play much better together. 

The Lulu Salad has baby kale, beets, pistachio, citrus slices, goat cheese, golden raisins and tossed in champagne vinaigrette. (All of a sudden I’m reminded of the song “Champagne Supernova.”) Top this with grilled salmon or our veggie burger and you’ve got yourself a meal that’s pretty, hearty and super good for you. (Steak or chicken are other add-on options.)

Our “Brother G Chopped” — a nod to Lulu’s brother Geist next door — is more of a traditional meal salad to which you’ll most likely add steak or at least salivate at the thought. Romaine, cabbage, avocado, egg, bacon, cucumber, homemade croutons, blue cheese dressing. 

You can dive into these salads, grain-based bowls, rotisserie chicken, a burger and more while sitting at Lulu, picnicking in a park, or delivered to your couch. 

 How did you develop your plans for Lulu’s interior and what will make it special?

Upon signing the lease for Lulu, I was handed an architectural drawing with only an outline of the perimeter of the building. I studied that for a while then headed to Los Angeles for some inspiration. Borrowing from Superba, Gjusta and Butcher’s Daughter, the interior started to take shape in my head. I also brought in expertise in furniture and lighting composition from my savvy friend, Anne Marie Garcia.

Then Instagram. One late night, I slid down an Instagram rabbit hole, found a particular chair I had to have, emailed the designer and awoke to a prompt response… from Copenhagen. As in Denmark. So that I could avoid overseas shipping, they graciously introduced me to the owner of Danish Designs Store in Culver City, CA. That prompted another LA trip since I thought it was a good idea to actually sit in samples of the remaining chairs that needed to be purchased. Danish Designs Store took it from there and has since been my source for most of Lulu’s furniture and lighting since. “Scandinavian Lulu” was born after all that. 

To me, when building character and soul into a space, it’s important to incorporate a variety of art forms. Random pieces of art I’ve collected with Lulu in mind during random trips over the last couple of years will be scattered about. There’s a piece from a street fair in Santa Fe; vintage family beach photos (of a random family) from Ojai, CA; a “YES TO ALL” neon sign from our friends at Sideshow Sign Co. in Nashville; a large-scale photo taken in Marfa, TX by my friend, photographer Noah Abrams; a couple of pieces from Larry Nieheus; sculptures from the Guggenheim gift shop in NYC; and much more. 

Your restaurant next door to Lulu, Geist, is located in an old blacksmith shop. What are some of the challenges and pleasures of working in adaptive reuse in the city?

Certainly is both/and! Challenges were understandable. But when I got the call in 2014 from the new owners of the Geist property asking if I’d like to take on a restaurant project in that space, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. Yes, yes and yes with pleasure was my reply.

I’m grateful Nashville goes to such lengths to insure that the integrity of historic buildings remains intact. Sure it takes more time and more inspections, but all in all, it’s worth it. While Geist needed some structural reinforcement in a few areas, it was simply stunning as-found. Gorgeous natural light, original brick and one horseshoe dating back to the Civil War is enough. Any “new” materials were sourced as repurposed. We had to replace the floors but chose 100-year-old white oak and left it rough-cut. The Geist family home stood nearby in what is now Geist garden. The bricks from the home were saved and used for the wall around that garden. The bar top is made out of walnut from a single tree. You’ll find wood, brick, brass and natural tile throughout – timeless materials. 

In 2010, you founded Burger Up as an alternative to a fast burger joint. What did you learn from this experience that you’ve taken into your more recent culinary ventures?

I’m still learning and in no way am I an expert restaurateur. Burger Up was a true labor of love. Opening on a wing and a prayer and with little funds, I’ve learned that it takes perseverance more than know-how. It takes recognizing my weaknesses and building a team to bring in what I lack. An uber-creative visionary with an altruistic heart quickly glosses over eyes of bankers and does little for spreadsheets. While I’ve had to do it all in the past and know my way around the business side, I can now celebrate and value my strengths without needing to do it all. My first hire, always, is a COO – aka the other side of my brain.

Good or bad, I’m a risk taker. Perhaps my risks are now more calculated? Perhaps. Guided strongly by my gut, I have to trust it. I have to trust my ability to identify a food concept that doesn’t already exist in Nashville and give it a shot. I guess that makes me a pioneer of sorts?

I’m learning you can’t make everyone happy. This means the bookends – the 10% on each side of the spectrum – the folks who might not find something for them at my restaurant while I strive to offer something for everyone. This lesson hasn’t completely sunk in as I relentlessly attempt to prove wise words from business books wrong. As Lulu would say, yes to all! Right?

And last but most important, I know I’m going to get it wrong sometimes and that’s okay. But if I do the best I can, set my employees up to succeed, love them, respect them and then get the hell out of their way, things are gonna be alright.