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Why millennials are flocking to Nashville

Robyn Donnelly and Katie MacLachlan, co-owners of the bar Walden in East Nashville, on why they decided to call Music City home.

Why millennials are flocking to Nashville
[Photo: Vito Palmisano/iStock]

When Katie MacLachlan decided to leave New York City, she immediately thought about moving to Nashville.

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“Nashville was always top on my list,” says MacLachlan, who is the director of design systems at Hearst. Though she originally planned on visiting several Southern cities before deciding where to head next, after a week in Music City, she was sold. “I just loved it.”

Her friend Robyn Donnelly, who was working in event management and bartending, soon followed. “I got tired of New York City also,” Donnelly says. “It was just too much [living] paycheck to paycheck.”

The pair now co-own Walden, a bar in East Nashville, and say that they’ve found the city to be a welcoming place for young transplants. “My favorite thing about Nashville [is] the sense of community,” says MacLachlan, who still works full-time for Hearst, in addition to owning Walden. “I think that has helped not just in our business but [our] quality of life and connecting with people.”

They’re not alone. Nashville ranked as the seventh fastest growing city in the U.S. in 2018—up from its number 20 ranking on Forbes’ annual list the year before. Almost 100 people per day moved to the Nashville metropolitan area in 2017, according to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. It’s an especially popular destination for young professionals who are drawn to the area for its job opportunities and more affordable cost of living.

“While I had a great job and a great apartment [in New York], I didn’t see how that would translate in the future to having a house or having work-life balance,” says MacLachlan. “I didn’t feel like New York City had that to offer unless you’re a billionaire.”

Their dream of starting a bar was just more feasible in Tennessee, says Donnelly. “We had a certain budget that would have never flown in New York,” she says. “We got this place; we had a budget for redesign; we stuck to it. We opened, and we had a little bit of runway, and we haven’t had to invest any more money to date.”

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They recently celebrated Walden’s first anniversary and are excited about what might come next. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity to expand on what we’ve started here with Walden in the past year,” says MacLachlan. “We’re launching a consulting company with our manager, so we can do menu creation. We can do events. We have our liquor catering license, so we’re blowing up that side of the business to be able to cater events. We’ve talked about doing a cocktail truck.”

Donnelly agrees. “I’d say the goal for the cocktail truck is Bonnaroo 2020. We’ll bring the cocktails!”

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About the author

Julia Herbst is the staff editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. Previously she worked as a writer and editor at Los Angeles magazine and BREAKER Magazine.

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