Missourians can get a taste of Nashville's home-style cooking and music without driving to Tennessee.
Heart of Nashville owners Christina Dallas Jones and her husband Jym Howe first visited Tonanzio's a few years ago when Howe's band played there. Jones said she remembers liking the restaurant and property.
When they were at Tonanzio's this past spring, Jones said the owner approached them about buying the building. Just a few months later, Jones and Howe moved - leaving behind Nashville to open a Nashville-themed restaurant in Missouri.
In keeping with the Nashville-theme, the restaurant will have line dancing on Friday and Saturday nights. And Jones said servers sing in between waiting on tables.
"Nashville is all about the musicians and all about having a great time," Jones said. "In order to make it in Nashville you basically do serve while you sing."
Jones said not all of the servers sing and the ones who do have to audition first.
Nicole Dawson, a senior at New Bloomfield High School, is one of four singing servers. She said she isn't shy about performing, however she has had to get used to singing.
"I'm not shy to performing dance, but now that I'm getting into singing it's a different type of performing. I really like it now," Dawson said.
Dawson said the servers are learning songs. They know Johnny Cash songs, are learning a Shania Twain song and they know the "cup song" from the movie "Pitch Perfect." For the cup song, Dawson said the servers learned the accompanying cup routine.
Dawson is also the granddaughter of the previous restaurant, Tonanzio's, owner. She said the restaurant was in her family for more than 40 years. She grew up helping out at Tonanzio's and performed in the restaurant's dance company. She and her older sister and her younger brother all helped out at Tonanzio's at an early age.
"Once I got into high school I started helping out as a waitress but mostly, I've just been raised around here," Dawson said. "We got thrown into it young."
Dawson said the Heart of Nashville owners have become family friends. Jones said the Tonanzio's owners have become like family to her.
When they first purchased the property, Jones said they considered keeping it an Italian restaurant. But they wanted to do something less common in Missouri. That's why they chose to open the Heart of Nashville as a meet n' three restaurant - meaning it serves a rotating menu.
Every Tuesday the same menu is served, and there is a different menu item every night of the week. Jones said she hasn't seen meet n' three restaurants in Missouri, but has seen more in the south. There are also a few signature dishes that are served all week long. One of those items are St. Louis-style ribs.
The restaurant's executive chef Barton Bailey, born and raised in Jefferson City, said the ribs and jalapeno mac and cheese are a couple of his favorite menu items.
The restaurant's family-feel is what Dawson said is her favorite part.
"The atmosphere itself is really fun," Dawson said. "We make it like a big family atmosphere. ... The customers are like your friends."
The restaurant is open, but has further renovations planned. The stage and ballroom are being renovated, a gift shop will be added as well as display cases with music memorabilia. Jones, who comes from an event-planning background, said the Heart of Nashville will host private events.
She hopes to have the ballroom space renovated by the spring to rent out for parties and events. In the next year, Jones said they would like to make use of the other dining area on the property. She said the second dining option would still have a music theme to it.
"There's so much to do in that venue," Jones said. "Come watch us grow is our biggest slogan right now."
Heart of Nashville is open from 5-10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. On Sundays, Heart of Nashville serves a "come and get it buffet."