Rotier's Restaurant closes after 75 years of serving one of Nashville's best cheeseburgers

Owners of the building that houses the old-school eatery said they "were going a different direction," but Rotier's owner said the restaurant likely would've closed anyway

Mary Hance Brad Schmitt
Nashville Tennessean
Rotier's, in the Vanderbilt area, has been serving up cheeseburgers since 1945.

Rotier's, one of Nashville's oldest restaurants, is permanently closed after 75 years of operation in the shadow of Vanderbilt University.

The longtime restaurant, less than a block from campus and Centennial Park, was known for generations for its award-winning cheeseburger on French bread, plate lunches and homey atmosphere.

Second-generation owner Margaret Ann Rotier Crouse said that the changing restaurant landscape, restrictive COVID-19 rules for limiting patrons and lease issues spelled disaster for Rotier's.

The final straw came this month when the building's new owner told the Rotier family they would no longer lease to the restaurant, Crouse said.

Crouse, 72, said she is heartbroken.

"This has been here since I was born. It’s hard," she said, voice breaking.

"But it's been really fun. Everybody came in and talked and told stories about their lives. Their grandparents brought them here. Multiple generations. They really enjoyed being here, and that makes me happy."

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A 2018 picture of Margaret Anne Rotier Crouse. right, and her son Jacob Crouse, at Rotier's Restaurant on Elliston Place

The restaurant had cut back its hours to offer lunch only about two years ago and closed its doors in March due to the pandemic.

"We thought it would just be for a few weeks," said Crouse, who has has worked at the restaurant for almost 50 years. 

"My mom and dad loved this restaurant. The world has changed a lot over the years. I thought with COVID it would just be closed for a little while, but...it is what it is."

Crouse said that even if the building's owners had offered a new lease to the restaurant, Rotier's still might be closing.

"With COVID, we just couldn't make enough money," she said.

The restaurant, which opened in 1945, with its old-school pine wood paneling and well-worn creaky and sometimes lumpy booths, at 2413 Elliston Place, has been a popular destination for generations of loyal locals and Vanderbilt fans and students, who enjoyed the hand-patted burgers and family atmosphere.

Always a fave on burger list

Over the years, Rotier's was featured near the top of many local and national "best burgers" lists.

In the early days, burgers were 25 cents. By 1992, the cheeseburger was 65 cents and at last check, it was $7.99.

In its heyday, the restaurant got accolades from Southern Living magazine, The Food Network, and "Hamburgers Across America." 

The cheeseburger on French bread was a customer favorite at Rotier's restaurant.

It had celebrity appeal, too, with patrons including Jimmy Buffett (of "Cheeseburger in Paradise" fame), Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, Kim Cattrall and Martina McBride. 

The restaurant was started by the late John Rotier Sr. and Evelyn Rotier after World War II when they transformed the former Al's Tavern in the same location, into their hamburger and beer restaurant.

John Rotier Sr. died in 1981 and the spunky Evelyn Rotier retired in 1996 and died in 2014. Their sons John Rotier Jr., died in 1999, and Charlie Rotier died in September.

In recent years, Crouse's team has included third-generation Rotier family members, Jacob Crouse and Charley Rotier. 

The Rotier family does not own the Elliston Place building where the restaurant is located. No information was currently available about the future of the building.

Crouse said her niece and nephew might be looking for a new location, and old-school signature furnishings would go into storage.

But, she added, "this building obviously is a big part of what made Rotier's what it was."