The Unexpected Entrepreneur

Words by Emma Crist

Photos by Abigail Bobo

“You know I don’t own this restaurant anymore, right?” Miranda hesitantly begins as we slide into a plush corner booth at Josephine, a contemporary restaurant in Nashville’s 12 South neighborhood. “I’m in a weird transition phase,” she continues. “I actually don’t own any restaurants right now.”

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But she has nothing to prove to me. Miranda is a local celebrity among Nashville food scene folk. Over the past decade, she’s founded a slew of the city’s hotspots, including Frothy Monkey, Burger Up, and Josephine. She’s lived in the 12 South area more than fifteen years now and has watched the neighborhood transform from her front porch (literally). More than that, she’s shaped much of the revitalization herself.

But much more than for her impressive résumé Miranda is known and loved by the community for the sense of home and belonging she seeks to bring to each of her restaurants.

A native of Louisiana, Miranda moved to Nashville in 2002 after spending the majority of her 20s in San Francisco and Boulder, Colorado, respectively. She bounced from job to job during those first years in Nashville, with nothing catching her interest and never feeling fully settled­ (no doubt the early signs of an entrepreneur).

“I was one of those people who never really knew what I wanted to do with my life,” she confesses. To my surprise, she holds a master’s degree in teaching. She wasn’t exactly on a direct path to culinary greatness. No, instead it was a rather unlikely series of events that brought her into the restaurant industry.

During a trip home in 2004, an old friend told her about a brand-new coffee shop called Frothy Monkey. He’d started the restaurant back in Louisiana, and it was taking off. He encouraged Miranda to open one in Nashville, though she had no culinary background or experience whatsoever. It was crazy, but she jumped at the opportunity. She was ready for a change—something big to pour passion into.

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“I knew nothing about starting a business. I purchased a book titled, “How to Open Up and Run a Successful Coffee Shop.” I mean, that was my naivete,” she laughs. “I didn’t know anything about coffee. I don’t even drink coffee.”

She drew the original plans for Frothy Monkey on graph paper with a ruler. When she started the renovation, someone stopped by and asked if she had a building permit. She didn’t, but she did have a vision. The chain’s tagline was, “It feels like home.” Miranda was driven to create a space that felt comfortable and safe—a space to connect.

“As an only child, I was always envious of big families. Maybe I was trying to create family in the businesses I created,” she wonders aloud.

Though her candidness is refreshing, you’d think she didn’t do any planning whatsoever by the way she shares her story. “I mean, these are all wild hairs I would have,” shrugs Miranda. She’ll admit she didn’t know a lot about business, but she wanted to be in the business of community.

Take Burger Up, for example. When Miranda opened the restaurant in 2010, it was the first in Nashville to have community-style tables—a personal priority of Miranda’s. Customers of the 12 South location still sit at the original tables today, dining side by side with complete strangers. Perhaps an even greater testament, five of the original staff members still work at Burger Up more than eight years after its launch. Who works at a restaurant for years without healthy community and strong leadership?

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Miranda has an uncanny ability to see worth in a blank canvas, whether a person or business. “People need to be seen, heard, and loved. It sounds cheesy in a business sense, but it’s true,” she expresses. “Accept people where they are, encourage them, and love them until they love themselves. I’ve seen many of my employees change their lives through that motto.”

Miranda cut her teeth in the industry during those six early years at Frothy. She admits business wasn’t always great, but growth finally came through grit and determination. After successfully launching Burger Up in 2010, her second business, the rest happened rather quickly. She sold Frothy Monkey in 2011, opened the doors to Josephine, sold Burger Up in 2014, re-launched Dino’s, and also launched three new restaurants—Prima, Geist, and Lulu.

Now, after over a decade of living in the neighborhood and playing a foundational role in its transformation, she’s packing her bags and moving out. For many, it’s hard to imagine a 12 South without Miranda Pontes, but she says it’s time. “I’m honored to be a part of what this neighborhood has become and to be a small patch in the quilt of 12 South.”

As for the future, Miranda doesn't seemed worried. She has a few "ideas up her sleeve," as always, but after spending over a decade running operations, opening multiple businesses, and knowing the ins and outs of everything going on, Miranda is looking forward to a time of rest. That is, until that next wild hair starts itching.