Co-owner of Germantown Café East found dead inside restaurant cooler

Monday, June 18, 2012 at 1:30pm

updated 5:20 p.m.

Prominent Nashville restaurateur Jay Luther, 47, was found dead Monday morning in a walk-in cooler at the Germantown Café East around 9:30 a.m.

The Metro Nashville Police Department said the initial investigation points to the death as an accident, as there were no indications of foul play. Luther was co-owner and chef of Germantown Café East as well as the original in Germantown.

An MNPD statement on Monday evening indicated that officers had been dispatched to the restaurant after a robbery alarm was triggered Sunday night. One sergeant and three officers checked on the business.

“When they arrived at the restaurant at 8:34 p.m., they found the building to be dark and all doors secure. A sign in the window gave notice that the business was closed due to a power outage. The officers spoke to a security guard at the 5th and Main property who said that the electricity had been restored prior to the police response,” the release stated. “Given that the restaurant was totally secured and closed, and given that electrical surges have been known to cause errant alarms, the officers elected not to force their way into the restaurant.”

Chief Steve Anderson has ordered a review of Sunday night's response.

Earlier on Monday, MNPD spokesman Don Aaron said a power outage occurred at the Fifth and Main building in East Nashville Friday. The restaurant had been closed for the weekend due to the outage, and management put dry ice in the cooler to preserve vegetables and other food.

Police believe when Luther went to check on the restaurant at some point Sunday evening the cooler door closed behind him and he became trapped inside.

Aaron said the dry ice might have caused carbon dioxide to displace oxygen in the room. So when Luther was locked in, he may have died from carbon dioxide poisoning. Aaron also said they found cardboard scraps on the scene that might have indicated that Luther attempted to break out. He didn’t have a cell phone on him.

Aaron said the locking mechanism on the cooler door was broken for some time.

MNPD is still investigating the case and hasn’t classified it yet. An autopsy is expected to be performed on Tuesday.

Luther opened Germantown Café with business partner Chris Lowry in North Nashville in 2003. Luther ran the back of the house as executive chef with co-owner Lowry running the front of the house as general manager. The duo opened Germantown Café East in the fall of 2011, replacing their original concept in the space, Allium, which launched in 2008.

Laura Wilson, a longtime Nashville chef who now heads the Grow Local Kitchen at the Nashville Farmers’ Market, remembered Luther fondly.

“Jay was a very talented chef,” Wilson said. “Chris [Lowry] and Jay took great chances in up-and-coming neighborhoods. Restaurateurs all over Nashville are grateful for his work.”

13 Comments on this post:

By: StopMooching on 6/18/12 at 12:21

Why would something like a freezer emergency latch not be repaired immediately? HUGE liability

By: WickedTribe on 6/18/12 at 2:55

That's what happens when you don't keep your cell phone on your person.

By: dargent7 on 6/19/12 at 5:24

All walk-ins have a manual knob that you push on to let you OUT when the door closes behind you.
How incredibly stupid/ careless to not have that fixed since many personnel use the freezer.
And, on a Sunday, after the cafe closed, he didn't carry a cell phone?
What's the burglar alarm doing in the freezer?
Too weird. Too sad.

By: C.A.Jones on 6/19/12 at 6:18

What a comedy of errors. Would have been a lot better if the guy didn't die though. I feel sorry for his family and friends....

By: Left-of-Local on 6/19/12 at 6:22

The chief makes it sound good, but I think anyone who has ever depended on Metro to respond swiftly and intelligently to an alarm knows better. I just don't see this deliberate and logical evaluation that he described happening. They probably showed up, MAYBE got out of the car, shrugged, and went back to writing as many bullshit speeding tickets as possible.

By: anie7781 on 6/19/12 at 6:38

There are multiple locations for burglar alarms in restaurants. The purpose of a burglar alarm in a freezer is that it allows employees to lock themselves inside during an attempted robbery and still be able to alert the authorities.


By: dargent7 on 6/19/12 at 8:01

anie: You're right. I hadn't thought of that.

By: talktotennessee on 6/19/12 at 8:59

What concerns is that police failed to investigate! Is this becoming common practice? Recently walked up on a neighbor burglarizing my house. An SUV pulled up to the rear gate removed to facilitate theft. Alarmed, I went inside to check house where ice-maker waterline was clipped in process of stealing refrigerator, water spraying everywhere. The burglar was soaking wet. I called 911. While inside, someone drove away the car before police arrived. Other appliances, already removed, nowhere in sight. My neighbor, caught in the act, denied involvement. He told police he "found things that way" plus the vehicle was gone. The police chose to believe him despite the fact a large chest was there on the patio! Had police walked over to the neighbor's house, they might have discovered my stolen items but they clearly did not want to be bothered. I would later discover the neighbor had been recently released from jail having been incarcerated for aggravated burglary. My stove, washer, dryer, barbecue grill, and furniture, all lost because police failed to "investigate." I could prove nothing.
Sadly in this case a man lost his life because police failed to do their job.

By: WickedTribe on 6/19/12 at 9:22

Odd that the alarm only went off once though. You'd think he'd be triggering it over and over again until someone arrived (if he had actually triggered it from inside the freezer).

By: anie7781 on 6/19/12 at 12:25

I don't begrudge the police for NOT kicking down the door based on the recent power outages.. However, Jay was the CO-OWNER. Why wasn't the other CO-OWNER informed that the police resonded to an internal robbery alarm? Why wasn't someone at the other location (3 miles away) informed of the alarm?

By: yucchhii on 6/19/12 at 12:42

1- I don't like allowing the door to a coller OR freezer to close while I'm inside! I don't care if there is an alarm or not! This is ONE of those reasons why!! If I go into a walkin freezer, There "WILL" be an object of some sort to block that door from closing...I don't care if I'm in there for an hour!! I "WILL NOT" be closed in under "NO" circumstances!! 2- The lack of investigation shows on the behalf of police that "STUPIDITY" is running rampant in this world!! We're supposed to trust our lives to them? I don't trust my life to "NO" man or woman!!!

By: Lab on 6/20/12 at 6:22

The article states that the dry ice(CO2) was brought in earlier to keep things cool during the electrical outage. My guess is that there would have been a very high amount of CO2 in gas form already present in the cooler when he entered, possibly so little Oxygen that he would have been in trouble the moment the door closed, so tripping the alarm only one time could have been all he could do before suffocating. He was probably already dead before Metro even arrived. A sad lesson about paying attention to safety devices. Condolences to the family and friends.

By: jacklance on 6/27/12 at 2:27

thats happen when you wont have emergency back up near your surroundings
walk in refrigeration repair service