Anas Saba

Nashville Hidden Gems

Anas Saba is the man behind the Instagram page, @nashvillehiddengems, where he shines light on family owned restaurants across Music City. Anas is a Yemeni American and Nashville native who grew up spending time amongst the diverse international communities he now showcases in his content. Anas is a Fulbright Garcia Robles scholar to Mexico, a graduate of Belmont University, and he was recently featured in the Tennessean for his work supporting small businesses.

What made you decide to create to begin showcasing international restaurants off the beaten path?

In 2019, when Saba was a senior at Belmont, he had the idea for @nashvillehiddengems after conversations with friends from bigger cities. “They’d say things like ‘oh, you can’t find this type of food here, or there’s not this type of cuisine here. Just growing up around all the different immigrant communities here, I knew that you can find those things if you knew where to look.” Originally, the idea began as a food tour of South Nashville, which after the pandemic grew into the Instagram page we know today.

Over the time that you’ve grown up here, we’ve seen a drastic change in the restaurant scene. What impressed you most about that?

Saba notes how over the last couple of years, a number of local restaurants have shut down. However, at the same time, Saba thinks the pandemic lead to a lot of people deciding to start their own businesses, creating the food truck to restaurant pipeline, as well as pop-up restaurants. As for the future, he questions, with the rising costs, just how sustainable is the brick and mortar space going to be moving forward in Nashville?

Tell us about the food tours. How do you engage with people? Who are the folks that come on the food tours?

“Yeah, so the food tours have gone through a lot of iterations over the years. When I first started them, almost all my guests were tourists, people coming to visit Nashville. I hosted my tours on the Airbnb experiences platform and I still host some experiences through Airbnb, but a lot of people now I can book directly on my website. And I also am really pivoting more towards doing more private groups and corporate team building activities around the tour.” Saba goes on to explain the most unique aspect of the tour–the access the tourists receive, “What I really try to do on the tour is take people to places where I have a good relationship with the owners there and that they’ll come out and not only are we trying some delicious food, but we’re getting to learn a little bit about the cultural origin of the owners and also just what that food means to them, the history behind it, how they used to eat it growing up. And I think that level of access is something that I really think is the biggest value that the tour provides.”

We understand that 65% or so of your audience is women. Tell us a little bit more about who are those folks? Are they locals? Do you see that shift as your brand has organically shifted in that local direction?

Yeah, definitely. On my Instagram, I definitely feel like also the people who are most active and engaging on my comments, it does tend to be women. I think for me, when I think about just the type of creator I want to be and the type of the space I want to create on my platform, I want it to be a place where people are comfortable people, they feel that they’re welcome to make comments. And that I would say I really have tried in the last four years of building this page too. I try to respond to every single message, every single comment.” Saba shares that almost every single booking for his food tour is led by a woman, varying from bachelorette parties to local groups who want to experience something different in Nashville.

You have 91,000 followers on Instagram. How has that happened? Has it been organically as your page has grown and the more people you’ve brought into your circle?

At the start of last year, Saba’s page stood at around 23,000 followers. He shares that at this point he was hesitant to dive into reels, and he noticed that after he overcame that, reels have become one of the main reasons his account has grown. This, as well as consistency. “I think in the earlier stages of social media and everything was just image-based. It didn’t take as much time to create a post. I mean, now with the video format, for me at least, it takes me a lot more time. I’ve got to do the voiceover, I’ve got to get the editing, I’ve got to whittle down all the footage so I have a little 30, 60 second clip. So it takes up a lot of time, and as you do it more, you get more efficient with it. But for me, it’s been about being consistent and letting my audience also adjust to the different style that I do. I think early on all I was doing was photos. I slowly started to introduce my face, slowly started to introduce my voice into the videos. I feel like my audience has really responded to that and the fact that they can kind of know what to expect and every video they know kind the style that I’m going to be doing.”

How do the small businesses that you are featuring react to your content?

“I would say at least 70% of the time, I didn’t really message them that I’m coming. I didn’t do anything. It wasn’t preset up beforehand. I just go, I order my food and I have my experience, and I do kind of a very organic video, organic review of my experience there. You never really know when a video is really going to pop off and get a lot of reach, but it’s always awesome to hear that, Hey, we sold out for three days because of your video, or we’re new and we really need to get our name out there, and this video helped us a lot. Or people are coming in and they’re showing us your video and they’re saying, this is why they came in. That always means a lot to me, and I’m always happy to see that happen.”

Resources and Links

Nashville Hidden Gems on Instagram