Beloved bakery owner and music industry veteran Dan Einstein dies
Dan Einstein, a beloved East Nashville bakery owner and former independent label pioneer, died Saturday of a prolonged illness, according to his family.
He was 61 years old.
Most Music City residents recognize Einstein for his go-to pastries and award-winning breakfast sandwiches inside Sweet 16th Bakery, the shop he and his wife Ellen Einstein opened in 2004.
In Lockeland Springs, many who frequent Sweet 16th see the bakery as a community pillar where an unassuming generosity from the Einstein family can set the stage for strangers to become friends and regular customers to adopt a family closeness to shopkeepers. .
And for decades before he hoarded Nashville’s sweet tooth, Einstein worked in the recording business on the ground floor of several influential indie operations, including co-founding John Prine’s Oh Boy Records and helping fellow artist- owner, Steve Goodman’s Red Pajamas Records.
Raised in New London, Connecticut, Einstein enrolled at UCLA after his family moved to Los Angeles in 1978. Booking shows on campus gave him his first experience in the music business, and Einstein’s work ethic soon propelled him to work with the late Prine and Goodman manager Al Bunetta.
At Red Pajamas and Oh Boy, Einstein helped build a model for artist-owned labels years before it became an industry commonality. Launched in 1981 after Prine kicked off major contracts, Oh Boy embraced guerrilla marketing – like mail ordering, flyers, postcards and post office box numbers on reviews. albums for fans to write about, for example – which helped grow the label and keep it going. Prine’s now coveted freelance career.
“All you’re trying to do is survive, or at least break even,” Einstein told the Tennessean last year. “We put together flyers, postcards, used whatever available information we had to get to people. … I don’t think it was ever unpleasant. But it was still fun.”
His production credits include Prine’s 1988 “Live” album, Goodman’s “Unfinished Business” and a “Live From The Mountain Stage” series that helped elevate the public radio program in the 1990s. won a Grammy Award in 1987 for co-producing Best Contemporary Folk Recording of the Year, ‘Tribute to Steve Goodman’ – a celebration of the late singer-songwriter that included Bonnie Raitt, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Prine and others .
Success at Oh Boy grew in the 1990s, with Einstein and company enlisting Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp on Prine’s 1991 album “The Missing Years”. Same Ideas: Roots rock band The Bis-Quits and songwriter Donnie Fritts found a musical home with Oh Boy in the ’90s. Troubadour Todd Snider followed in 2000 before eventually launching his own company, Aimless Records.
“If you think about the music of the time, most of those people didn’t fit…” Einstein said. “There was no place for the singer-songwriter in many cases. You started to see artists who had an audience – small, medium or large – follow the pattern. The pattern we set , involuntarily.”
Following:40 years of “no B-sides” with John Prine’s Oh Boy Records
In 2003, Einstein left the music industry to open a self-proclaimed old-school neighborhood bakery with his wife. The corner shop has become a go-to stop for breakfast, lunch, a personalized birthday cake or “One To Go” breakfast sandwich – the egg, green chili and biscuit combo that Food & Wine once named one of the best in the country.
Inside Sweet 16th, the bakers refuse to accept tips, instead a cup near the register collects change to donate to local charities; The couple’s giving spirit extended to the streets of East Nashville in 2020, when they provided residents with free food after a deadly tornado hit the neighborhood.
“We had survived the  tornado, so we felt like we had to stake our claim and bring something back to the neighborhood,” Einstein told East Nashvillian in 2021 after he and Ellen Einstein were named “East Nashvillians of the Year” by the publication . “Seeing the kindness of people in the neighborhood and the way everyone came together. Our thing was to make a living, pay our bills and give back to the people who live around us.
Some, including Einstein’s longtime friend Meghan Hayes, consider Sweet 16th to be the heart of East Nashville – a friendly place where friends, colleagues and partners can connect for hours over coffee and a few muffins.
“Once you’re gone, you can’t leave,” Hayes said, adding, “Some days when you have a tough day and you only have a minute [and] you want to go to the happiest place in the world, you go to the bakery. You walk in and there’s only love and acceptance.”
Einstein entered care at the nonprofit Alive Hospice last week. When news of his illness swept through the community, around 1,600 people donated to a GoFundMe account to help his wife. The fund has raised approximately $140,000, with more than a dozen donations exceeding $1,000.
Many delivered online donations with words of kindness, much like what they likely received when visiting the bakery.
“He [knew] that it doesn’t matter if you’re a baker or a record producer,” Hayes said. “What matters is how you treat people.
He is survived by his wife, Ellen Einstein. Donations may be made in Einstein’s name to Alive Hospice or Vanderbilt University Medical Center to support Dr. Michael Savona’s research. More information at give.vanderbilthealth.org/daneinstein.
The family plans to hold a private funeral due to coronavirus concerns, but a public celebration of Einstein’s life hopes to take place this spring. Those wishing to celebrate Einstein this week can RSVP on eventbrite.com to a virtual community service, scheduled for Wednesday evening.