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City, county officials court Tupelo Honey

Jennifer Sprouse • Jul 17, 2012 at 9:59 PM

City and county officials met with representatives from Asheville, N.C.-based restaurant Tupelo Honey Cafe on Tuesday to show support over the possibility of the eatery putting down roots in the old CC&O railroad depot.

After months of waiting, the decision of where a new Tupelo Honey will be located could be announced within a week or less.

The cafe started a social media campaign in March asking their fans to comment on their Facebook page as to where they would like to see a new Tupelo built. Tri-Cities fans dominated the polls with the highest amount of votes, but the decision on where to place the cafe was torn between Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City, leaving Tupelo representatives searching for the perfect spot.

Elizabeth Sims, director of marketing for Tupelo, said Tuesday the restaurant’s search is nearly complete.

“I think we’re very close. We are supposed to get some additional information tomorrow,” Sims said. “I hate to commit, because we don’t have all of the information yet.”

Sims said those visiting Tuesday were impressed with the location and the atmosphere of the downtown Johnson City spot.

“It’s a wonderful structure,” she said. “It’s got so much character. ... And we had a very, very warm welcome from a lot of folks from the community, so we were able to get lots of different perspectives on the growth in Johnson City, which is very impressive.”

City and county officials such as Mayor Jeff Banyas, Johnson City School System Chairwoman Kathy Hall, Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois and State Rep. Dale Ford made a showing at the depot location to greet Tupelo and to talk with them about Johnson City.

Sims said she was impressed with the current growth of Johnson City was undergoing, as well as the overall diversity of the city.

“It was fun. We had a good time and learned a lot,” she said. “I think what is going to happen downtown with the Greenway and all of the plans for that street, I think that’s going to be a lovely improvement for the city.”

Mitch Miller, executive vice president with the Washington County Economic Development Council, said he felt as though the visit went well and that both sides walked away with positive impressions.

“I thought it was a great visit. We had a great turnout from some community leaders who really showed their support,” Miller said. “Tupelo was very ... impressed with the potential that the depot holds. It’s a property that they see a lot of value in, not only from the restaurant standpoint, but the significance of restoring a building like that back to what it used to be back in the day.”

While the restaurant could still decide to go with the Bristol or Kingsport locations, Miller said he is hopeful the restaurant will come to Johnson City.

“We left the meeting excited about potential for what could be if Tupelo were there and ... I think that they left here excited about what the potential for them would be,” he said. “The ball’s in their court, but we want to continue to be in front of these guys and do what we can to promote our community and sell our community to them.”

Sims, who didn’t want to pinpoint a date of when Tupelo would announce the new Tri-Cities location for their restaurant, said either way they were excited about coming to Northeast Tennessee.

“We’re just excited to be in the Tri-Cities, in general. I think wherever we land is going to be pretty awesome,” she said.

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