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Tupelo Honey Cafe to open new location in Johnson City

Madison Mathews • Jul 31, 2012 at 4:59 PM

After months of mouth-watering anticipation, Tupelo Honey Cafe, the popular Asheville-N.C.-based restaurant, has decided to bring its top-notch Southern cuisine to Johnson City.

Tupelo Honey Cafe announced Tuesday it will open its fourth location at the historic CC&O Railroad Depot in downtown Johnson City by fall 2013.

“We are very excited to open in the Tri-Cities market,” Tupelo owner Steve Frabitore said in a press release. “We have had an enormous amount of interest and enthusiasm from folks in the area encouraging us to come to the area, and we are especially excited to be a part of downtown Johnson City’s revitalization efforts. We believe it is important to preserve this historic building and we are eager to add new jobs to the area’s economy.”

Tupelo operates two locations in North Carolina, including the original cafe in downtown Asheville. The restaurant recently opened its third location in downtown Knoxville.

Tupelo Honey’s journey to Johnson City began in March with a social media campaign that asked hungry fans to vote for the next location.

During the five-day campaign, the Tri-Cities came out on top, and Tupelo Honey’s senior leadership team began an extensive search of the area, meeting with city and community leaders in Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City.

“We visited both sides of main street in Bristol as well as Kingsport and Johnson City,” Frabitore said. “It was not an easy decision since everywhere we went, we were so warmly welcomed. Each community did a terrific job of helping us understand the town’s assets and offerings. Frankly, the hospitality we received in all of the cities makes us extraordinarily eager to be in the Tri-Cities region.”

In the end, the decision to make Johnson City Tupelo’s new home was spurred by the location of the depot, which sits along the corridor between East Tennessee State University and the downtown area, and the revitalization efforts being done by the Washington County Economic Development Council, the Johnson City Development Authority and the city.

“We’re just thrilled to be at the historic train station in Johnson City. We seem to have a love for historic buildings. Our downtown Asheville location is, of course, an old building and the one in Knoxville is in an old building. This just kind of seemed to fit us and we’re excited to be part of its preservation and we’re excited to be part of al the exciting stuff that’s happening in downtown Johnson City,” Tupelo’s Director of Marketing Elizabeth Sims said.

Tupelo Honey’s move to Johnson City represents another step in the revitalization of the downtown area.

“Tupelo Honey is a well-loved pillar of the Asheville community, and they will make a great addition to our fast-growing downtown,” Johnson City Development Authority Chairman Logan McCabe said in a release. “Their leadership appreciates history and tradition, which is a perfect fit with the direction of downtown Johnson City. As they continue progressing toward icon status in the Mountain South region, their Depot location in the heart of the ETSU to downtown corridor should only help enhance their story.”

The restaurant will occupy the 5,800-square-foot freight bay and will have approximately 175 seats, a full bar, outside dining along the station platform and a centerpiece open display kitchen where customers will be able to observe and interact with Tupelo staff.

Each Tupelo location typically employs 80 people.

The depot where Tupelo will make its home is owned by Sevierville attorney and entrepreneur Joe Baker.

Baker purchased the property from the Johnson City Development Authority last month for $5,000 under the pretense of opening a locally themed brewery and accompanying restaurant.

With Tupelo set to turn the historic depot into a restaurant, the question of how it will impact the location of the brewery is unclear.

Economic Development Council CEO Robert Reynolds said the brewery’s future is in the hands of Baker.

“When they hooked up, it was sort of a perfect fit for Tupelo Honey to go in there to further their plans, so I’m not really sure the impact on the brewery and whether they’ll look at a different location or what their plans are. That’s in that developer’s hands,” he said.

Baker could not be reached for comment.

Whatever happens with the brewery, Reynolds said the JCDA’s main goal was to sell the depot in order to get it back on the tax roll as a revenue-generating asset in the community.

Tupelo Honey’s arrival at the depot means just that.

“It should be a catalyst to spur further development as well. Tupelo Honey’s certainly a well-known name and typically other retailers follow those successful retailers, such as Tupelo Honey, so we expect there will be a good ripple effect as well,” Reynolds said.

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