If Tupelo Honey Cafe’s decision to open its fourth restaurant at the historic CC&O Railroad Depot in downtown Johnson City made you wonder about the future of the proposed brewery at the same location, rest assured — beer will still flow in Johnson City.
“We still plan to proceed with some type of manufacturing facility in the area. I’m not sure exactly at this point where that will be. We’re still looking at downtown property to accomplish that,” depot owner Joe Baker said.
Baker purchased the historic landmark from the Johnson Development Authority in July for $5,000 in order to open a brewery and locally themed restaurant.
When Baker began eyeing the property last year, his plan was to partner with a restaurant that would take up the remaining space once the manufacturing facility was built inside the depot’s freight bay area.
As he got closer to purchasing the property, the talks with Tupelo Honey’s team began.
With Tupelo Honey’s announcement this week to turn the freight bay area and the outdoor platform into a restaurant that will have 175 seats, a full bar and outdoor dining, Baker said it just made more sense for the restaurant to have more room at the property.
The two-story structure at the property leaves room for future development, which Baker said could include some type of brewing operation at the depot.
Even if there’s some brewing element at the depot, Baker still plans on opening his own facility somewhere in Johnson City.
“My hope has always been to make beer. I’ve never been interested in the restaurant business, so on our part we were never interested in opening a restaurant. (Tupelo Honey) certainly fits with the direction that we want to go,” he said.
After Baker’s purchase of the property and Tupelo Honey’s vested interest in restoring the landmark, the stars seemed to align in order to make the deal happen.
Tupelo’s decision to come to Johnson City came after months of research into the entire Tri-Cities area, and Baker said their decision means nothing but good things for the city and the downtown area.
“Given the opportunity downtown has now with having a restaurant of that caliber being interested, it opens up a lot of opportunities not just for a brewery or for our plans but for a lot of other folks in that same area,” he said.
This means the downtown revitalization efforts being led by the city and investors like Baker could pay off in the long run if more businesses follow Tupelo Honey in coming to the area.
Although his plan all along was to create a successful business — similar to what he has done with his Gatlinburg-based Ole Smoky Distillery — Baker said he also wanted to do something proactive in helping the downtown area.
“In business, I’m of the opinion that if you do good and create revenue at the same time that should be your goal and that’s just a good opportunity for us,” he said.
Tupelo Honey, which is based in Asheville, N.C., operates under a similar business model in which they support whatever community they are in.
Baker said that’s why he wanted the restaurant to move into the depot.
“I think that the outreach from the business that we’ve seen in Asheville and in Knoxville fits with the idea and philosophy that we had with the project, and that was, do some good for the downtown area,” he said.
Tupelo Honey plans to open the depot location in fall 2013, and Baker said they’re already working with architects on the project.
Baker said he still plans on beginning renovations on the depot property in order to get things lined up for when Tupelo Honey is ready to start building.
“We’re going to put a substantial investment in the property in order for it to work for Tupelo,” he said.