The tastes of Tupelo Honey Cafe will likely be served in Johnson City a few months after the restaurant’s initial announcement that it would open in the historic CC&O Railroad Depot by fall 2013.
That opening date will likely be in early 2014.
“We’re continuing to look forward to being in Johnson City. All of the details of our agreement with (developers Greg Cox and Joe Baker) have been a little slower than we thought but we’re getting there,” said Elizabeth Sims, director of marketing for Tupelo Honey Cafe.
The Asheville, N.C.-based restaurant announced in July its intention to open its new location in downtown Johnson City.
Sevierville attorney Joe Baker purchased the historic landmark from the Johnson City Development Authority in July for $5,000 in order to open a brewery and locally-themed restaurant.
When discussions with Tupelo Honey Cafe began following Baker’s purchase, the developers decided to put the brewery on hold in order to sign a deal with the restaurant.
“There’s just not enough space for a brewery to go in there. It was pretty much either Tupelo or the brewery and we hope we’ll find somewhere else to do the brewery after we get this project done. We didn’t want to lose Tupelo,” said co-developer Cox.
Meanwhile, Tupelo Honey Cafe has opened its downtown Knoxville location — the first location outside the restaurant’s Asheville, N.C., home — and is working on opening a new location in Greenville, S.C., in the summer.
“We’re just on hold, you know, waiting on them to tell us when they want to start that work and complete that work, so we can start what we need to do,” Sims said.
Cox said he met the contractor and architect last week to iron out the details as the project moves further in the renovation phase, which is being done by Rainey Contracting.
“I told the architect to have it done this week and he said he would so permits could be pulled. I told the contractor I’d give him two weeks to get his guys there,” Cox said.
New renderings by architect Uwe Rothe show a major facelift to the aging building. One of the biggest changes to the look of the structure will be the return of the original red brick.
Crews had been doing some preliminary work on the structure to prep it for the shell work that has to be done, but the onslaught of rain and winter weather kept much of that work from being done.
Cox said he decided to wait until a full crew was on site for the work to be done.
When all of the permits have been pulled and the city’s Historic Zoning Commission has signed off on the architect’s designs, it’s full steam ahead for the project.
“We’ve got to work with Tupelo to get their design with what we want, and then they all have to be engineered. You got to get all your mechanical, electrical, plumbing drawings made off of what the architect does,” Cox said.
A pending land swap between Baker, Cox and the city is in the works so the city can extend its walkway along West State of Franklin Road. In return, the city plans to give the developers about five feet to straighten their property line.
When the renovation is complete, Cox said it should complement the downtown area and all of the work that is being done along the State of Franklin corridor.
“The city’s worked really well with us. We’re trading some land for that walkway. We’ve worked really well together to make sure what we do and what the city does is going to work together,” he said.
Cox said renovation will take about seven months to complete, at which point the building will be handed off to the Tupelo Honey design team, who will take care of restaurant construction.
After the team makes sure all the equipment is in place, Sims said a training team will begin working on hiring.
The entire process to open the restaurant will likely take about four months from the time the Tupelo Honey design team takes over, Sims said.
As the city continues to make strides toward revitalization, Sims said they are excited about being in Johnson City.
“All of the wonderful work that the city is doing with the farmers market and Founder’s Park and ... the improvements to the road, I think that will hopefuly be done and so we’ll be ready to open with a great fanfare,” she said.
Although they haven’t opened yet, Tupelo Honey Cafe is already getting involved in the community. Chef Brian Sonoskus will be supplying food for the Cocktails and Catwalks event March 17 at The Mall at Johnson City.
The event is hosted by the Junior League of Johnson City, and will be sponsored by Tupelo Honey Cafe, One Stop Wine & Liquors and Daytime Tri-Cities.
For more information, visit www.mallatjohnsoncity.com/events.