Tupelo Honey Cafe opened its doors in Johnson City on Monday, June 16. (Photos by Nathan Baker/Johnson City Press)
The hivemind was squarely focused on biscuits, grits and banana pudding Monday afternoon, as hundreds swarmed Johnson City’s historic former CC&O railroad depot for a taste of Tupelo Honey Cafe’s Southern cuisine.
After months of buzz surrounding the anticipated opening of the Asheville-based restaurant, the parent company’s principals and local officials cut the ribbon on the 225-seat eatery, finally throwing the doors wide for hungry diners.
“What you have going on in downtown Johnson City is really special,” the growing restaurant chain’s owner, Steve Frabitore said before snipping the ceremonial ribbon. “It’s a great city, and we’re happy to be just a small part of what’s happening. You’re going to be amazed when you look back on where we are 10 years from now and realize all that has happened in your city.”
After the pleasantries were out of the way, the host staff began seating the assembling patrons in the high-ceilinged dining room, once the freight bay for the 100-year-old train station, and along the outdoor platform, where travelers long ago awaited the arrival of their steaming transportation.
Some guests paused in the bar area on the way to their seats to admire the massive model railroad built by more-than-hobbyists Bear Anderson and Larry Jackson, combing through the miniature landscape for hidden figurines.
David and Kimberly Konstantopoulos approached the restaurant’s heavy doors, glad to finally have the dining option in their own town.
“We’ve eaten at the one in Asheville, and we love it,” David said.
“It’s something that’s totally unique to Johnson City, the food they offer seems healthier, because they locally source what they can,” Kimberly added.
Tupelo Honey has enjoyed the sweet taste of success in the six other locations it’s opened, two in Asheville, followed by Greenville, S.C., Charlotte, Knoxville and Chattanooga. Its Raleigh restaurant is slated to open later this year, and one in Atlanta will follow in the next.
Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said he’s proud that, when the business put out feelers for its next location, the owners decided to light in the historic depot.
“I’m glad you recognized the potential you see from our city,” Van Brocklin said. “And I’m glad you wanted to take part in our rebirth.”
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