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Johnson City’s Willow Tree: A Community Center for Goodness

Fred Sauceman • Updated Sep 18, 2019 at 4:09 PM

When Teri Dosher and her daughter Zoë opened The Willow Tree Coffeehouse & Music Room in downtown Johnson City in 2014, they wanted to create a welcoming place. They decided that nothing says “we’re glad you’re here” any better than a cup of tomato soup and a pimento cheese sandwich.

The Willow Tree is a live music venue. It’s also a coffee shop. And it’s a café. This enterprising mother-and-daughter team makes that difficult and demanding combination work. In just five years, it has become one of Johnson City’s most popular places for reading, studying, and celebrating the sounds of the region.

In space that once housed a department store, a health food store, and later the Galaxy Lounge, Teri and Zoë have created what they call “a community center for people trying to do good things.”

In thinking of a name for their new business, Teri and Zoë looked no further than their front yard.

“There’s a willow tree Mom and I enjoyed meditating under and talking about things,” says Zoë. “It was our happy place.”

In creating the menu for the café side of the house, the Doshers looked no further than their own kitchen and family.

“My mother, my aunts, and my grandmothers always made homemade pimento cheese,” remembers Teri. “It was something you were expected to do. Each woman had her own take on it. They were fairly competitive. My aunt and my cousin would argue over whose pimento cheese disappeared the fastest.”

Teri did deviate from family tradition a bit when she was building the Willow Tree menu. She walks on the pimento cheese wild side with a touch of smoked paprika. “It has made all the difference,” she says.

Zoë adds that most everything her mother cooks benefits from shakes of garlic powder and onion powder. Teri introduced her young daughter to vegetables through servings of quiche. It’s on the Willow Tree menu, too.

And then there’s the meatloaf sandwich, another family tradition. All the Willow Tree menu items — the quiche, the meatloaf, the pimento cheese, the chicken salad — have another advantage besides great taste. They can be made up ahead of time and served quickly. And that’s important when your place of business fulfills so many purposes.

A former elementary school mathematics teacher in the Johnson City system, Teri has quickly learned how to be a music promoter and says she looks especially for acoustic musicians, singers and songwriters with stories to tell. “I enjoy taking care of traveling musicians,” she tells me.

Zoë, who graduated from Science Hill and ETSU, has learned a new skill, too. She runs sound at The Willow Tree.

In decorating a place they say is “big enough for loafing,” Teri and Zoë looked, once again, to family. Teri’s father, Gene Butler, is a “yard-saler.” Most of the furnishings at The Willow Tree — the lamps and chairs and sofas — were purchased at community yard sales. Teri says once she turns her father loose on a buying spree, she often has to step in and call a halt.

The Doshers connect with people in many ways. Recently, during the annual fall fund drive at public radio station WETS-FM, they were the first volunteers I saw, answering telephones in the studio on the campus of ETSU.

And they’ve connected through pimento cheese. “It’s fun to meet people from outside the area who have never heard of pimento cheese and want to know what it is and experience it for the first time,” says Zoë proudly.

Amid comfortable couches and tables laden with well-seasoned chicken salad, The Willow Tree reminds its customers of the importance of family and community.


The Willow Tree Coffeehouse & Music Room

216 East Main Street

Johnson City, Tennessee


Fred Sauceman is the author of the book “The Proffitts of Ridgewood: An Appalachian Family’s Life in Barbecue.”

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