Sharif Harb is an unassuming guy who can flash a great smile. He’s a quiet presence downtown and always ready with a friendly word. He also has a great thing going at Coffee and Chocolate on Union Avenue, just off Market Square. For some, it might come as a surprise that he’s decided to grow the business by opening a second location just three blocks from the first. But then, a visit to the second location reveals a very different feel and set of offerings.
Long-term downtown residents will remember Le Parigo, a high-end French restaurant with excellent food. Despite the excellent food, and likely related to the high price-points for the downtown Knoxville market, it closed earlier this year after a brief incarnation as icafe. Its departure leaves a gap in downtown dining at the higher end.
Sharif has taken the old location and transformed it into a new look for a Coffee and Chocolate location. A large porch beckons as you approach the restaurant, which is on Clinch Avenue within sight of Krutch Park – it’s just around the corner. Wicker chairs and iron tables with a great awning and a slight elevation from the sidewalk make for a perfect place to sip some coffee and pass some time. Of course, if you have to stay connected, wi-fi is available. I was surprised at the foot-traffic on a street I consider just off most people’s beaten path.
Inside is warm and inviting, with seating for several times the capacity of the other store. Soft seating is provided along with tables and chairs. Therein lies another story: Sharif ordered tables and chairs for the restaurant from an online vendor who decided take the money and not send any furniture. Determined to open on schedule, Sharif had to scramble to find the furniture currently in the restaurant. All but the soft-seating will likely be changed in the near future. I actually like what he came up with as a substitute.
A smaller version of the chocolate counter from the other store sits to the back of the room and the beautiful chocolates sparkle like marbles. Nearly a dozen different types of chocolate are offered and Sharif prepares it all himself. I’d thought his chocolate was provided through the Chocolate Factory, but this is no longer true. Sharif attended the Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago and is justifiably proud of his confections. My early favorite is a coffee-flavored variety, though Urban Woman preferred her nutella and chocolate.
In a dramatic departure from the Union Avenue location, the new restaurant includes a beautiful bar running alongside one end of the space and several craft beers on tap and available by the bottle. Wines should be available next week after a final inspection by the ABC and a selection of teas are also offered. And there is food! The menu includes paninis, salads and a cheese plate. My near future includes the dip plate which features olive oil, french bread, a whipped feta, baba ganoush and hummus.
Chelsea, Sharif and Jared (the second customer ever – I missed the first) endured my photographs for a bit on Friday afternoon and then Urban Woman and I returned later that evening for coffee and decided we definitely love the porch. It has just enough foot-traffic to keep the people-watching interesting, but it’s a much more laid-back place than the sidewalk in front of the other location. While the suburban tourists will likely continue to flock to the other location, I can easily see the second location becoming more of a neighborhood spot. I know it will be that for us.
Saturday we couldn’t help ourselves. Faced with a choice of returning home after the Farmers’ Market to plunge into house cleaning or taking a detour to that same front porch and a little coffee, we couldn’t resist. Our flowers purchased at the market gave our table just a little extra splash of color to set the scene perfectly. I’m not sure this place is going to be good for my productivity. Join me there sometime soon – but remember to bring your own flowers.