2011 Business Review, Part Two: Changing and Rearranging

Nama moved to the 500 Block of Gay Street

Judging from the responses to yesterday’s blog post, I think I’ve caused a great depression to settle over everyone who loves, laments and cheers for our little city. I’ll agree it was depressing to see such a list of lost businesses. Of course, there were many reasons for the departures and not all of them were for a lack of business, but that’s the worry. One person who commented yesterday questioned whether we have the population downtown to make a go of some of these businesses. It’s a legitimate question.

But it’s not the whole story. Today we look at businesses which already existed and decided to re-affirm their commitment downtown by expanding or adding to their businesses or by moving to what they viewed as a better location, but still in the downtown area. It’s really an equally amazing list when viewed in the rear-view and it’s much more encouraging than yesterday’s list. No doubt I’ll over-look a few, so please add them in the comment section.

Re-runs Re-opens two blocks down on Union

Some of the changes were connected with the closings mentioned in in the previous article. The Hotel St. Oliver closed for renovations that were extensive and expensive. It re-opened a changed business. The rooms are nicely appointed, the lobby is beautiful (hate the painting by the front door, but maybe it’s me) and they are an important part of our little city as our only boutique hotel. The new owners wanted a three-meal-a-day restaurant and they felt it imperative that it serve alcohol, which led to the closure of Market Square Kitchen.

Lunchbox moved to Market Street

Yesterday, I mentioned the Market Square Kitchen in connection with the corners of Market Square being strangely abandoned. On the opposite corner from the Market Square Kitchen, Reruns had done a brisk business for years. With the uncertainty involving the proposed sale of the building, Nanci Solomon decided to be pro-active and move the business to the Daylight building a couple of blocks down Union Avenue.

Organized Play moved from Cumberland to Central in the Old City

Others were on the move, as well. Given that they could just as easily moved to another part of Knoxville or westward to the center of the local plastic consumer universe, it makes a statement that they decided to stay in the downtown area. The Lunchbox, long-time downtown favorite, moved from the TVA plaza to a quiet spot on Market Street within sight of the lovely Krutch Park. Nama moved from the 100 to the 500 block of Gay Street to gain more square footage and to be more in the center of the downtown action. Organized Play moved in the opposite direction, from Cumberland (just off Gay) to Central Street in the Old City.

Regions Bank moved across Union Avenue

I’m guessing that the largest, but shortest, move was likely Regions Bank moving their operations across Union Avenue to the Miller’s building. The building was given a face-lift and looks beautiful. Now they need to do the right thing and pay to have the dilapidated clock removed from atop their previous address.

Salon Visage became Studio Visage
La Costa became 31 Bistro

Other businesses which changed in some way this year include Dazzo’s (new owner, still great pizza) and Salon Visage on Market Square, which became Studio Visage in a business re-arrangement featuring lower prices. La Costa, a long-term favorite on the square, which acquired new ownership last year, changed its name to 31 Bistro and changed its menu to reflect owner Sabrina Brittain’s vision of a farm-to-table restaurant. The Flower Pot which has been a downtown florist for forty years completed an extensive remodeling project coordinated with UT architectural students to develop an ecological design.

Preservation Pub opened another floor and the roof

Several businesses added significant square footage to their operations. Preservation pub tripled their usable space on Market Square by opening the Speakeasy on their second floor, offering a little quieter and smoke-free environment, and then after a few ups and downs with the city, opening the Moonshine Roof Garden outside on the top of the building. Soccer Taco opened a basement bar in their building across the square. In the Old City, one of the absolute coolest additions was a speakeasy-type room called the Underground and modeled on London’s Tube which was added to Crown and Goose at a cost of about $300,000.

Underground at Crown and Goose

So, what does all this mean? Thirteen businesses expressed confidence in our city with their dollars, investing and declaring a very hopeful vision. By moving within the city, remodeling and expanding they are saying this is a worthwhile and profitable place for them to operate. Many of the people behind these moves are among the best we have among us, but this isn’t about being nice. This is about business and these people believe these sometimes very large expenses will be returned to them in the profits they make. In a capitalistic society this is how businesses express optimism.

Feel a little better? In my next post I’ll try do like Sly and take you even higher. We’ll talk about businesses that have opened and a few that are coming soon.

Opening Night: Not Your Mama’s Nama

Urban Woman enters Nama on Opening Night, Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011

I realize it was more like a four block move, but this Nama is not your mama’s Nama. It has probably three times the space of the old location and the interior is pretty cool with the lights behind the sushi bar and the reflective tiles. The seats are comfortable leather, though we took a booth for opening night. The booths, by the way are several inches more generous on each side of the table than most of the booth seating downtown and that was nice.

I was a bit disappointed with the crowd. We called ahead anticipating a full house and a wait and found that it was busy, but not crowded. Part of that has to do with the size. I realized as I looked around that the 75% capacity crowd would have completely overwhelmed the original site. There is also considerable seating outside on the front and the side of the restaurant, though the temperature was a few degrees shy of making that a tempting option on this night.

Good crowd on opening night, Nama, Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011

The menu has been expanded and includes far more than sushi, with a hot foods section, vegetarian section and salads. I would call it fairly pricey. For two of us to eat average priced dishes, our bill came to $45 with taxes and tip. Not horrible, but certainly not something we could do every night. There are ways to beat the cost just a bit. For starters, they are having half-price night tomorrow night in honor of their opening. (Typical for my luck.) Also, each day from 4:00 – 6:00 they have two different sushi rolls for half price as well as a variety of reduced price drinks.

Orange Shrimp, Nama, Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011

The food was excellent and the service was pleasant. We had the orange shrimp and the Soy Joy. The orange shrimp was different from that we’ve had in other restaurants in that it wasn’t fried, which was nice.

By the way, I’m including food pictures for the first time. One of my faithful readers and a very dear old friend commented recently that he just can’t get enough of photographs of food. So, these are for him. I learned that it isn’t as easy to photograph food as I thought it might be. If you like great pictures of food, I have two great blogs you should check out: Newlywed in New Orleans and Dale Mackey’s blog. I enjoy them both and I promise: they have great pictues of food.

Soy Joy, Nama, Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011
The Soy Joy is a sushi roll which was developed at Nama and it consists of nori, sushi rice, albacore tataki, cucumber and three sauces including a sake-flavored sauce, wasabi sauce and an eel sauce all wrapped in soy paper which gives the exterior a little crunch. I’m not sure what half of those ingredients are, but it doesn’t matter: It’s fantastic. I also found that I’ve retained my chops with the sticks pretty well: I made it through the entire meal without the use of a western utensil!

Be sure to give them some business soon. They’ll appreciate it and you’ll enjoy it. You’ll probably be more likely to run in to me between 4:00 and 6:00 getting the low-priced goods. See you there.

Introducing the New Nama: Grand Opening Wednesday, February 23

Nama, 500 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011

It is now official: Nama on the 100 block is closed. Practically an institution on that block, it began a migration up Gay Street during the extended renovations of the 100 block. According to S. Carpenter – a reader of this blog – the old location will be converted to a Cru Bistro and Wine Bar, which is owned by the same company that owns Nama. There is currently a location in Turkey Creek and others are scattered about the country. That sounds like a good fit for the 100 block.

Outdoor seating, Nama, 500 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville

At the same time, the new location looks great and was officially making sushi as of Sunday evening. Only open for a private event, to which, of course, I was not invited, it opens for us regular people this Wednesday. When will local restaurateurs learn that inviting a blogger for free food at these events is just good for business? What do they think, they don’t need me? I guess Nama’s brand may be bigger than mine, but if any of you guys open a restaurant, give me a call!

Pretty Hostess, Sushi Bar, Nama, 500 Block Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2011

I was able to charm my way in the door: Me – “Can I take a couple of pictures?” Good Looking Hostess: “Two.” She was actually pretty nice.

Happy People invited to the private Nama Party, February 2011

I love the decor and the chairs look comfortable. The added space will be a real asset. The location – right beside the Riviera – seems perfect. So what do you think – meet you there Wednesday night?

The Semi-Regular Business Update

Just when it seems safe to say that the business comings and goings have been covered for a while, new developments present themselves in bunches. Some of these businesses have been mentioned before, but there is a new detail or two. Then, there are a couple that have been covered locally elsewhere that I’ll mention and one of those is pretty exciting, though a bit dangerous, for a bibliophile.

S and W Grand in Better Days – Will they return?

The year started with three closures all of which were significant in their own way. Regas, probably the oldest restaurant in Knoxville, closed on North Gay. Arby’s, which is fast food, yes, but which had been downtown for decades – and how many restaurants can say that – closed it’s doors. Then, of course, the one that seemed to surprise everyone the most and the one with the highest profile in the downtown resurgence, the S and W Grand announced they would at least take a hiatus. Not a very good start to the year – and yes I know some of this was technically the end of last year, but it felt like the start to the new one.

Outside Seating at New Nama

Interior at New Nama, 500 Block of Gay Street

When last we tuned in, Nama was looking toward moving from the 100 block to the 500 block of Gay Street, just beside the Regal Movie Theater. I posted a photograph of the sign as it was hoisted from the truck. The latest development is that the signs are not only in place, but the outside dining area and the inside look virtually ready to open. I’m guessing this might be the next significant opening we see. Also, in that same post, a reader stated that a new restaurant is ready to take the place of Nama as soon as the old site is vacant. This will make two new restaurants on the 100 block with the addition of Harry’s Deli.

We’re still waiting on Blue Coast Burrito at the northwest corner of Market Square. The outside looks great, but inside still has a way to go. Meanwhile, the Lunchbox recently announced a move from the First Tennessee towers to a location on the 500 block of Market Street, across from Krutch Park. It’s pretty exciting to see new businesses spread from Gay Street and the square. I’m seeing this as competition for the Market Square Kitchen and I’m wondering about its future. When the new owners announced their renovation plans for the Hotel Saint Oliver recently, they indicated that they planned a stronger presence on Market Square. Two restaurants currently occupy space in that building on the ground level facing Market Square: The Market Square Kitchen and Shono’s. Will one or both of them go to give the Hotel frontage on Market Square?

Just Ripe – Painted Walls, coffee machine – Bring on the Food!
Previously I reported on the fund-raising effort for Just Ripe the small grocery and food store that will open on the 500 block of Union Avenue in the Daylight Building. It was very successful and they are pushing their campaign to raise just a bit more money prior to an anticipated March opening. As you can see from the picture, the interior is getting closer to ready. The walls are painted and is that a fancy coffee maker?
The biggest news in the last few days centers on the coming of a book store to the Daylight Building. It will be called Union Avenue Books and will feature both new and used books. It will be operated by the owners of Mr. K’s books, plus one notable alum of both Davis Kidd Bookstores and Carpe Librum: Flossie McNabb. I personally adore Flossie and I’m so glad she will be a part of the downtown scene. I only hope I don’t bankrupt myself. I’ve never had a bookstore within a very short walking distance. This could be dangerous. It’s also important for the western portion of downtown. So far, there is very little reason to stray from Gay Street, the Old City or Market Square just to look for something you might want. You already know if you need a photograph (John Black Studios), Invitations (Happy Envelope) or food (Just Ripe), but you never know when you might just want to look around the book store.
So we lost three restaurants at the beginning, we have two restaurants moving and looming on the horizon I count three new restaurants, a new grocery store and a new book store. Maybe this year won’t turn out so badly, after all.

Business Update in the Old City and Beyond

While the city has been consumed by Christmas since before Halloween, businesses have been sprucing up, moving, closing and quietly preparing to open.

New Nama Sign on Truck on Gay Street

Nama sign being unloaded at new location

New Nama sign in alley beside Regal Cinemas, outdoor seating below

One of the notable changes coming to a classic restaurant near you is Nama’s move from the 100 block to the space next to Regal Cinemas. It’s a big change for a stalwart of the 100 block. Obviously the new location is a higher traffic area, but I wonder if the people who would love Nama hadn’t found it, already. I’m sure they will do well, but it seems like a significant loss to the 100 block.

Current Nama location – 100 Block

Harry’s Deli nears completion

Not to fear, the 100 block has an opening coming soon for Harry’s Deli which will open on the same site and will be reminiscent of Harold’s Kosher deli, though not everything will be Kosher at the new restaurant. It is nice to see someone open in that spot who has fond memories of Harold’s. He insists the name is a nod to his son, not to the original Harold, but I like to think of it as both.

Facade work on Volunteer Ministries building

JFG building getting new tenant?

Just around the corner work has begun on the facade of the old Volunteer Ministries building on Jackson Avenue. Promised in that location are ground-level businesses with condos above. Jackson Avenue looks to be popping, with the bottom of the JFG building looking as if something may be coming to that spot. Further down the street in the Old City work is being done on the front of the old Jackson Antique Market, turning it into retail space, and a face lift has already been applied to the businesses across the street, which are looking better than they have in years.

Renovation on Jackson Avenue in the Old City

Improved store-fronts on Jackson Avenue, Old City

Of course, there was also the holiday loss of Regas at Gay and Magnolia, near the Old City. As Jack Neely noted in the recent Metropulse, it was probably Knoxville’s oldest restaurant. I’ll miss knowing it is there. I probably ate there for the first time about twenty-five years ago, but like most people, apparently, I no longer ate there often. It’s been about four years since the last time we chose it for a small celebration.