Andy Conatser is turning his dream into reality, and already turning customers away from his door.
The 1987 Maryville High graduate is coming home to open his own restaurant, Look Rock Bakery and Pizzeria. The 38-year-old said he hopes to open sometime in the month of December.
The location for his restaurant is what is causing additional excitement. Conatser will open the bakery and pizzeria in the former Atlanta Bread Company building in Alcoa.
“This has always been my dream,” Conatser said, “to do the restaurant and do my own concept and not have anyone tell me how to do it.” As he sat in the dining room of the former Atlanta Bread Company at 133 Associates Blvd., he said he already has customers coming in wanting service.
“I turn away 15 to 20 a day,” he said. As they have been working on the building, people have been coming by.
“My dad even turned away a tour bus,” Conatser said. “He told them, ‘We’re not quite open yet,’ “ Conatser said. “I know everyone is excited, but we want to do it right.”
Conatser started in restaurants as a University of Tennessee student working at Regas. He later worked for Applebee’s in Nashville as well as other Nashville restaurants. When he learned about the ABC closing, Conatser checked out the facility and decided to make the investment.
The sense of community at the former restaurant hasn’t been lost on Conatser.
“I understand this was the place for breakfast and for the community to gather,” he said. “(Building owner) Mike Whitlock was saying a lot of people said it was like a little family, especially the employees,” Conatser said.
Conatser said five or six of the former ABC employees have agreed to come back, including Carol Carver who will be a manager in the new venture. Former dining room host L.V. Cox may even come back.
“Hopefully, I’m going to get L.V. back for a short period,” Conatser said. “I think he’s wanting to retire, but he said he would come back for a while and help me get started.”
Conatser is hesitant to give a definite date for opening the new restaurant. He and others are still in the process of doing small remodeling projects but the main hold up is getting equipment delivered and installed.
“We’ve still got a lot of equipment for pizza and buffalo wings that I’m still waiting for,” he said. “That’s what is holding us up is the equipment. We’re not going to do a whole lot of remodeling.”
The new restaurant won’t be an Atlanta Bread Company look-alike, but will feature bakery items, coffee and breakfast items. The restaurant will use local distributor Vienna Coffee exclusively, and customers will be able to buy coffee beans as well. Conatser plans to sell a lot of cakes and pies. “If you wanted to buy a whole cake, you can buy whole cake. If you wanted a slice, you can buy a slice,” he said.
The restaurant will be open seven days a week. Tentative hours are Mondays through Thursdays, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.; and Sundays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The restaurant will have breakfast sandwiches, soups and salads. Lunch and dinner fare will include Philly sandwiches, pizza and their own brand of Panini’s, he said.
The kitchen manager at the new operation comes with good credentials, Conatser said. Bill Goodier is originally from New York and worked at a variety of restaurants before coming to Look Rock, most recently Olive Garden.
“I’ve know he’s wanted to do this for quite a while,” Goodier said of Conatser. “It was a big decision to make to leave Olive Garden and come work for Andy, but I’m excited about it. The food is going to be all fresh and good.”
“Bill is a Culinary Institute of America graduate,” Conatser said. “There will be a lot more variety, a lot more specials than places like Panera. I’m not a (culinary school) graduate, but I’ve been cooking all my life.”
Conatser said he hopes to take his new restaurant’s food to customers via catering opportunities. “Once we get up and running, we’ll be full-throttle with catering. I used to do a lot of it in Nashville,” he said.
Conatser said his parents, Mike and Kathy Conatser, were happy for him to move back to East Tennessee. “They’re very excited,” he said. “We know this is what I’ve wanted to do all my life. This opportunity came available, and I decided to move back home and go for it.”
Conatser’s old friends learned of his move and have supported him. “They’re all excited. A lot of my friends still live in town and have all been out here a couple times to check out the place,” he said. “They can’t wait until it opens.”