If momma ain’t happy, ain’t no body happy.
That cliché rings true for Allen Swank. When his mom, JoAnne Pask, asked to go out for a night of listening to music, they were hard pressed to find a good jazz club in Blount County. So, two months later, Swank and his family set out to open their own place.
“The way this happened was I told my mom, ‘Let’s go get something to eat,’ and mom said, ‘I want to listen to music.’ I thought, ‘Where can we go to do both?, and the answer was ‘Nowhere,’ unless you go to Knoxville,” Swank said. “You can’t sit down and have dinner and listen to music. There really is not that venue in Maryville. Two months later I said, ‘Let’s do a jazz restaurant.’”
Shortly thereafter realtors Dan Mizell and John Melton were holding the former Bird Navratil law building for them. They closed on it in December. “We’ve been pulling our hair out and going gray ever since,” Swank said.
Swanks at 100 Court is tentatively scheduled to open March 31 at the intersection of Court Street and East Harper Avenue. Chris Henderlight will serve as executive chef and Michael Swank will be sous chef. Allen Swank’s wife, Lorrie, and his mother and stepfather, Joanne and Charles Pask, will also help manage the front of the house.
Henderlight’s connection with Swank was through the Great Beginnings daycare facility the Swank family owns. Henderlight had a relative who had a child at the center, and he learned of the restaurant opportunity.
Swank said Henderlight is a pivotal part of what will make the restaurant a success. “Being as he has owned a restaurant, he has been the push behind it and the knowledge behind it to get us where we need to go,” Swank said. “We’ve never been in the restaurant business. We’ve never opened a restaurant. He’s has actually been a huge part and key to getting us to the finish line.”
Henderlight said they are developing a concept of a restaurant that is going to be a place to hear great jazz music as well enjoy a finer style of food. “We won’t go as far as to say five-star food,” he said. “That’s not the establishment we are.”
The chef said Swanks at 100 Court is going to have a different menu than most restaurants as far as the types of items on the menu done differently. “We’re going along the lines of the French-jazz bistros in Paris,” he said.
The restaurant will serve everything from Spanish dishes and French dishes to Italian and New Orleans cuisine. “What we’re trying to incorporate is the feeling you get from a jazz bistro,” said Henderlight.
Allen Swank said people are asking questions about the restaurant/club because they don’t understand what it is.
“People are getting confused about it being a jazz ‘club.’ It’s going to be a restaurant and jazz club fused together,” he said.
Henderlight said he didn’t want customers expecting a reincarnation of his former restaurant on South Washington Street. “I used to be owner of Luce’s. What I don’t want is for this to be another Luce,” he said. “What I want it to be is another place to get great food, and Allen and I agree the emphasis on service is going to be impeccable.”
Swank echoed that sentiment and said the focus on service will be key. “I want to bring to Maryville a venue you would normally only find in larger cities,” he said.
The men said Swanks at 100 Court will be an upscale dining establishment with a relaxed, not stuffy, atmosphere. “When you come for dinner, that’s the focus - having good food, deserts, wine and martinis but at the same time be entertained and not overwhelmed,” Swank said. “I guess I want to not have to drive to Knoxville on a date with my wife.”
Henderlight said they want to add another venue to downtown Maryville for after-hours entertainment. “It’s one more place that’s helping with the revitalization of downtown,” Swank said.
Swank said customers will be greeted by different textures in the interior decorating as they walk into the establishment. There will also be art by local artists hanging on the walls for sale. “It’s entertainment for the eyes,” he said.
Henderlight said the restaurant will participate in the Last Friday Art Walks where downtown businesses host different artists during the evening of the last Friday of each month. “We’re working on becoming a final destination for the art walk,” Swank said. “We want people to stop in, have a martini and talk about the art they’ve seen that night.”
The restaurant also will highlight musical artists as the restaurant/club teams up with the East Tennessee Jazz Society in addition to having Mark Meyer serve as house band. “He is a pianist and is also going to be pulling regional acts and top of the line local acts as well,” Swank said.
Swank said the restaurant will be open 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., Monday through Saturday with dinner hours starting at 5 p.m. “We are planning on opening the restaurant and bar entrance off Court Street in March. In June, we plan on opening the bottom of the facility for catering and special events,” he said.
Swank said they plan to open the third floor for open air dining where they also can have smaller acoustic acts and special occasion dining, such as for an anniversary. “A husband and wife could rent our rooftop for an hour or two for private dining,” he said. “I feel like the inventor who has invented something that hasn’t already been invented. I’m looking at something Maryville hasn’t already provided but wants and needs.”
For more information about the new restaurant and upcoming events, visit www.myspace.com/swanksjazz.