Courtyard Grille is celebrating 20 years of serving good food to the people of Blount county. The restaurant turned 20 recently and, to celebrate, the management gave away a dinner for two for a year.
Restaurant regular Larry Sloan from Tellico Plains was the grand-prize winner. After submitting only one ballot, his name was chosen out of 15,000 ballots. While he and his wife often come to the restaurant multiple times in a week, they only came once during anniversary week.
Debra Whaley, a Blount County realtor and president of the restaurant, said the anniversary week was an absolute success. Crowds turned out nightly and Alcoa mayor Don Mull was on to present a proclamation in their honor.
Whaley said she got into the restaurant business when her father, Earl Whaley, and her late husband, Robert Jones, started it as R.J.’s Courtyard Grille. The success of the restaurant, which prides itself on homemade food and a friendly atmosphere, has been no less than amazing, Debra Whaley said.
“We’re absolutely feeding second and third generation customers,” she said. “And I’m hiring kids of people who worked for me in the late ‘80s. It’s amazing how many different generations are eating here and working here.”
The Whaleys also take pride in the restaurant being family owned and not a corporate entity. “It’s the largest restaurant in East Tennessee, in this whole region of Tennessee. We can feed 365 people, and it’s absolutely the largest restaurant. Our biggest claim to fame is we do a lot of things homemade. We’re probably one of the few restaurants I know of in a 10-county range that still makes their own homemade bread,” she said.
Whaley said the staff also makes all dressings and desserts. “Our chicken is fresh and never frozen. We get our steaks in and hand-cut them, we grind our own ground beef for hamburgers. That’s the difference. We actually have a lot of labor involved in our food because its all homemade,” she said. “You can definitely taste the difference.”
Whaley said the restaurant’s employees have been loyal. “We have 15 employees with at least three years or more service with us and, once they get there, they usually stay. I do think the family environment is a lot of that,” she said.