Two new restaurants are opening in Blount County just in time for Foothills Fall Festival this weekend.
Whitt’s Barbecue on Gill Avenue is a franchise of the popular Nashville area restaurant known for its slow-cooked hickory-smoked pork and turkey and vinegar-based barbecue sauce.
Rackoons Deli and Games on Court Street near Church Avenue is a deli that serves beer and features billiards, darts and an unconventional form of air hockey.
Whitt’s Barbecue franchise owner Mike England said it was important to them to open Whitt’s in conjunction with the popular Foothills Fall Festival.
“It was the key,” England said. “To open a restaurant this late in the year isn’t something a lot of people should do. I just feel there’s a need here for (this restaurant), and I felt like the Fall Festival would be a great way to begin this new adventure.”
Rackoons Deli and Games owner Ryan Koons said his first weeks will be more of an “open house” environment with a grand opening planned for November. “I want people to be aware I’m here, come in and let me know what they think about the place,” he said. “I want to bring something different to the customer each week, leading up to grand opening.”
Mike England, a Middle Tennessee native who spent the last 12 years working in the health care industry, is opening the first Whitt’s Barbecue location west of Lebanon, Tenn.
England said he has always loved Whitt’s barbecue.
“It is as lean as I’ve ever seen barbecue. The tastes is so good -- even without putting sauce on it. We have sauce in the meat, but it’s cooked into that meat,” he said. “To me, if you cook a great steak, you don’t dare ask somebody for steak sauce. That’s how we feel about barbecue. We do make sauces ourselves, but we’re not going to smother it. That covers up what we’ve cooked for almost 24 hours.”
The new restaurant owner said it was his love for Whitt’s Barbecue that brought him to the point of becoming a restaurant owner for the first time, and because he felt East Tennessee needed a new choice in barbecue. “You don’t get a very lean, vinegar-based barbecue here.” England said he worked a total of 20 years in healthcare before making the move to the restaurant business. “I’m from Middle Tennessee, that’s where I really got introduced to Whitt’s, but I’ve lived in Maryville for 12 years in January,” he said.
England said he started “thinking hard” about opening a Whitt’s franchise a couple of years ago. In 2008, he sent the company an email and set up a meeting with them in Nashville.
“They told me, ‘You’re crazy. Why do you want to do this? It’s hard work?’ and I told them, ‘I love barbecue and I think people really need to do what they do in life that brings them enjoyment,’ “ England said.
Whitt’s Barbecue in Nashville started when Bill Dean opened the first Nashville area location on March 1, 1978. To fulfill a burning desire to own his own business, he bought into the Whitt’s Barbecue franchise from his home town of Athens, Ala.
Bill spent several weeks training with the Whitt’s in Athens. Then, with his wife Peggy and three teenage daughters, he opened on a cold March day on a section of Antioch Pike that had not seen much development at the time.
By 1985, two of the daughters were married and their husbands had joined the business. That was also the year that a commissary was built to cook and process all the meat.
All barbecue, even to this day, is smoked for 24 hours over smoldering hickory coals, and it is all processed by hand. No grinders, choppers, or slicers are ever used. The commissary is also USDA inspected on a daily basis. After building the commissary, the company grew to include a total of eight stores plus an outlet at the Nashville International Airport. In additions to these locations in Nashville, there are 11 sub-franchises in surrounding counties.
Tony Pigue is one of Dean’s son-in-laws and chief operating officer of the family business. He has been on hand to help England open the Whitt’s Barbecue restaurant on Gill Street in Alcoa. There is 2,670 square feet in the restaurant.
“This is a lot more than we typically have,” Pigue said. “We’re going to have 42 seats, and we’ll have a drive-through and walk-in carryout service.”
Pigue said the menu consisted of what Whitt’s has become known for in Middle Tennessee, hickory-smoked pork and turkey. They have pork ribs on Fridays and Saturdays and hot wings every day. “Our specialty sides include baked beans, cole slaw, potato salad, potato chips and macaroni and cheese,” he said.
Pigue said there are have been a few modernizations over the years so that they can put stores in strip malls. “But basically, it’s the same baked bean recipe Mr. Dean and his wife came up with, the same cole slaw recipe the Whitts folks gave him, and the same potato salad -- a mustard - mayonnaise mix,” he said. “Basically we still have same cooking process.”
When asked why this location in Alcoa, Pigue said it was the only building they could find reasonably priced with a drive through window. “It was way more square footage than we needed, but it was at a feasible rate and had a drive-thru. We thrive on drive-thru and carry-out business, and it seemed to be really great location as far as lunch,” he said.
Pigue said they explained to England everything they expected and told him that going into the restaurant business was demanding. The company has been bombarded with calls from individuals wanting to try their hand at a Whitt’s franchise, in part, Pigue said, because when people lose their jobs or fear losing their jobs, they look to go into business for themselves.
“We tried to talk Mike out of it, but he’s always wanted to do it,” Pigue said.
Pigue said what separates Whitts from other restaurants is it is family-oriented. “We close early, we don’t serve alcohol, and you’re going to get a personal greeting. There is no drive-thru intercom. You get a personal greeting at the door,” he said. “We will get to know all our customers, and they’ll experience friendly service, quick service and consistently good food.”
Whitt’s Barbecue is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. They can be reached at 865-984-1696.
Rackoons Deli and Games
Rackoons Deli and Games, which is a play on owner Ryan Koons’ name and the billiard tables the restaurant will house, plans a grand opening in November, but opens the doors for a “soft” opening on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 16-17, from 10 a.m. to midnight during the festival.
Rackoons Deli and Games has roughly 2,900 square feet, counting a porch area in the front and a new deck overlooking the Bicentennial Greenbelt Park. Half the establishment has a bar with two pool tables and the other has dartboards, games and a lounge area.
Rackoons will be able to seat roughly 60 to 70 people, the owner said.
“It’s going to be a deli menu with the option of both menu items and create your own sandwiches. You can choose any cheese, meats or breads we have,” Koons said.
There will be items on the menu such as a Rueben sandwich, a BLT and the restaurant’s signature item, the Koondiggity Dog.
“It will be two open face dogs on a hoagie bun with chili and cheese and onion,” he said. “It’s just about a heart attack on a plate.”
Koons said he saw a need in the Maryville market where young people could congregate in a clean environment. “It’s good, clean, fresh food,” he said. “It’s easy to come in, hang out and eat a sandwich.”
The pool tables will be 75 cents each to play. There will be electronic soft tip darts and an air hockey machines. “It’s not your normal air hockey. It’s called The Boomer. You play side by side instead of across from each other,” he said. “It’s an interesting concept on air hockey.”
There also will be a couple table top games and a fully loaded juke box with Internet access. “You can get whatever music you want on the patio and on the deck,” he said.
There will be televisions situated throughout the establishment with news and sports. “A big thing I’m wanting to promote is the Ultimate Fighting Championship fights,” he said. “I will have those also.”
Koons, whose step-father Mark Brackins own Brackins’ Blue Club just up the street, said he’s having a fun time preparing for the opening. His mother, Linda Brackins, spends a lot of time helping him. “I’m having a blast just building the place,” he said.
Koons said he wants people to give him input on how to improve the establishment. “I can take ideas customers have and incorporate them - that way it’s more of their custom created establishment,” he said.
Koons said the location is ideal. “For one, something needed to happen in that old feed store. No one had occupied it for 10 years,” he said. “Mark showed me the opportunity. My whole life my goal was to own my own business by 25, and I’m getting to do it by 21,” he said. “The skies the limit. I’m going with the flow.”
One thing that will set Rackoons Deli and Games apart from other bars is it will be non-smoking. “I have high expectations on how it will be run. I have respect for how Mark has run his place, and it will be the same down here,” he said. “It will be a place where no trouble can start. I just want people to have fun, have a good time.”
Koons said he has management experience in the restaurant business, also worked in a call center environment as well as in his step-father business where he was kitchen manager.
For information email Koons at firstname.lastname@example.org.