The food court at Warehouse Row in downtown Chattanooga will expand with the opening of River City Grill in early January.
Gwendolyn Blackmon, 49, who already owns River City Mart, a dollar store with two locations, one on Wilcox Boulevard and another in Warehouse Row, said it is her customers who encouraged her to get into the restaurant business.
Larry’s Deli and Gourmet Burgers closed about four years ago and, Mrs. Blackmon said, many Warehouse Row shoppers have been wanting a burger place to open in the food court.
“Many people said ‘Why don’t you open a grill down there?’ So I thought about it. And, since they divided Larry’s into two parts when they were renovating the food court, I thought, why not?”
The menu will feature not only burgers, but cheesesteaks and other sandwiches, as well as a hot bar with different meat and vegetable offerings daily.
“Customers (at her Warehouse Row business) told me they wanted traditional-style foods, too. I will listen to my customers once we open and try to offer them what they want,” Mrs. Blackmon said. “And we’ll have vegetarian food, too, because not everyone can eat fried foods.” The restaurant will also be open for breakfast.
Menu prices will reflect her desire to offer bargain meals whenever possible, with nothing higher than $11.99 — the Obama burger, a 1 pound burger with all the topping, french fries and a drink.
“Even though it will be ‘fast food,’ I want it to be one of the best restaurants around,” she said.
Knowing Ms. Blackmon for the past couple of years ensures Jennifer Mingola, general manager of Warehouse Row, that she will be a good addition to the food court.
“Her customer service is excellent, and we’re excited that she’s going to open a restaurant here,” Ms. Mingola said.
With the opening of River City Grill, there will be four restaurants in the food court, with room for two more. Blue Coast Burrito opened there earlier this fall. The other two, Cozzoli’s Pizza and Taiwan Express, have been food court residents since 1989, according to Warehouse Row.
This month, two retail stores plan to close at Warehouse Row. The Bass Shoe Factory store will shut down Dec. 27, while the L’eggs/Hanes/Bali store will close Dec. 31.
Mrs. Blackmon has had restaurant experience, having worked in several area eateries.
“My father also had a restaurant in the Westside. Food has always been in my family,” she said.
So she has put together a team of “foodies,” including Leonard Rice, manager of Brainerd High School’s Bistro, an eatery in the high school where the students do the cooking.
Mr. Rice has advised Mrs. Blackmon about menu choices and will help see “that the daily process runs smoothly.” He will continue at The Bistro, however. Also on board is Daryll Dawson who worked at Larry’s and will run the grill at River City Grill. Evelyn Grant, who worked at Captain D’s for more than 30 years, will be preparing the vegetables daily.
“Each has their own specialty,” Mrs. Blackmon noted.