Big River Grille & Brewing Works has been a downtown Chattanooga fixture since 1993, one of the earliest restaurants to invest in the city’s riverfront entertainment area that was just starting to become a reality 15 years ago.
“When we started, we didn’t know what the success would be,” said Big River co-founder Tim Hennen. “I projected a certain dollar amount. We doubled that.”
Staff Photo by Shane McMillan Guests eat in a booth at the Big River Grille on Broad Street Wednesday as server Josh Witherspoon rushes past. The restaurant is marking its 15th anniversary this week.
Mr. Hennen said the nearby restaurant 212 Market was open before his partnership launched Big River at 222 Broad St. Several months later the Tennessee Aquarium made its 1992 debut.
“Everybody thought we were crazy,” said Susan Moses, owner and chef of 212 Market. “No one believed we would make it.”
Her sister, Sally Moses, agreed.
“Downtown was empty,” she said. “When folks went home from work, downtown was quiet.”
The central city’s entertainment area around the river didn’t stay quiet for much longer, and Big River didn’t stay confined to downtown Chattanooga for long, either.
Big River Grille in downtown Chattanooga tonight will have original 1993 menu items at 1993 prices. Beer is $2.75. A traditional Oktoberfest menu will be featured Friday, while patrons wearing college team colors on Saturday get $2.75 beer. Drink specials are on Sunday.
In 1995, Big River opened a Nashville location, and a year later launched a brewpub in Walt Disney World’s Boardwalk, said Robert Werk, chief operating officer for parent company Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant Group.
Gordon Biersch chief executive Allen Corey is a co-founder of the downtown Big River in addition to Mr. Hennen and Rob Gentry.
Mr. Hennen is a shareholder in the downtown eatery but is not involved in Gordon Biersch’s other projects, Mr. Werk said.
Mr. Hennen said Mr. Gentry had early on approached him about opening a brewpub, which was a new concept for the South but not in some areas. The men checked out various brewpubs in Colorado before opening Big River, he said.
Big River’s owners in 1999 bought the Gordon Biersch restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif., and took Gordon Biersch as the corporate name. Chattanooga-based Gordon Biersch is about to open its 38th restaurant, in Annapolis, Md., Mr. Werk said.
Twenty-seven restaurants are Gordon Biersches, four are Big River Grilles and the remainder are other brands, including two licensed Rock Bottom Brewery restaurants in Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C. Big River has a second Chattanooga restaurant at Hamilton Place mall. Gordon Biersch owns and operates the Bluewater Grille downtown as well.
Each Gordon Biersch location is a brewery-restaurant, where everything is made from scratch, Mr. Werk said.
“The idea was to have and sell the freshest beer available and carry that through to the kitchen,” he said.