published Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Owner puts a fork in Fork & Pie

Fork & Pie is closing, said owner Mike Robinson, who plans to switch gears and instead offer pies and pie fillings at grocery stores throughout the Chattanooga area.

"We're calling it quits," he said. "We decided to close the storefront and try to pivot."

It's a blow to the restaurant cluster on the 800 block of Market Street, which has seen one planned restaurant fail to open and two shut the doors, even as a group of food trucks and other restaurants moved into the area.

Robinson said that with the competition and the location, there wasn't enough wiggle room for him to make the mistakes that are typical of a young business concept.

"If you're in a good spot, you've got some room for error," Robinson said. "But if you're in a tough location, I don't think there's any room to play around. You have to open those doors at 110 percent and put out a great product."

A perceived lack of parking and a severe lack of residences in the area mean that things die down too quickly at night, he said, making it difficult for restaurateurs to branch out from typical fare. Since opening in June 2012, he and his 15 employees had difficulty making enough money to invest capital in making the business better.

"After 3 p.m. down here you're just scrapping for people to come in," he said. "Off-hours, having residential nearby really helps, there's really none of that."

Blair Waddell Mard, retail recruiter for the River City Co., said a solution is on the way for the businesses that can hang on to their customers. Though officials are far from meeting the demand for an estimated 3,500 student residents and 2,400 market rate dwellings, an announcement of a 200-unit development is forthcoming, with more on the way.

"We're looking at how can we take these office buildings that are vacant or have vacant floors and turn those into apartments, which would be a win for everyone involved, including the building owners," Mard said. "There's room for growth there, and we're working on the steps to support it with people living there, supporting it beyond 5 o'clock."

That could take years, however. Years that Robinson didn't have.

For now, he's going to work to build his catering business out of the current Fork & Pie location, and hopes to have negotiations complete with local grocery stores by the end of November.

He's not against opening another restaurant, but he plans to take a long break first to spend time with 2-year-old child.

"You have that honeymoon period of about two to three months, and you've got to wow those guests, and if you don't do it -- it's a little bit unforgiving," he said.

Robinson is a partner at Brewhaus, and helped open the Terminal Restaurant on Market Street. Before that, he worked for Outback Steakhouse, opening locations for the brand all over the U.S.

"People can keep an eye out, we're definitely going to do something else," Robinson said. "I'm not done yet."

Contact Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or at 7576315

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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