published Friday, February 21st, 2014

Small Biz: Ankar’s demolished to make way for new Speedway

Workers from Smith Construction Group out of Dayton, Ohio, demolish the old Ankar's Restaurant and Lounge off Lee Highway in Chattanooga. Construction for a Speedway gas station at the site is scheduled to be finished by mid-June.
Workers from Smith Construction Group out of Dayton, Ohio, demolish the old Ankar's Restaurant and Lounge off Lee Highway in Chattanooga. Construction for a Speedway gas station at the site is scheduled to be finished by mid-June.
Photo by Erin O. Smith.

The old Ankar’s roadside restaurant on Lee Highway was chewed apart by a trackhoe this week, demolished as developers make way for a state-of-the-art Speedway convenience store and gas station, coming later this year.

Speedway, an Ohio-based division of Marathon Petroleum Corp., is beefing up its Tennessee presence with plans for at least four Chattanooga area stations.

The demolition of Ankar’s Restaurant and Lounge comes four years after the restaurant closed its doors, when one of the brothers who headed the business for decades passed away.

“Everybody would have liked to have kept it,” John Ankar said.

His grandfather was “Papa” Joe Ankar, the Palestinian who emigrated to the United States and started a restaurant in Chattanooga 50 years ago.

John Ankar, like much of his family, is also in the restaurant business. He and relatives operate Ankar’s Downtown.

Through the years, other members of the family also started restaurants under the Ankar’s banner. The result is a line of locally-owned restaurants — all titled “Ankar’s” — connected this way and that by family ties.

Currently, one branch of the family owns and operates Ankar’s Hoagies, a sandwich franchise with locations in Hixson and Brainerd.

Another branch of the family, this one including John Ankar, owns and operates Ankar’s Downtown, on Broad Street in Chattanooga.

All the Ankars are family, they’re just not all business partners.

Wednesday, hovering over stainless steel appliances in the Ankar’s Downtown kitchen, John Ankar said it was just the right time to finally let the old Lee Highway location go. He said the older Ankar generation reached an age where maintaining the site is impractical.

“Really, they couldn’t do that anymore,” he said.

The Ankar family sold the restaurant building, the 3.2 acres accompanying it and another on-site building to Speedway for $875,000.

David DeVaney, a Chattanooga real estate agent who represented Speedway in the sale, said, “I think it was a good price for the buyers and a good price for the sellers.”

In November, the Speedway franchise opened a new facility on Bonny Oaks Drive, between Highway 153 and Volkswagen. And in addition to the one about to be under construction, they are said to be interested in debuting at least two more stores in within Chattanooga city limits.

Ben Pike, project manager at Smith Construction Group — the Dayton, Ohio company handling the Lee Highway job — said potential sites for two more Speedway stations include somewhere on Ringgold Road and another location somewhere on Lee Highway.

He said Smith Construction’s work on the Lee Highway project began Feb. 17, and is tentatively scheduled to be completed by June 17.

The convenience store side of the upcoming Speedway on Lee Highway will feature the “Speedy Cafe” package, which offers more, and better, amenities like more hot drink options and freshly-prepared food items. It will be 4,600 square feet.

The store will also function as a mini truck stop, with two truck fueling lanes in the back. The store will have eight gas pumps in front for consumer vehicles.

Ankar’s fans, meanwhile, need not worry that other stores bearing the name will also disappear. Ankar’s Downtown, at least, plans to stay in business for the long haul. “Papa” Joe’s building is gone, but a drive around Chattanooga proves that his legacy is not.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at or 423-757-6480.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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