The owners of Chattanooga's Glen Gene Deli are trying something new.
Really new. Down-to-the studs new.
The former Glen Gene Deli on Shallowford Road is being transformed into a completely different restaurant called Firebox Grill -- but the new restaurant will still be owned and managed by the same family that's owned Glen Gene for 36 years, and it will still feature the top-selling dishes from Glen Gene Deli.
"People don't like change, especially in Chattanooga," manager Akram Issa said. "But they like new things. So we're going to give them something new."
Firebox Grill will feature hamburgers, hot sandwiches and salads, and should be open by mid-June, he said.
Akram's father, Tahsin Issa, and uncle, Bassam Issa, purchased Glen Gene Deli in 1978. Back then it was just a cold sandwich shop, but the Issas created a new menu and eventually grew to nine locations across the region in the 1990s before shrinking down to two.
Akram runs one of those two locations -- the Shallowford shop that's becoming Firebox Grill -- and his brother, Samer Issa, runs the last-remaining Glen Gene, located in Hixson.
That's where Megan Fairbanks snagged lunch this week -- her go-to meal of the steak-in-a-sack and tater tots.
"I've been getting the same thing since I was a little girl," she said.
And while there are no immediate plans to turn the Hixson Glen Gene into a Firebox Grill, Fairbanks is just the kind of customer Akram is hoping to keep happy as he launches the new restaurant on Shallowford.
"We kept our top 10 [Glen Gene] menu items and cut the fat off the items that weren't moving, so we can give a fresher product with more quality and more integrity," he said. "We want to keep our customers as best as we can."
The new restaurant will include new bathrooms, new lighting and booths, as well as a narrowed menu.
"At Glen Gene, we evolved over the years, adding items and adding items and adding items," he said. "It got to the point where we didn't have any identity. Everyone who came had their favorite, but if you'd never been there, you came in and said, 'OK, you're Glen Gene, but what are you?"
The new restaurant will be, first and foremost, a grill, Akram said. He hopes the clear category will pull in new local customers who never tried Glen Gene.
"We want to stand behind that identity," he said.
Owner Bassam Issa said opening Firebox Grill is timed with a much-needed remodel of the 19-year-old building.
"It's been a great run for us, it's been a fantastic operation for us and we're sticking with it," he said. "It's not trying to get away from Glen Gene as much as trying to update every 20 or so years."
Firebox Grill will seat about 100 people and include a staff of 30. The price range will be about the same as Glen Gene, somewhere between $6 and $10 a plate, Akram said.
"People who still want to go to Glen Gene can go to Hixson," he said. "But this is Firebox Grill now. It's a new place. And we just want people to enjoy it."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or firstname.lastname@example.org with tips or story ideas.
Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...