Burger Republic restaurant planting its flag on Chattanooga's riverfront

A Nashville-based restaurant chain plans to open its first eatery outside Middle Tennessee when Burger Republic starts serving customers at a Chattanooga location on Monday.

Jeff Warne, a co-owner of the 10-year-old business that has four locations, said Thursday that its newest restaurant is readying to open at 203 W. Aquarium Way, across from the Tennessee Aquarium .

"We found a site we're super-excited about," he said in an interview about the space, which formerly held Big Kahuna Wings.

Warne said Burger Republic officials watched Chattanooga "for a long time."

"We kind of had confidence the pandemic is largely behind us," he said. "We're excited to finally make a move here."

Wayne Neeley, the chain's market partner, said Burger Republic not only likes the aquarium-related traffic but also the restaurant's proximity to the Chattanooga Lookouts home at AT&T Field.

Neeley said in an interview that Burger Republic plans to hire about 50 people. He said he didn't know the total the company is investing in Chattanooga but that it's working with local vendors such as Niedlov's Cafe and Bakery for fresh bread.

Neeley said the eatery will serve 20 craft beers, including more than a half dozen from local breweries.

Warne said the restaurant's burger is "really special," using both a proprietary blend and process. He cited the eatery's Tennessee Burger for attaining national recognition.

Neeley said Burger Republic also offers milkshakes, including some with alcohol. In addition, the eatery serves non-burger items such ahi tuna, chicken salad and an appetizer called Nashville Hot Tots, he said.

Warne quipped that he and co-owner Drew Jackman were "corporate refugees" when they started out more than a decade ago.

"We were very frustrated at corporate America," he said. "We said we'd control our own destinies. It took a year-and-a-half of wrangling to find the right concept."

Warne noted the prior restaurant at the Chattanooga site opened around the start of the pandemic, which was difficult on Burger Republic as well.

"Our four units were flat on their back," he said. "We limped through it. We didn't charge through it but we're here on the other side. We're grateful we made it."

Big Kahuna Wings is a Knoxville-based restaurant company that also sought to grow outside its home market. Before that eatery, the Aquarium Way site held another eatery called Rio Picante.

Chattanooga officials last year completed a new plan to re-energize the waterfront area and draw more locals and daily use.

Attracting more affordable housing and businesses, reworking Broad Street into a better pedestrian corridor, enhancing public space and refreshing the Riverwalk are among the ideas revealed in the new master plan that was 18 months in the making.

"I have great confidence in the plan," Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said to about 100 people at the aquarium last summer when it was unveiled.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.