Built to Last: A look at five leading legacy companies that originated in Chattanooga and have stood the test of time

A look back at the days when Krystal used to have a crystal ball, the inspiration for the restaurant's name, on every building. / Photo courtesy of Krystal Restaurants

Hundreds of people start new businesses in Chattanooga each year. About half of them make it through the first five years. And most don't make it past the 10-year threshold. We take a look at five leading legacy companies in the Scenic City -- businesses that have developed products or ideas that have stood the test of time and continue to thrive today.


Chattanooga Bakery

Then

Chattanooga Bakery was founded in 1902 as a subsidiary of the Mountain City Flour Mill. The company made nearly 100 snack cake and cookie items under the Lookout trademark, named after the popular residential and tourist community atop Lookout Mountain.

In 1917, after a bad sales call, the general manager asked employees for new ideas. One of the salesmen struck up a conversation with some Appalachian coal miners, who told him they liked graham crackers -- and that everyone liked chocolate. As the moon was rising that night, one of them raised his hands up to frame the moon and said "why don't you make it about that big." Just like that, the MoonPie was born.

By the late 1930s, the snack cake had become the bakery's No. 1 seller -- a spot it still occupies today, with more than 1 million MoonPies shipped daily from Chattanooga.

Now

MoonPies are available in three sizes (the original single decker, double-decker and mini) and eight flavors (chocolate, vanilla, banana, mint, salted caramel, strawberry and two seasonal varieties, lemon and pumpkin spice). Brand distribution is national, with particular strength east of the Mississippi. The brand can be found in the grocery, mass, club, drug, convenience, vending, fundraising, and foodservice channels, as well as a number of specialty retail outlets including Cracker Barrel, Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops.

Fun fact

For special brand events, Chattanooga Bakery handmakes the "world's largest MoonPie," which is 42 inches wide, 6 inches tall, weighs 45 pounds and feeds 300.

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"We are proud to call Chattanooga our forever home, and thank our amazing associates and our customer and supplier partners for enabling us to keep 'baking memories' for the next 100


Coca-Cola Bottling

Then

Chattanooga Coca-Cola began in July of 1899 when two local lawyers, Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead were able to finally convince company president, Asa Candler that the soft drink should be sold in bottles. Until that time, Coca-Cola was strictly a fountain drink. By September of that same year, the plant had opened at 17 Market Street, and the first advertisement appeared offering Coca-Cola in bottles. The venture took "Coke" from the Southern drugstore counter and made it the top-selling soft drink around the world. It began with one SKU -- a bottle of Coca-Cola.

Now

Today, Chattanooga Coca-Cola serves Hamilton County in Tennessee and six counties in North Georgia. There are approximately 515 associates who manufacture, sell and distribute the company's brands. A company that began by manufacturing one and selling one SKU now sells and distributes more than 600 SKUs. More than half of those are low calorie and zero-calorie brands.

Fun Fact

The Coca-Cola bottles that stood atop the wall at Engel Stadium and AT&T Field are approximately six feet tall.

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"Wherever you drink Coca-Cola, inside every bottle, there is a little of Chattanooga," -- John Sherman, retiring CEO of Coca-Cola UNITED


Krystal restaurants

Then

Founded in 1932 during the first years of the Great Depression, Krystal began in Chattanooga, by entrepreneurs Rody Davenport Jr. and partner J. Glenn Sherrill. Davenport's wife, Mary, came up with the restaurant's name after noticing a crystal ball lawn ornament. Since the founders felt cleanliness was a cornerstone of the business concept, they named the restaurant Krystal for "clean as a crystal" -- yet with a "K" to add a twist. The first location opened at the corner of 7th and Cherry Streets in downtown Chattanooga, at 25x10 square feet in size and a construction cost of $5,000. The first order placed at Krystal was on October 25, 1932, for six hamburgers and a cup of coffee, which cost 35 cents. Over the years, celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Samuel L. Jackson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and more have professed their love of Krystal burgers.

Now

Krystal has been selling burgers for 90 years and boasts that it has sold more than 10 billion Krystals throughout the years -- grilled, square-shaped beef patties topped with diced onions, mustard, and a slice of dill pickle, served on a steamed bun.

The brand is now expanding its footprint, moving into the northeast United States and Puerto Rico for the first time since its creation. Super Bowl Champion Victor Cruz is a recent franchisee and has plans to build 10 Krystal locations in New York and his home state New Jersey.

Krystal is leaning into partnerships heavily to further their reach and awareness. The brand tapped 2Chainz, an Atlanta-based grammy-winning artist as its head of creative marketing. He and his team will be responsible for leading the creation of new platforms, partnerships, menus and merchandise in Atlanta.

Fun Fact

This year is Krystal's 90th birthday. It is the second oldest quick-service restaurant in the country.

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"Krystal has been an iconic brand in the south for 90 years, and we are still an iconic brand," says Thomas Stager, company president. "We have remained true to our roots of being a value brand and fans continue to come visit us to enjoy the classic Krystals that we have made since the beginning. Our vision is to grow to 500 locations and bring our famous burgers to the entire country."


McKee Foods (Little Debbie)

Then

The McKee Foods story began in 1934 during the height of the Great Depression when founder O.D. McKee began selling 5-cent snack cakes from the back of his car. Soon after, he and his wife, Ruth, bought a small bakery on Main Street in Chattanooga, using the family car as collateral.

Now

Today, McKee Foods employs more than 6,400 people in Collegedale, Tennessee; Gentry, Arkansas; Stuarts Draft, Virginia; and Kingman, Arizona, with annual sales exceeding $1.4 billion. The company creates and produces Little Debbie baked goods, Drake's cakes, Sunbelt Bakery snacks and Fieldstone Bakery food products.

McKee Foods remains a family-owned operation. The third generation runs the business today, with the fourth working their way up through the ranks to learn every aspect of the business. The company operates one of the largest private trucking fleets in the United States, shipping more than 9 million cartons of sweet baked goods per year.

Fun Fact

More than 157 billion Little Debbie snacks have been sold since the brand first launched in 1960. If you lined up all those snacks, they would be long enough to reach the moon and back more than 41 times.

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"Our family business has been a part of the greater Chattanooga community for nearly 90 years," says Mike McKee, president and CEO of McKee Foods. "For these nine decades, we have relied on the providence of God and the talents of an incredible workforce to create a safe workplace where people are encouraged to grow. They're also encouraged to live out O.D. McKee's motto to 'find a better way.' This innovative spirit is one of the hallmarks of the success we enjoy together as a team."


The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Then

Adolph Ochs, who acquired The Chattanooga Times in 1878 when he was only 30 years old, helped usher in a new era of journalism when he went to New York City and in 1896 bought The New York Times.Ochs patterned The New York Times after his Chattanooga newspaper, building it into one of the nation's top publications distributed around the world and widely recognized as the newspaper of record. Ochs, who also had a number of other local ventures, died in 1935 during a return trip to Chattanooga.

Now

Ochs descendants still control The New York Times. The current publisher of The New York Times is A.G. Sulzberger, Ochs' great-great-grandson. The family sold The Chattanooga Times in 1999 to WEHCO Media and merged with the Chattanooga Free Press to form the current Chattanooga Times Free Press. But Ochs' pledge "To give the news impartially, without fear or favor" remains on the masthead of the Times Free Press and is part of current Publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr.'s statement of values.

Fun Fact

Ochs had no formal higher education but learned the newspaper trade when he started working at the Knoxville Chronicle at age 11. After becoming a "printer's devil," setting type each night in Knoxville, he moved to Chattanooga at age 17 to work at and later buy The Chattanooga Times.

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"To give the news impartially, without fear or favor," is the daily pledge from The Chattanooga Times Free Press. For 153 years, quality and excellent journalism has been our commitment to Chattanooga and the surrounding region. To honor this pledge and provide the critical news and information to our readers in the most efficient and timely method, we have continuously updated our technology and equipment. We continue that commitment today, as we are among the first in the country with a digital replica each day, coupled with iPads provided for subscribers to read and view the news." -- Alton A. Brown, president of The Chattanooga Times Free Press