When Lezli Lewis opened Carving Rock Kitchen with fellow food artisan Shanda Simpson in September, she was overwhelmed by the response to the fully gluten-free micro bakery.
"So many people here [in Chattanooga] have been waiting so long for something like this," she told me. "We would have people come in every day saying they hadn't had a biscuit in two years." Other customers, especially those with severe celiac disease, cried tears of relief and joy to be in a restaurant where anything they ordered would be safe to eat.
"We've had tons of regular customers that were in almost every day," Lewis said, many of them pledging to continue supporting Carving Rock so the fledgling bakery could stay in business.
Unfortunately, despite the enthusiasm of its patrons, the bakery has had to temporarily close its doors. Severe and persistent plumbing issues at their Brainerd Road location has forced Lewis and her team to seek a new home for Chattanooga's only dedicated gluten-free bakery less than two months after opening.
Due to the sudden move, the Carving Rock crew will need to purchase much of the equipment they'll need to reopen at their next location, and they may also face renovation costs. In order to return as quickly as possible to serving the gooey cinnamon rolls, fluffy biscuits and chewy Bavarian pretzels that their misty-eyed customers adore, Lewis and Simpson have created a Kickstarter project.
They have set the funding goal at $10,000, which Lewis figures is the minimum they will need just to reopen. She also pointed out that a Kickstarter project only pays if the goal is met by the deadline, which is Nov. 29.
"If it doesn't get fully funded to the $10,000 mark," she explained, "we don't get any of the money."
On the other hand, if the supporters of this local gluten-free bakery really show up and fund the project in excess of the goal, the Carving Rock team can expand both their hours and their menu offerings.
One item Lewis has been especially eager to provide her patrons is bread, a particularly challenging recipe for gluten-free home bakers.
"We would definitely like to expand into doing breads and be able to sell loaves and also have it for our sandwiches in-house," she said.
Whenever and wherever Lewis, Simpson and the rest of the Carving Rock team set up shop next, there will be a special place on the wall for a painting by local artist Michael Lardizabal. The painting features a poem, written by Lardizabal, that inspired the Carving Rock name. It begins, "We are the water that carves the rock. / Ever present. Day by day. / Some days just a trickle. / Others, a raging storm."
Lewis explained that, as a neurodivergent small-business owner, this image spoke to her.
"Some days we're on it and doing great, and some days it feels like it'll never work out, but even a small trickle, over time, does still make a difference." She also said that the poem resonates with her vision of carving out a space for the gluten-free community in the mountain-encircled Scenic City.
Folks looking to score some gluten-free goodies while they wait to visit Carving Rock's next brick-and-mortar location can hit upcoming pop-up markets in the area. For up-to-date information, search Carving Rock Kitchen on Facebook and Instagram. To support the Kickstarter project, visit kickstarter.com before 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 29.
L.B. Blackwell has been practicing Eknath Easwaran's passage meditation for more than 10 years. He lives in Chattanooga with his wife and two daughters. He blogs at mundaneway.blogspot.com.