Zarzour’s Café to reopen Monday after sale falls through

Staff photo / Zarzour's Café, seen in 2018, announced Wednesday it's reopening after the previously announced sale fell through.
Staff photo / Zarzour's Café, seen in 2018, announced Wednesday it's reopening after the previously announced sale fell through.


If you've been missing Zarzour's Café since it closed its doors last Friday, the suffering is over. The restaurant is reopening Monday.

Owner Joe "Dixie" Fuller announced Wednesday on social media the sale of his restaurant and home had fallen through. And until a new buyer is found, he's back in business.

"I'm not sure what gave him (the prospective buyer) cold feet, but less than 24 hours before we were to close on the agreement, he called to pull out," Fuller said in a phone interview, declining to identify the buyer. "He gave me no reason why."

(READ MORE: Customers react to closing of Chattanooga's oldest eatery, Zarzour's Café)

Zarzour's is 106 years old and in its fourth generation of ownership within the same family. It's the oldest restaurant in Tennessee that "has never closed, never changed locations and has the same family owners from the time it opened," Fuller said.

"Our whole world over here is wrecked," he said. "We had negotiated the purchase a couple months ago. The buyer was going to reopen as a restaurant, and the menu was going to be close to ours. He was going to get a beer and liquor license and open a patio on the side of the building where Shannon's mural is and maybe stay open in the evening for lunch and dinner, which is something we never did.

"So, since I've got to start this process all over again," Fuller continued. "I asked the girls (waitstaff), 'What do you want to do?' They told me they wanted to reopen on Monday, whether I liked it or not. ... They told me it's my job to talk to customers and stay out of their way."

Mary Smith has been the general manager and head chef at Zarzour's for 25 years. When Fuller's wife, Shannon, died in 2022, Smith kept the restaurant in operation.

"It's a shocker that we're going to have to reopen, but I don't mind it one bit," Smith said by phone. "We were all very upset. There have been a lot of tears. We're all very close — all the customers, all the workers, everybody knows everybody's family. It's been hard the last couple months thinking we were leaving.

"But I understand that Joe has to retire," she added. "There will be someone to take over this place, it's just a matter of time."

(READ MORE: Restaurant Scene: After 106 years in business, Zarzour's Cafe is up for sale)

In preparing for the sale, years' worth of photographs and artwork have been removed from Zarzour's dining room walls. And much of the furniture and equipment had been pulled out for cleaning.

 

"The ambience may be a little different, but the food will ... be the same," Fuller said. "I'll be making dumplings on Sunday, and there will be homemade ice cream. ... Second verse, same as the first."

Fuller estimates finding a new owner may take another 30 to 60 days. His home is connected to the restaurant by a small breezeway, and he won't sell one without the other. For most of his life, he worked in the music industry, working and playing with the country music band Alabama.

"I don't want to be a landlord," he said. "I bought an Airstream camper trailer, a real nice one. ... I lived on a bus for about 20 years, so I'm used to small spaces. This thing is perfect for me. I won't have any bills, no overhead. I'm moving down to Lookout Valley."

Members of the waitstaff have started working on their next plan for when the day comes that Zarzour's does shut its doors for a final goodbye. Smith is planning on opening her own cafe, where staff members can all continue working together. She doesn't know where or when the cafe will open, but she's got a good idea about the menu.

"It will definitely be about what I know — comfort food," she said. "That's what I'm trained in, home cooking. And we'll do burgers, fried chicken, meatloaf — all my usual stuff."

Until a sale is complete, "We'll make the best of it," Fuller said. "This is just a little hiccup. Just a fork in the road. Nobody's got the blues. Nobody's mad. It's just an obstacle, and we'll move forward."

Contact Jennifer McNally at jmcnally@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416.


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