Chatter Box Cafe is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 11 a.m. until “sellout” on Friday through Saturday at 1817 Market St. Call 423-504-8927. Prices include $5 for a regular pulled pork sandwich; $8 for a jumbo sandwich; $10 for a pound of pulled pork and $25 for a full rack of ribs.
Since 2015, Brandon Ellis has hauled his smoker to various locations around Chattanooga to sell his slow-cooked, hickory- and cherry-smoked brisket, pulled pork, and chicken — even grilled vegetarian food.
Starting today, Ellis' barbecue joint, Chatter Box Cafe, has a permanent home just a couple of blocks south of trendy Main Street at 1817 Market St., in a building that previously held Greg's Southern Soul Food.
Ellis hopes to pull customers from the surrounding neighborhood, to snag commuters heading home after a long day's work, and to draw repeat business from those who've tried his barbecue around Chattanooga, including at craft beer tasting rooms and microbreweries.
"Just people that like good barbecue," Ellis said.
He came up with the name Chatter Box Cafe partly because Ellis goes to business networking events where different groups of people chat — and he wants all those different cliques talking about his food.
"People will talk about food that they really like," he said.
Chatter Box Cafe's barbecue is a hit at Heaven & Ale, a craft beer tasting room at 304 Cherokee Blvd., on Chattanooga's North Shore, where Ellis hauls his smoker a couple of times a week.
"Everybody loves him. I think that he's got a real shot to succeed over there [on Market]. He does it authentically. He has a great, outgoing personality," said Joe Winland, owner of Heaven and Ale. "He's got a loyal following."
Grew up on Kentucky farm
Chatter Box Cafe isn't Ellis' first venture. He also has a cleaning business that his aunt will be in charge of while Ellis focuses on barbecue.
Ellis grew up on a farm in Franklin, Ky., just across the state border north of Nashville.
He got his work ethic watching relatives on the farm, particularly his grandfather who lost an arm in a corn-planting machine. When Ellis was young, his grandfather would have him do chores. And Ellis would figure out a way to get the job done — because he didn't want his grandfather to step in and finish up.
"He's old, he's got one arm," Ellis said. "If he could do it, then I should be able to do it."
Ellis, 32, moved to Chattanooga in 2006 to take part in Teen Challenge. It's a faith-based, 12-month residential program for 100 men and women on seven acres at the base of Lookout Mountain that helps clients beat their addictions. Ellis said he entered the program after trafficking cocaine and marijuana had him facing years in prison — which he avoided.
Ellis has a mentor, Charlie Brock, the CEO and president of Launch Tennessee, a statewide effort to boost the Volunteer State's entrepreneurial and startup business culture.
And Ellis took part a year ago in an accelerator program at Chattanooga's The Company Lab to launch a smartphone app that Ellis helped develop, Local Loyalty, designed to make it easier for consumers and small businesses to use shopping reward card programs.
Ellis plans to keep hauling his smoker to different locations, including on Broad Street tonight for comedian Dave Chappelle's show at the Tivoli Theatre.
"I like [Chattanooga] because there's a lot of opportunity here," Ellis said. "If you don't mind working, you can definitely make some money."