Aubrey's restaurant founder Randy Burleson says he spent about five years looking for the right place to put one of his eateries in Chattanooga.
"With the redevelopment of Northgate Mall, I found a site," said Burleson, who plans to open the restaurant on Monday in Hixson.
Aubrey’s will have 13 locations in East Tennessee stretching from Bristol to Chattanooga when the Hixson restaurant opens next week.
His eatery, which will seat 220 patrons, is located where the former Sears auto center operated for many years before mall owner CBL Properties bought the property as part of its refurbishing of Northgate.
Earlier this month, fast-casual Chinese restaurant Panda Express opened a location next to Aubrey's. Panda Express has about 2,000 square feet of space including an outdoor patio, according to CBL.
Aubrey's, which offers chicken fingers, pastas, seafood, hamburgers and "American faire with a Southern bias to it," will take up about 7,500 square feet and also have an exterior patio.
Burleson, 52, on the site earlier this week, put the investment into the restaurant at about $3 million and he expects to employ between 80 and 100 people.
Aubrey's, which operates in East Tennessee and has an eatery in Cleveland, Tennessee, was launched in Knoxville in 1992. There are now 13 Aubrey's, which he said is his first name. His company also runs six other restaurants with different concepts.
Burleson, who is from Knoxville, studied economics and political science at the University of Tennessee and later earned his MBA.
While in college he interned at a restaurant and found that he was not meant to be stockbroker. He purchased some used restaurant equipment opened his first Aubrey's in Farragut.
Over the years, Burleson said, he kept chipping away and putting money back into the company and grew the business.
Patrons, he said, will see that Aubrey's is "a regional mom and pop" company that gives back to the community.
"We buy from local farmers and try to support the school system," the restaurant owner said. Niedlov's bakery in Chattanooga makes his breads, he said. "We've had a relationship for years."
Burleson said he likes what CBL is doing to re-energize the mall.
"CBL has done a nice job," he said. "Hopefully we'll see people from Soddy-Daisy, Signal Mountain" and other parts of the Chattanooga area.
The Panda Express typically has about 20 to 25 employees as its restaurants, according to that company, and the Hixson restaurant seats about 58 people.
"Panda Express chose the location due to its placement in the heart of the market with strong foot traffic and great co-tenants," said Hector Coronel, director of restaurant development affairs.
Taylor Bostwick, the mall's marketing director, said the addition of more restaurants to the area creates a bigger draw for people to eat and stop by the mall and shop.
"It's having a mix of different types of uses and different reasons for people to visit our properties and giving them what they want when they get there," she said.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.