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Contributed photo / Buddy's bar-b-q celebrates its grand opening in East Ridge

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019, to correct the amount to $150 million in the second to last paragraph. It had previously stated $75 million.

One of the most popular barbecue restaurant chains in the Knoxville area is headed south with restaurants opening this fall in both East Ridge and Cleveland, Tennessee.

A local franchise group is bringing Buddy's bar-b-q to Southeast Tennessee as the 46-year-old restaurant concept expands its footprint to 16 locations by next month.

Darik Dawes, who has previously operated a Sonic drive-in franchise in Chattanooga and is part-owner of the Mainstay Suites hotel in East Brainerd and the Springhill Suites by Marriott in Ooltewah, is the managing partner for two new Buddy bar-b-q restaurants.

some text Photo by Dave Flessner / Buddy's bar-b-q framchise owner Derik Dawes talks about his new restaurant in East Ridge

The first Buddy's celebrated its grand opening Wednesday in the Jordan's Crossing retail complex at Exit 1 in East Ridge. Dawes said he plans to open a similar Buddy's restaurant along Paul Huff Parkway in Cleveland, across from Publix, next month.

"We really like the food and the menu is just unbelievable," Dawes said after eating at a Buddy's in Seviervillle, Tennesssee. "We fell in love with the hickory-smoked taste and we know that something that has been around since 1972 is a successful concept. A lot of people know and love Buddy's in Knoxville and we're just excited to bring this restaurant concept to East Ridge."

The franchise ownership group includes Derik Dowes and his wife, D.N., and parents, David and Shirley, along with Greg and Kim Adkins, Ken and Mary Hope Mables and Allen and Cindy Newton.

The new 3,300-square-foot restaurant in East Ridge has about 35 employees and will be led by Jerry Parker, who will serve as general manager. The restaurant, which is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., includes seating for 80 persons, but also features a drive-through window.

some text Staff photo by Dave Flessner / Buddy's bar-b-q CEO Mark Lemoncelli says the chain plans to add two to three new stores a year

Mark Lemoncelli, CEO of Buddy's bar-b-q, said the drive-through option is rare among barbecue restaurants and he said Buddy's offers the fast casual experience at a value price, with the typical meal ticket around $8.50 to $10.

"We're looking to open two to three more stores a year," he said.

Dawes said if the East Ridge and Cleveland stores prove successful, he hopes to open other Buddy's locations.

Currently, Buddy's operates 11 company-owned stores and has four franchised units open with more on the way.

The new Buddy's in East Ridge anchors the latest addition to Jordan's Crossing and is built next door to a nail salon and another restaurant site.

John Healy, a partner in the development firm Exit One LLC, said the 10,000-square-foot building that houses the new Buddy's will be replicated next year in another retail strip to be added next door with other retail shops and restaurants. Both of the retail centers are next to the Hampton Inn hotel, and the Chick-fil-A which opened last year, and across Camp Jordan Parkway from the Bass Pro Shop, which opened three years ago.

Next summer, a 23,886-square-foot Topgolf store will open at Jordan's Crossing.

some text Staff photo by Dave Flessner / Franchise and local officials cut the ribbon for the new Buddy's bar-b-q in East Ridge Wednesday

"It's taken longer than we would have hoped, but we think we have a great mix of tenants and a great location that is only going to continue to grow," said Healy, who acquired about 50 acres of property next to Camp Jordan park nearly a decade ago and has worked since to develop the property behind the Tennessee Welcome Center on I-75. "This is a great site with more than 100,000 vehicles a day going by on Interstate 75 and right next to one of the great youth sports facilities in the state."

Healy estimates when fully built out, the investment in Jordan's Crossing should approach $100 million and help the city of East Ridge to double its sales tax collections from the levels before Jordan's Crossing was developed and the state authorized a Border Zone tax for the region.

Across I-75, Chattanooga Red Wolves owner and developer Bob Martino is building more than $150 million of housing, retail and commercial projects around a new soccer stadium he is building for his pro soccer team in East Ridge.

"That complements what we are doing here and we are his biggest cheerleaders," Healy said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

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