Opening a restaurant is never easy, but it's particularly difficult during a pandemic, as Amir Crnalic learned after putting everything he had into opening Tata's Grill Bosnian Cuisine.
He leased his restaurant space in East Ridge back in December 2019, before anyone knew the coronavirus would spread to and eventually shut down the U.S.
"It's tough, but it is what it is," said Crnalic, who has worked in the flooring business most of his 24 years living in East Ridge.
Before that, he lived in Washington, D.C., for several years after leaving Bosnia through a sponsorship with the Lutheran Church.
He was ready to do something other than installing floors, and the single father of three already knew how to cook.
At a glance
Name: Tata’s Grill Bosnian Cuisine
Menu: Typical Balkan food is rich in variety. Red pepper, tomato, onions, white cheese, meat, and various pies are present in all cuisines of Balkan.
Location: 5716 Ringgold Road
Contact: Phone is 423-355-2571 or web site tatasgrill.com.
Crnalic decided to call his restaurant Tata's, which means "Father's" in Bosnian.
While he had the bad luck of opening amid a pandemic, Crnalic at least has the benefit of being unique, as his is the only Bosnian restaurant in Tennessee. People drive from Nashville and Knoxville to try his food after reading reviews, which he said have helped to spread the word.
Grilled meat is the main star of Bosnian cuisine, which also includes dishes such as goulash and stuffed cabbage rolls, he said.
"We believe in freshly cooked food," said Crnalic.
He and his son Delano, whom he hopes will take over the restaurant one day, do all of the cooking, and the only other employee is a server who works in the dining area on the weekends.
Evidence of Crnalic's former career can be seen in the dining room's woodwork, all of which he did himself.
In normal times the restaurant seats 46, but many of the tables were removed when the pandemic forced them to reduce occupancy. They plan to leave a few tables outside while the weather is still nice, he said.
"Have some Bosnian coffee, sit outside, and it feels like you're in a Bosnian household," Crnalic said.
About half of the restaurant's business comes from carryout orders. Tata's doesn't offer delivery, as the monetary cut that delivery services take is about the same amount as his profit on the food, he said.
"We really need the community to support local businesses," said Crnalic. "There's a lot of restaurants that are struggling. If you order once a month from a local restaurant, it's going to help us."
He said he tries to keep his prices low, with all but one meal ringing in at less than $10. That can be difficult when you make everything fresh every day, as it can be hard to estimate how much food you will sell on any given day, he said.
Every morning, Crnalic buys fresh local produce from Belle Fresh Market down the street, and drives to Atlanta for lepinja, a Bosnian flatbread.
The restaurant is also known for its desserts, said Delano Crnalic, who prefers the cheesecake.
Contact Emily Crisman at email@example.com or 423-757-6508.