Rendering by River Street Architecture / A three-story, 12,000-square-foot building is slated to go up at 401 E. M.L. King Blvd. A Slim & Husky's pizzeria will anchor the project, which also will hold office space.

A Slim & Husky's pizzeria will anchor a new M.L. King Boulevard project in downtown Chattanooga, with one of the restaurant chain's owners saying they want to help fire up the area's growth.

"We focus on areas at the beginning of gentrification, on up-and-coming areas that need a spark," said E.J. Reed, the Nashville eatery's co-owner on Wednesday as officials marked the start of work on a three-story retail and office complex at MLK and Mabel Street.

The pizza restaurant expects to open in the heart of MLK district early next year, Reed said.

He put the fast-growing company's investment at between $500,000 and $1 million in the eatery that will hold from 60 to 80 patrons and employ about 50 people.

Chattanooga businesswoman Tiffanie Robinson, who unveiled the new $2 million building last month, said the second and third floors of the 12,000-square-foot structure will hold office space.

She said on Wednesday that the development group, which also includes Chattanoogans Travis Lytle and Robert Parks, are in talks with several organizations and expects to have leases signed soon.

Robinson said that attracting Slim & Husky's "feels like the perfect match."

"We feel so lucky to have them," said the president and chief executive of Lamp Post Properties.

About two years ago, Slim & Husky's owners told an Urban League of Greater Chattanooga group that it was looking at locating in city's MLK district. Reed said that while the pandemic slowed down the search for a location, "we keep our promises."

"It's a huge day for us," he said.

some text
Staff photo by Mike Pare / People gathered Thursday at the corner of M.L. King Boulevard and Mabel Street to hear the owners of the Slim & Husky's pizza chain talk about their new Chattanooga eatery. Pictured in the center, from left, are co-owners E.J. Reed, Derrick Moore and Clint Gray.

Slim & Husky's has 10 locations in Tennessee, Georgia and California. Restaurant co-owner Clint Gray said the M.L. King District is where it wants to locate.

"If this is the black Mecca of Chattanooga, this is where you want to be," he said. "We want to be part of it."

Reed, Gray and restaurant company co-owner Derrick Moore were childhood friends in Nashville. The eatery's name came from Reed, who always wore slim-fit clothes growing up, and Gray and Moore, who had to shop in the "husky" section, they said.

Reed said plans are to work with area schools and "talk about the power of going to college, entrepreneurship and how education can transform a life."

Emily Mack, president and CEO of the nonprofit downtown redevelopment group River City Co., said it acquired the site for the new restaurant in 2015 with help from the Benwood Foundation and later sold it to Robinson's group.

She said the project will help breathe new life into the district, a process in cities which typically takes a 20-year time period.

Proceeds from the sale of the property will go back into efforts to revitalize the area, Mack said.

While MLK for many years was the soul of Black entertainment in Chattanooga, called "The Big 9" because it was formerly Ninth Street, it later struggled.

Robinson said a number of businesses are starting to move into the East M.L. King area. Chattanooga developers Chris Curtis and Bobby Joe Adamson recently raised a new mixed-use building nearby at Douglas and MLK.

Curtis is the developer of Douglas Heights, the $41 million, seven-story student housing complex on Douglas Street just off M.L. King that opened in 2016.

Jim Williamson, a River City vice president, said that landing Slim & Husky's is "a home run."

"People are excited about this across the town," he said.

Contact Mike Pare at Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.