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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Joseph Waller, managing partner in the group that owns The Sleepy Sloth Cafe, works behind the counter at the Northgate Mall eatery in this Friday, June 3, 2022, photo.

A Chattanooga businessman who bought a crafts market at Northgate Mall last year has opened a sandwich and coffee cafe in the Hixson shopping center.

"We wanted to go with the basics," said Joseph Waller, managing partner of the two ventures, about the new eatery called The Sleepy Sloth Cafe.

The cafe opened Wednesday inside the mall just off the common area in space formerly holding a cookie business.

Waller said he has operated The Funkey Monkey Market craft store in the mall since buying it in September.

"We've grown it over 400% in a short time," he said in an interview, adding that it gives crafters a chance to sell in a retail environment without them having to always be on site.

Waller said he believed there was a need for a coffee shop in the mall and he and his business partners decided that opening the cafe was a way to boost their revenues.

"I always wanted to own a sandwich shop," he said. "We saw the opportunity."

Stacey Keating, vice president of corporate communications at mall owner CBL Properties, said the shopping center operator is "thrilled that the owners of The Funkey Monkey Market decided to expand their presence."

"The cafe coupled with the recent development around the mall is beneficial to the entire campus," she said in an email.

Miller's Ale House, a sports-themed casual dining restaurant concept, is putting a new location outside the mall near Panera Bread along with My Eyelab, which offers customers low-cost eyeglasses and eye exams using a telehealth model.

Waller, 49, a native of West Tennessee who decided to leave the engineering field, said the cafe offers a variety of sandwiches including Reuben and cordon blue chicken offerings.

Also, the cafe has its own coffee brand, he said.

So far, the cafe is doing well, and he lauded the mall management in promoting the new business.

"Everybody's excited," Waller said. "It's something new."

The two mall businesses, which employ about five people, are connected by the jungle theme of their names, he said.

Northgate Mall, as just about all shopping centers, was hit by the coronavirus pandemic and lost some of its retailers. Earlier, the shift to online shopping had prompted the loss of major retail anchors JCPenney and Sears.

Chattanooga-based CBL, which operates centers across the country, filed for bankruptcy protection late in 2020. The company spent a year restructuring and emerged on Nov. 1, 2021, from with a court-approved plan.

CBL Chief Executive Stephen Lebovitz said earlier in an interview that officials are energized by a recovery in mall traffic, consumer spending and sales. While retail is still key, Lebovitz said CBL is diversifying the uses of its properties and drawing more interest from nontraditional operators.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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