Champy's Famous Fried Chicken's newest location, next to Food City near Lee Highway and Shallowford Road, mixes influences from what the restaurant owner calls a Mississippi juke joint and Key West.
"We wanted a fun place to hang out," owner Seth Champion said as workmen finished the new Champy's, which is slated for a mid-July opening.
Champion teamed with Chattanooga artist Terry Cannon and made several out-of-town trips to find items for the new restaurant.
Old wood, corrugated tin, and vintage license plates find favor at the restaurant. Outside, a steeple taken from a horse barn marks the spot. Some of the windows came from a cotton mill in Lindale, Ga., Champion said.
Cannon said there's nothing cookie-cutter about the appearance of the eatery, which also will be lit in red Christmas lights.
"There's nothing sterile. We want people to be over-stimulated," said Cannon. "This was a blank canvas. This was a white, ugly brick building. Seth wanted the place to feel authentic."
Born and raised in Mississippi, Champion showed off a wall with items hearkening back to the late blues musician T-Model Ford, who was known for his juke joint style.
"It's great music of the Mississippi Delta," he said.
What's not changing from the original Champy's restaurant on M.L. King Boulevard downtown is the food, said Champion.
"The menu will be the same," he said, citing cooked-to-order chicken, Mississippi catfish and fresh crawfish in season. "All the sides are made from scratch."
The outdoors area features New Orleans snowballs, fluffy, shaved ice served with cream or condensed milk.
The new restaurant, which will employ about 45 people, gives Champion about a half dozen in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
He's expecting to do even more business on Lee Highway than downtown, though he wouldn't give financial details nor say how much he's investing in the new venture. Eighty more seats and additional parking will help drive the numbers, said Champion.
Eventually, he said, he'd like to open a third Champy's in the Chattanooga area, targeting the Hixson market, and potentially, he'd like to move into franchising the concept.
Champion said when he initially saw the new eatery's Lee Highway building, which formerly held a title loan business, he liked its location near Gunbarrel and Shallowford roads.
In addition to Chattanooga patrons, he sees its close proximity to Interstate 75 as helping capture customers from Cleveland, Tenn., Knoxville and beyond.
Champion said his and Cannon's sons played baseball together, and that's when they decided to join up to design the new eatery.
Cannon said that, as an artist, he can "take the reins off and tap into whatever is creative. That's where the magic happens."
He said that the restaurant "feels to me like one big art sculpture. Every nook and cranny we try to give personality."