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Your Saturday lunch plans won't include Walker County's Manor House Restaurant anymore.

An employee of Mountain Cove Farms, the county-owned destination resort in McLemore's Cove, confirmed Thursday that the location's restaurant closed indefinitely at the beginning of this week.

Located inside a 19th-century mansion, the Manor House Restaurant lost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars through almost two years of operation.

Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell did not return multiple calls seeking comment this week. In June, she told the Times Free Press she was thinking about shuttering the restaurant, though she still held out hope she could revive it one day as a money-making venture.

In Heiskell's ideal vision, thousands of tourists will flock to the Manor House Restaurant and the rest of Mountain Cove Farms, boosting Walker County's general fund, decreasing its reliance on taxes and pleasing voters.

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The interior of the Manor House at Mountain Cove Farms is seen in this file photo.
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The Manor House at Mountain Cove Farms is pictured in this file photo.

But after Heiskell bought the property six years ago, Mountain Cove Farms has consistently lost money. And few expenses have weighed more heavily on the resort than the restaurant.

From the middle of 2013 through April of this year, county financial records show, the Manor House Restaurant lost about $800,000. The county spent $610,000 on operational costs and $225,000 on food. But too few customers ate there to offset expenses.

Mountain Cove Farms is in a secluded community between Lookout and Pigeon mountains. The nearest city, LaFayette, is about 20 miles away. The isolation is part of Mountain Cove's charm. But it also means potential customers have to drive far.

Heiskell said earlier this year she opened the restaurant only out of necessity. In September 2013, about 6,000 Civil War re-enactors came to Mountain Cove Farms to restage the Battle of Chickamauga. About 15,000 spectators also arrived.

Heiskell figured those people would need a place to eat, so she paid for chefs to prepare food. She said the restaurant was popular and decided to keep it running. She thought people would continue to dine there.

"We pretty much slapped together the restaurant," she said.

But the restaurant's finances soon plunged. After losing $41,700 in fiscal 2013, the Manor House Restaurant lost $531,600 in year 2014 and another $223,800 between October 2014 and April.

Heiskell in June blamed the former head chef for spending too much on food. She fired the chef, ordered less-costly food and limited the restaurant's hours to four days a week. Even so, the Manor House Restaurant continued to lose money.

"There aren't enough people eating there to keep the doors open day-to-day," Heiskell told the Walker County Messenger earlier this week. "I would lease it to someone interested in running it as a business or will make it available for catered events or parties."

Some business owners have criticized Heiskell for using tax revenue to compete with private businesses, though Heiskell said the Manor House is miles from other businesses.

But Susan Hays, who owns Susan's Diner in Flintstone, said she is happy the restaurant has shut its doors.

"It never should have opened," she said. "Take all that effort and money and put it into something the county really needs."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.

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