Rural communities across Tennessee's southeast corner have an investment in locally owned businesses, not the least among them eateries that supply food, jobs and draw visitors that help form the tax base for schools and local government.
The Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association has set up an online resource listing the region's hometown restaurants to expand the carry-out and delivery menu during the coronavirus pandemic that has dealt a crushing blow to the local business community, according to Jenni Veal, tourism coordinator for the association.
"The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been immediate for small businesses, and especially within the tourism, hospitality and restaurant industries," she said. "So in unprecedented times like this, you just do whatever you can to support what remains. And what remains right now are our restaurants and their owners, who have switched gears during this crisis to offer delicious, homemade food for take-out and delivery."
The list and links to websites or social media pages includes locally owned restaurants in rural Bledsoe, Bradley, Grundy, Marion, McMinn, Meigs, Polk, Rhea and Sequatchie counties, as well as more metropolitan Bradley and Hamilton counties. The list on the agency's website is not compete, Veal said. Any locally owned restaurants that would like to be added can do so by contacting Veal at email@example.com, she said.
Tourism is Tennessee's second- largest industry and in recent years there's been record-breaking tourism growth across the state with travelers spending an estimated $60 million per day, Veal said, citing tourism office statistics.
"When tourists visit rural communities to hike, paddle and explore, their dollars not only invest in small businesses and jobs, but they generate state and local tax revenue that supports a community's schools, social services, infrastructure and local government," she said. "That economic boom has been completely shut down by COVID-19."
Sequatchie County-Dunlap Chamber of Commerce executive director Janis Adams Kyser said local restaurants are important to the local economy and have stepped up as the coronavirus pandemic puts the squeeze on local businesses and their neighbors.
"Our local restaurants and businesses are critical to our survival as a community," Kyser said. "They're open and they're doing drive- thru service. They're keeping all the employees they can keep."
Kyser said staff at many restaurants are clad in masks and gloves and all are delivering meals to folks in their cars or through a drive-thru window to maintain the recommended social distances.
"We are trying to be proactive," she said. "I think that's one indication that Sequatchie County has only one confirmed case," she said, noting there could be another, overlooked factor.
"One of the things that every restaurant brings to us, they bring out the sweet tea," she said conspiratorially. "Maybe it's that Sequatchie Valley sweet tea that's keeping us going, I'm not sure."
Patty Henry owns SueBob's Diner in Powells Crossroads, Tennessee, which snugs up to the bottom of Walden's Ridge in Marion County. The pandemic has had a negative impact but a few changes combined with a drive-thru that was already in operation allow Henry to meet the changing needs of her customers.
"All I did was adjust my hours. I'm going to be expanding them again because of an opportunity I have to feed the elderly," she said. But that could change operations, too, and Henry suggests her customers check suebobs.com for the latest hours.
"I'm operating off of what's happening in the world around me," she said, mentioning Marion County Mayor David Jackson's curfew of 8 p.m. CDT announced Tuesday.
Veal hopes stir-crazy Chattanooga folks will take a short, scenic cruise for a meal from somewhere different.
"It's been heartwarming to see our communities doing all they can to support their local restaurants, but the populations in rural areas are limited," she said. "So we decided to help spread the word to our Chattanooga friends to encourage everyone to 'think regionally, act regionally.'
"Most of the small towns in our region are within a short and beautiful drive of Chattanooga, so it's not a big investment to get out on a beautiful day and take a drive for some good food that supports a small business," she said.
Videos and photos of some restaurants' current operations can be seen on the association's social media platforms, Veal said.
Kyser in Sequatchie County said with everyone in the same situation it's time to take care of each other.
"If my boat floats and yours doesn't, we all sink together," she said.
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.
WHERE TO EAT
Below is the initial list of locally owned restaurants in Southeast Tennessee provided by the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association. Phone numbers are listed as provided. The list on the agency's website is updated as new information is provided by restaurant owners. Information for restaurants with no phone number listed can be found on their social media platforms or at the association's landing page. To be added, contact Jenni Veal at email@example.com
Morgan Bros. BBQ: 423-447-6423
Little Mountain Video: 423-881-3985
Mi Cabanita: 423-447-2668
Pailo Market: 423-554-3891
Pikeville Pizza King: 423-447-7564
Cookie Jar Café: 423-949-5852
Dunlap Restaurant: 423-949-2595
Anthony & Theresa's Homecookin': 423-949-4089
Andy's Pizza and Steakhouse: 423-949-3633
Pizza King: 423-949-4373
El Metate: 423-949-6132
SueBob's Diner: 423-658-8575
Sequatchie Cove Farm Trading Post (pre-order online only)
Jerome's Fine Swine BBQ: 423-658-5880
Johnny's Hook & Grill: 423-815-4014
Whitwell Dairy Bar: 423-658-6050
Rusty Joe's: 423-661-2000
Pizza Chef: 423-658-0333
Ramsey's BBQ & Catering: 423-939-0433
Top of the Rock: 423-939-9037
Snack Shack: 423-942-8955
T's Diner: 423-942-3505
Whiskey Barrel Bar & Grill: 423-939-0754
El Toril: 423-228-4640
Dragging Canoe Coffee Traders: 423-939-9372
Dixie Freeze: 423-837-6423
Harvey's Pirate Drive-In: 423-837-7763
Lookout Winery & Wood Stove Pizza
TENNESSEE'S SOUTH CUMBERLAND
Jim Oliver's Smokehouse Restaurant: 931-924-2091
Mountain Goat Market: 931-924-2727
Papa Ron's: 931-924-3355
High Point: 931-924-4600
Depot Café: 931-224-3842
Dixie Dinner: 931-924-9292
Hank's Corner Grille
Dutch Maid Bakery & Cafe
The Southern Oven: 931-779-6836
Simply Southern: 931-467-2600
Fat Chunks and Dave's: 931-779-4080
CHATTANOOGA & TENNESSEE RIVER BASIN
Monkey Town Brewing Company
Screen Door Kitchen
2 Squares A Day
Bread & Butter
River Street Deli
The Southern Star – downtown
Southern Star Takeout – Signal Mountain
Fat Boy's Roadside Eats
The Chef & His Wife
Rib & Loin
Bite Me Bakery
Shane's Rib Shack
SOUTHERN BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS & FOOTHILLS
Shane's Rib Shack 423-476-5970
Ocoee Dam Deli
Bakery on Main
Maddi Mae's Café
Source: Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association