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Tupelo Honey closes; developer says other prospects are lined up

Nathan Baker and Robert Houk • Oct 3, 2018 at 5:53 PM

An Asheville restaurant that was an early arrival in Johnson City’s downtown redevelopment has departed after four years.

Tupelo Honey, a mid-range eatery featuring Southern-inspired cuisine, announced Wednesday on its Facebook page that it closed its location in the historic Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio train depot.

“It has been our privilege to serve the people of Johnson City over the last 4 years and help renovate a beautiful, historic landmark,” the statement posted on the restaurant’s page said. “As we near the end of our lease, we have decided to close the doors of this location, and are grateful for our time in Johnson City and to the community who supported us.”

In the statement, the company said it would work with current employees to help them find jobs at nearby Tupelo Honey locations or new employment options.

Greg Cox, developer of the century-old railroad depot on Buffalo Street, said Tupelo Honey had basically fulfilled the terms of its 5-year lease for the space.

With the company’s rapid expansion over the past five years into larger markets across the country, Cox said he doubted it planned to renew the lease, and said there was no animus in restaurant’s departure for either party.

“It was very cordial,” he said. “They’ve been great partners and fantastic tenants, but if it wasn’t going to continue, then it’s a good time for us to get something local, maybe something in-house, in that location.”

After word spread that the central downtown location would be available, Cox said he received an unexpected number of calls showing “pretty heavy” interest in leasing the site. Cox said he had already begun formulating plans to fill the fully built-out restaurant space, but some of the calls piqued his interest.

“There are five or six things I’m really excited about, but we have to figure out which route to go,” he said.

Cox said he didn’t believe it would take long to find a tenant that would be “perfect for that spot.”

Diana Cantler, the director of downtown development for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, said she would be surprised if another restaurant isn’t opened in the location in three months.

Parking has never been a problem for the site, she said, and representatives of Fleet Feet, the other business tenant in the building, told her they don’t expect to be impacted by the restaurant’s decision.

When it arrived on the Tennessee side of the mountains, Tupelo Honey legitimized developers’ and officials’ plans for downtown Johnson City. They credit it with convincing other businesses, like White Duck Taco and Wild Wing Cafe, to invest in the town.

Cox said without the company’s interest and investment in the property, the historic depot would likely not have been rehabilitated.

Johnson City Mayor David Tomita said Wednesday he was "personally shocked and disappointed" by the news.

"It was important for the redevelopment of the downtown, and for what we have envisioned for the West Walnut Street corridor," he said.

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