South Coast offers new pizza hangout

Betsy PickleFeature, South Knox

Surf’s up at South Coast Pizza!

SoKno’s newest eatery is open at 1103 Sevier Ave. Co-owner and “employee No. 1” Chris Morton, a surfer himself, says features such as Suttree Landing Park, the Urban Wilderness and the upcoming Rail with Trail on the G&O line running between Chapman Highway and Ijams Nature Center identify the playful nature of South Knoxville, and he wants to bring a fun, coastal-community vibe to his new pizza place.

South Coast Pizza was packed with excited neighbors on opening night, May 9, as residents from Old Sevier, Island Home Park, River’s Edge apartments and South Haven showed up to get their fill of pie. Customers were lined up to the door, and due to the crush some had a long wait for their order, but all gave rave reviews to the fare:

“Delicious!” “I love it!” “The crust is the best part!”

That’s what Morton wants to hear. South Coast’s pizzas are made with fresh ingredients and without the additives usually found in commercial pizzas.

He also wants feedback, and opening night was a doozy. Though there were trial runs with friends and family, there’s nothing like opening the doors to the public to show what works and what needs improvement. Morton immediately added another oven, an additional ordering terminal and dark beers to his upgrade list.

But the fact that nearly everyone in the place identified as a nearby resident was music to his ears.

“All I want’s South Knoxville,” says Morton. “I love it here. I love it!”

Morton is known as a partner in the Bearden Beer Market, and he also has a stake in Alliance Brewery.

“I didn’t see myself doing this, but because Alliance is right over there (across the street) and this place was available, I knew someone was going to do something, but I wanted to do it right, so I did it,” he says. “I put a leadership team together (he calls it the no-ego ownership team) and said, ‘I need help. I need to do this because this is what needs to be here.’

“I really, really, really, really did not want an expensive restaurant in here doing some sort of stupid cuisine. Who wants to pay $15 for a small pizza?”

Morton grew up in LaFollette, where everyone went to Charlie’s Pizza after high school basketball games. He wants South Coast Pizza to be that kind of community hangout.

South Coast has long, picnic-style tables and benches to encourage diners to interact with old friends and new ones. Morton encourages people to “put down their devices” and enjoy time with family and friends.

The interior décor is a work in progress, but Morton describes it as “four-quadrant collage art.” At center is a beer-can chandelier. One quadrant boasts aircraft parts hanging from the ceiling in a salute to nearby Downtown Island Home Airport. Another has a grouping of bicycles as a nod to the flourishing mountain-bike community. The third honors the West Coast, Morton’s happy place, with surfboards.

The fourth corner is going to be devoted to South Knoxville – then and now, he says. A mural of SoKno is planned for the space, along with framed photographs of places and people.

The patio in front “is going to be a Top 10 patio. I’m going to make that happen,” says Morton. He envisions luring “all generations of families” in South Knoxville to Suttree Landing Park, two blocks away – with perhaps a stop at South Coast along the way.

“We’ve got that $6 million park over there, so here it is,” he says. “We’re going to get them over there to enjoy the park. That’s why we have the tagline, ‘Grab your sunset,’ because you can go over there, have family activities, family time, and drop your electronic devices for a couple of hours.”

Eventually, the patio will have a canopy. “There will be a large, communal, surfboard-shaped table, so everybody sits together. There will be a really big kids’ play area out there. They’ll be able to play on their own, safe and secure. We’ll have, like, magicians or a balloon-animal dude – I promise, it’s going to be so much fun.”

Morton has already become part of the community of new business owners along Sevier Avenue and has created an event.

“Do you want to hear something great? I’ve co-organized with the Knoxville Track Club, and we’re doing a one-mile race on the runway at Downtown Island Home Airport on the summer solstice.”

Pizzas come with either a red or oil-and-garlic base, and a variety of regular and premium toppings are available. Specialty pizzas are named for SoKno notables and places. Plain and pepperoni pizza is available by the slice, as are some specialty pizzas. The restaurant also offers smoked wings, hummus and “Chocolate Wet Cake” baked by Morton’s mother. The beer menu is evolving, and soft drinks are also sold.

South Coast Pizza is open 4-11 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, noon-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday and noon-9ish Sunday. The restaurant is closed Monday-Tuesday “to give employees a weekend,” Morton says.

Contact: South Coast Pizza on Facebook; 865-712-8884.

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