All the ingredients are coming together at Kern’s Bakery Food Hall.
Demolition and construction, gravel and concrete, peeling paint and holes in the roof will disappear in the next few months. Next will come food and beverage vendors, patios and performance stages, public spaces and private rooms – you don’t see them yet, unless you’re walking through the future food hall with Tim Martin, real-estate broker for the ambitious project.
Martin’s enthusiasm is so contagious, you want to move into the circa 1931 bakery at 2110 Chapman Highway. You almost could, with the Flagship Kerns apartments beckoning from the hillside above, except that the upscale residences are 100 percent occupied.
Oh well. Martin promises that there will be plenty of parking for guests, between surface parking and the public garage on Blount Avenue across from Regal Entertainment Group. (Plus, there’s the proposed pedestrian walkway linking the University of Tennessee campus with South Knoxville.)
South Knoxvillians may feel as though the Kern’s Bakery Food Hall is taking forever to come to life, but the 16-acre property went through several developers before arriving in the hands of a group of five investors from Atlanta.
Plus, a pandemic interrupted progress at the old bakery, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.
“We had things going great,” says Martin. “Covid just basically shut the door on us.”
The current projection is to turn spaces over to the tenants on Jan. 15, 2023, and to hold the grand opening on July 1.
The old loading dock will become Drop Zone Distillery, a moonshine-tasting room conceived by Rod Parton, a former paratrooper who belongs to the famed Sevier County family. Retail shops will be adjacent.
The main dining area, a brewery and more retail will fill the space in the center of the main level, behind the front doors, but guests will enter through a courtyard around the side. Martin says there will be a lot of natural light illuminating the hall, which will have both high-top and low-top tables. The Performance Bar won’t be a “real bar” all the time, he says. In the daytime it will offer healthy drinks targeted to those who come in to use the workout facility.
Food vendors will offer the key food groups – cookies, donuts, ice cream and coffee – as well as barbecue, breakfast food, charcuterie, tacos and more. Kern’s will also have outdoor gathering spots, including two rooftop patios and a “beer-infused dog park,” says Martin, “where you can watch your dog while having a beer.”
A ramp on the north side of the dining hall leads down to what’s now a dim hallway that will boast a local art gallery. Along the way there are small rooms that will be turned into private dining rooms and a recessed platform that disappears into murky depths that Martin says have yielded clues that there may have been a moonshine still in the otherwise orthodox bakery.
(Alas, it turns out that the area was an old machine room, and the equipment was merely discards. However, there’s a true connection to moonshining at Kern’s. One night while the boss was doing inventory, he discovered that bags of sugar had gone missing. Workers were taking them and supplying them to actual moonshiners. When their crime was discovered, they were fired on the spot, at 3 a.m.)
At the end of the hallway is a large area Martin calls the Speakeasy.
“We’re working on the deal,” he says. “It will be a subscription-based speakeasy and/or invited with a password. Very exclusive.”
During the day, however, the space will likely function as a corporate dining room. In addition to the ramp/hallway, guests may enter via an elevator or a spiral staircase. Martin envisions an adjacent patio, which would be only a few yards from the G&O Railroad line that eventually is planned to provide a trail all the way to Ijams Nature Center.
Martin says they are leaving as much of the original brick, wood and machinery as possible, describing the vibe of the building as “authentic, natural and organic.”
With a performance stage inside and an outside wall that will be used as a Jumbotron, Kern’s Bakery will offer several different forms of entertainment.
“There’s nothing this big and this unique in Knoxville today, especially this close to downtown,” says Martin.
Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.