Travis Presley has worked at Little Joe’s Pizza at 13100 Kingston Pike since he was 14. He had just finished 8th grade and his best friend talked him into applying for a dishwashing job. That was in 1986, and Travis still works at Little Joe’s – now as the owner.
When he met Joe Arico, founder of Little Joe’s, Travis had no idea that he would eventually become part of the family. Joe purchased a Dixie Lee Junction burger drive-in in 1974 and added Italian classics from his native Rome as well as the pizza he was introduced to when he moved to Chicago as a teen. He moved his family to Farragut for an engineering job and opened the restaurant as a second business.
Part of Joe’s motivation was giving his children a place to work while they were in school. He insisted that they, as well as the other teens who worked there, pursue an education. Travis didn’t want to go to college, but with Joe’s encouragement, he graduated from UT with a degree in civil engineering, as did each of Joe’s four children.
But that wasn’t the greatest gift Travis received from Joe. He married his daughter, Laura, in 2000.
Travis had engineering jobs (including seven years with the town of Farragut engineering department) but continued to work in the restaurant in the evenings. Joe eventually stepped away from the business, and Travis bought it from him in 2009.
“It’s not like I don’t like engineering. I just always liked the restaurant better, I guess. It’s what I know.”
Since the original Little Joe’s was just a handful of booths and stools, it has been expanded three times. The 1982 expansion catered to World’s Fair visitors. The interior hasn’t changed much since then, but that’s not what draws customers, Travis says.
“They’re not coming to check out our décor. They really like the food.”
Little Joe’s has become a destination location, and regular visitors hail from as far as Sevier County and Athens. They come for the sauce, which is like liquid gold, Travis says. The recipe comes from Joe’s mother, and he’s not sharing. The most popular dish may be the combination pizza (“It doesn’t have everything, but all the food groups are represented”) and the all-you-can-eat spaghetti on Wednesday nights.
At least half of his regulars are Farragut residents, and he’s watched many of them grow up through the years.
“Often now, I’m seeing grandchildren of the people that came in back in the day. I knew their parents before they were born.”
Travis and Laura have considered opening a second Little Joe’s location when their two children are old enough to work there. After all, passion for good food runs deep in this family.
“I think we’re the best around, but I’m biased,” Travis says.
Wendy Smith coordinates public relations and marketing for the town of Farragut.