KINGSPORT — Doug Beatty looked around the vacant second floor of the three-story structure and envisioned lots of people laughing, eating and enjoying one another in the heart of a vibrant downtown district.
“We as a group believe in bringing back landmark buildings and creating places where the community can come together to share good food and good times,” Beatty said. “That’s what this is all about.”
Beatty and his business partners, Jeff Lane and Kanishka Biddanda, recently formed Adapt Core, a new development company focused on restoring old buildings to promote community and cultural renewal in the downtown area.
Adapt Core’s first project is a big one — the three partners have leased the old Kingsport Grocery Co. on Main Street with an option to purchase the property.
The building dates back to 1916, and was used for years as a wholesale food supply warehouse for area grocers. For the last 30-plus years, different restaurants have located in the building, and it’s housed a comedy club on occasion.
One chilly morning last week, the three partners took a walk through the empty building. Remnants of the past — handcrafted stained glass windows, an antique mantle piece, a black iron vault bearing the name Kingsport Grocery Company — sit amid exposed brick and timber.
The three plan to renovate the property, restore its historical character, and in a couple of months open a restaurant here that bears its original name, Kingsport Grocery Co.
“This building is a downtown landmark. It needs to be brought back and filled up,” Beatty said.
The restaurant will be similar to Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria, a chain founded by Beatty with locations in Asheville, Knoxville and Greenville, S.C.
The new Kingsport Grocery will offer gourmet pizza, specialty burgers and microbrews, and it will operate under the “slow food” concept, Beatty said.
“We want to embrace the slow food movement — when you try to buy all of your food that is produced within a 100-mile radius of where you’re at,” Beatty said.
The idea, he said, supports local farmers while decreasing the cost of transporting and storing meats and produce.
“And you get fresher produce and higher-quality foods,” he said.
The old building first became a restaurant — called the Kingsport Grocery Co. — in 1986, two years after the city voted to allow liquor by the drink. Local businessmen Bodie Scott and Robin Miller purchased the property in 1985 and opened the restaurant in January 1986. It operated as the Kingsport Grocery Co. until January 1989.
In the years that followed, Scott and Miller leased the building to various tenants who tried their hand at different restaurant concepts. The most recent was Pacific Grill.
Contacted at his home in Kingsport last week, Scott said he’s pleased that Beatty and his business partners took an interest in the building. He said he recently visited Beatty’s former restaurant, Barley’s in Asheville, and had to wait to be seated due to an overflow crowd.
“They just do well with whatever they’re doing. So I’m looking forward to it,” Scott said.
Beatty is an advocate of downtown revitalization. In Asheville, he launched that city’s “Brewgrass Festival,” and opened Barley’s Taproom, where he met Kingsport native Jeff Lane, who worked for Barley’s as director of operations. A few years ago, Lane returned to his hometown to pursue business opportunities here. At one point, he contacted his old friend, Beatty, and asked him to come and look at some property.
Ironically, one of those properties was the old Kingsport Grocery building. Scott and Lane gave Beatty a tour, but Beatty passed on the opportunity.
“I remember the conversation well,” Lane said. “He (Beatty) said, ‘This is a Barley’s building, no doubt. But I don’t think this town is ready for us yet.’ ”
But Beatty did take an interest in downtown Kingsport. He eventually purchased the old State Theater on Broad Street. Today he’s restoring the theater, and once completed this fall, the facility will host various events, such as live concerts, plays and motion picture movies.
Beatty also paired up with Lane to open a restaurant on Main Street called 12 Bones, a concept that started in Asheville. And Beatty has invested in several loft apartments on Sullivan Street in the downtown area.
At the Kingsport Grocery Co., Beatty, Lane and Biddanda said they plan to create a place where people feel comfortable gathering for good food and good times. The three are working out relationships now with local farming groups to supply food for the restaurant. And they hope to take full advantage of the local farmer’s market.
“The chef will be able to head to the farmer’s market in the morning and what’s available that day will determine what the specials are that day,” Beatty said.
The partners hope to open in early June — at least by the start of the summer concert series in downtown.
Asked if the current downturn in the nation’s economy concerns them, Beatty said the national crisis makes Kingsport look like a better opportunity.
“Our real estate values here haven’t already been over-inflated. They are actually low, so you have people from all over the country who are coming here to take advantage of what we have,” Beatty said.
Plus, Lane said the new Kingsport Grocery Co. will be “price friendly,” which will be more attractive than higher- priced restaurants during economic downturns.
Although they plan to keep the Kingsport Grocery Co. name, the partners do plan some changes at the building. Most notably from the street, the partners plan to expand the existing terrace by removing some large trees at the front of the building, and converting some parking spaces into outdoor patio seating. Beatty said he’s working with the city now to expand the sidewalk into existing parking spaces.
“It would only take three or four parking spaces but it would generate thousands of dollars in sales revenues each week, which translates into more tax revenues for the city and county,” Beatty said.
“And you get the visuals — brightly colored umbrellas, people sitting outside enjoying themselves, eating,” he said.
Once opened, the restaurant will serve lunch and dinner seven days a week. Lane said much of the building will be available for banquets. The third floor offers about 3,000 square feet of banquet space, while the second floor has about 1,000 square feet. The first floor also includes a private room that seats 16 to 18 people for meetings and special events.
Beatty, Lane and Biddanda decided to form the Adapt Core development company as an umbrella organization to oversee the various projects the three partners plan to tackle.
Adapt Core — “core” stands for Community Oriented Reuse Experts — will manage the Kingsport Grocery Co. and the State Theater to start.
“Jeff and Kanishka and I formed this partnership because we found ourselves continuously working together on the same projects, and we have shared similar beliefs and values about how downtowns come back to life, and that is, by creating places for people to gather and commune,” Beatty said.
Within the new Adapt Core, Beatty serves as the driver and visionary of concepts, while Lane is the operations man, and Biddanda handles dedicated marketing and creative strategy.
Biddanda came to the Tri-Cities region about six years ago from Knoxville when he moved his advertising business, and transferred to East Tennessee State University to complete his bachelor’s degree.
Today, he co-owns the Creative Trust Agency on Broad Street.
“During the past few years, Jeff, Doug and I started to get to know one another and from a friendship standpoint, we realized a lot of our philosophies were the same,” Biddanda said. “It’s a good team.”
The three plan to expand the concept of the Grocery Co. They’ve established a licensing agreement with Bristol businessman Doug Moore, who plans to open the Bristol Grocery Co. on State Street later this year.
Racks on the Tracks
The partners aren’t only in the business of restoring old buildings — they’re also focused on bringing more people to the downtown district. They’ve been involved in the management of the Twilight Alive Summer Concert Series on Broad Street. And now, they’re planning yet another festival this spring.
Racks on the Tracks, scheduled for May 10, will feature a music festival and rib cook-off with amateur cooks and professional chefs vying for title of best ribs. A beer tasting featuring American microbrews will also be on tap.
Musicians lined up to perform include Jim Lauderdale, Jeff Mosier and Blueground Undergrass, and local up-and-coming country star Brinley Addington.
The event will be held along Main Street and in the Kingsport Chamber parking lot.
Tickets will be available in April. And admission will include a souvenir glass, 10 rib sampling tickets and 10 beer sampling tickets.
Proceeds will benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank and Keep Kingsport Beautiful.
“Everything we do is weaving our thread into the community’s fabric,” Beatty said.
Biddanda agreed. “It’s another example of bringing people of the community together.”
As for the future of the new Kingsport Grocery Co., Lane said failure is not an option.
“When you have the building, great pizza, great burgers, great appetizers, great beer, and a great staff, we don’t think it’s possible to fail,” he said.