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Stir Fry Cafe planning move to Broad Street

Rick Wagner • Apr 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Stir Fry Café is coming to downtown Kingsport, along with other new businesses yet to be named.

The restaurant, the new businesses and three existing businesses — Intellithought, JTH Engineering and MESA Engineering — will be located in the Intellithought building, the old Baylor Nelms Furniture building at 125 Broad St. Part of the building — actually four interconnected structures — dates back to 1918.

Frank Waldo and his brother David Waldo own Intellithought and, until recently, owned the building. However, Frank Waldo said selling the building gave him and his brother a chance to switch from landlords to tenants and foster downtown redevelopment as well.

Waldo said Intellithought, which does software development software integration, simply did not need all the space of the structures. Intellithought’s first-floor lobby area will become part of Stir Fry, scheduled to open in June.

Mansy buys building, begins renovations

Michael Mansy bought the building from the Waldos. He is gutting the downstairs spaces and some of the upstairs spaces as part of the renovation, with the help of project manager Angela Vachon, a partner in Urban Synergy with her husband, John.

The Vachons own and have renovated various properties downtown, including the old bank building on Broad Street.

Mansy already has an artist’s rendering of the new facades for the four storefronts and plans to apply for facade grant assistance from the city of Kingsport, a program administered by the Kingsport Economic Development Board.

The old blue facade of the building is mostly gone, exposing the original window openings that will be replaced with patio doors and windows.

“Michael came to buy our building in Johnson City,” Angela Vachon explained during an interview on Broad Street in front of the project. “We told him about the Kingsport building.”

Mansy ended up buying that building from the Waldos instead of the one in Johnson City. Angela Vachon said the project is part of the revitalization and redevelopment of downtown.

“I’m just thankful they were willing to sell it because that’s where Stir Fry wanted to locate,” Mayor Dennis Phillips said, adding that the redevelopment is the latest in a series of projects helping revitalize downtown.

Mansy is leasing back part of the upper floor space to Intellithought as well as the two engineering tenants.

“I really discovered downtown through Michael Mansy, who is a friend of mine, and then we met John and Angela Vachon,” said Rafael Zabala, managing partner of Stir Fry. “When I saw what was going on downtown, and took the downtown tour, it was just incredible. Everyone has a vision of a strong, vibrant downtown and that makes you definitely want to get involved.”

About 4,000 square feet of space is being prepared on Broad Street on the first floor of the Intellithought building.

Plans are to bring the four buildings that make up the development back to the same style as the original buildings, which date back to 1918, the year after modern Kingsport was incorporated.

Waldo said he purchased the building from the John Pierce estate, which operated a furniture store. Property records show that O.B. Pierce bought it from the Nelms heirs in 1979.

After Baylor Nelms closed, Waldo said the building was used for a time as a Zak’s Furniture Store before he and his brother bought it.

Not counting Intellithought, the two engineering firms and the pending furniture and clothing store, Mansy said he has about 12,000 square feet of office space to lease. However, he said he might eventually consider turning part of the space into loft apartments or condominiums.

Mansy and Vachon lauded the support and help with the project from Mayor Phillips, City Manager John Campbell and Assistant City Manager for Development Jeff Fleming.

Stir Fry marking first downtown location

Zabala said Stir Fry has two locations in Knoxville and one in Johnson City, with new locations going to downtown Kingsport and Asheville, N.C. The Kingsport location is scheduled to open in mid to late June.

Unlike the other locations, however, Mansy said the Kingsport location likely will be the first and only downtown venue for the restaurant.

Vachon said it is prime real estate downtown, considering that the Summer Concert Series downtown draws crowds on Broad Street not far from the building’s front.

The first Stir Fry opened 15 years ago in Knoxville, incorporating Asian dining with a contemporary ambiance balanced by the mellow sounds of the blues, Zabala said.

“It’s really a simple concept, Asian cuisine in a modern atmosphere,” Zabala said. “Kenny Siao, who was the founder, passed away three years ago. But what he had in mind was a modern atmosphere, and Kenny loved the blues so he always played the blues in the restaurant.”

He said the business will bring the food and flavor of the Orient, including a sushi bar, as well as nightlife with live music and beer and alcohol sales.

“We’re a restaurant first and a night spot second,” Zabala said. “But there is a strong appeal to a wide range of people, really, with the food and atmosphere we offer. On Friday nights, you might have an older crowd eating through 8 p.m. or so, and then it gets a little younger. The night atmosphere, with sushi and music, is really appealing to the younger professionals in the community.”

The building is on the opposite side of the street from the Restoration Fellowship Church, but Vachon, Mansy and Zabala said that will not interfere with applying for and receiving a city beer license and Tennessee liquor license.

That was confirmed by city officials, including Phillips, and a representative of the Alcoholic Beverage Commission. They said state liquor rules mirror city beer ordinance rules, which do not specify a distance between alcohol sales and a church.

“You can actually sell beer in a church,” Phillips said. “It used to be (banned) within 300 feet of a church. A long time ago, it was 2,000 feet.”

He said the city beer board changed the rules, which still restrict alcohol sales within 300 feet of school property, so churches could not halt alcohol sales simply by opening up within the 300-foot radius.

Eateries such as Stir Fry seeking a liquor license must convince the state their main business is a restaurant, according to state liquor regulations.

Restaurant goes beyond blues, regular Asian fare

Going beyond the blues, Zabala said the musical cuisine now covers all genres, including bluegrass, rock and reggae, and he said each brings in a different crowd.

On the food menu, he said to expect to find traditional Oriental fare, Thai and of course, stir fry dishes, as well as non-traditional Asian fare, including a take-off on teriyaki steak and pepper pork chops.

“Even if you don’t like Asian food, we have something on the menu that will appeal to just about everyone,” Zabala said.

Business hours will be from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, with the sushi bar open later on weekends.

The eatery will retain the 16-foot ceilings with tin tile, original heart pine floors and red brick interior walls.

The sushi bar, regular bar and music venue on Friday and Saturday nights will be on the right side of the larger two buildings, with the dining room on the left side.

Aside from Stir Fry, Mansy said he has a tentative deal for a contemporary furniture and women’s clothing store to locate in the far left building, next to Anchor Antiques.

The project will retain the wood floors throughout most of the building, including heart pine and some maple.

Up to 40 jobs will be created by the new Kingsport location. Zabala said the business should compliment the higher education and allied health buildings downtown, which are to open in the fall of 2009 and fall of this year, respectively.

Aside from a place for lunch and dinner, he said the restaurant would have part-time jobs suited to students drawn to the planned educational facilities as well as the existing Regional Center for Applied Technology.

For more information on Stir Fry Café, contact Zabala at (423) 232-6000.

For more information on the rest of the development, including available space, contact Mansy at (423) 426-4141.

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