Final Chapter: Just Ripe Closes (And One Additional Business)

Just Ripe, 513 Union Avenue, Knoxville, October 2015

Just Ripe, 513 Union Avenue, Knoxville, October 2015

The “final chapter” caption might seem a little melodramatic, but I really do feel I’ve documented this little storefront at 513 Union Avenue more intensely than anything else I’ve written about. In January of 2011 I told you about their pre-opening fundraiser, their opening in May 2011, their half-birthday in December 2011, their reorganization, their subsequent near closure and their purchase by Century Harvest Farms. Just last October I wrote about their latest re-organization.

Now the long and winding journey seems to be at an end. Last week, parent company Century Harvest Farms informed employees the store would close. Personal belongings and most of the food had been removed by yesterday and I was able to speak to both Chris Burger and Amber Busby about the closure.

Chris Burger, whose family owns Century Farms said the store, “just didn’t have enough scale and volume on the product offered.” Whereas store manager Amber Busby felt the store was moving in the right direction, Chris stated the store had not become profitable and they felt it was time to go in a different direction.

Century Harvest will not be opening a new store in the space, however, but would work cooperatively with anyone who might like to do so there. Their lease is still in effect and they have coolers, point-of-sale systems, accounting systems and a large commercial kitchen which could be used to support another food business there. Of course they would also have their product line to offer to any new store owner.

Chris said he would be happy to speak to anyone regarding a possible working relationship regarding the space. While he would love to see a new “food entrepreneur” at that address, since Century Harvest is very invested in making the connection between farms and consumers. He said he’d be willing to talk to anyone honestly about the challenges they faced and what he sees as the potential. (grassfed@centuryharvest.com)

The other possibility is that the coolers and other systems are sold to make way for an entirely different business (contact Chris if you are interested in those). The lease being a complicating factor, any new business will have to go through Dewhirst Properties (971-3137). A business that requires extensive food preparation will likely need an off-site kitchen. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a food-related business, at all.

In any case, the store has ceased to operate just one month shy of marking its fifth year of operation. Perhaps it will make way for something exciting for downtown that is also more economically feasible. As for Amber Busby, she’s excited to be moving into some new ventures she hasn’t had time to pursue while operating the store, though she says her plans definitely involve remaining in a food-related business of some fashion. Expect to hear more from her in coming months.

Hot Horse, 108 E. Jackson Ave., Knoxville, June 2015

Hot Horse, 108 E. Jackson Ave., Knoxville, June 2015

Additionally, I have another business closure which I don’t think I’ve mentioned: Hot Horse Records has closed at 108 E. Jackson in the Old City. The announcement was posted to their Facebook page late last month, simply stating, “we have lost our lease due to construction and will be forced to close until we find a new location.” Hopefully they will re-emerge elsewhere. Enormous changes are taking place and will continue for quite a long time in the Old City.

Hot Horse Records was not a place I frequented often, but I feel it leaves another retail hole in downtown, though not as immediately obvious perhaps as the loss of what was once a small specialty grocery store. Specifically, musicians – of which we have some in residence and thousands who pass through each year – are now unable to get supplies when working downtown. No guitar picks or strings, no drum sticks and certainly, no instruments. It’s a gap I hope isn’t permanent.

Comments

  1. I’m so sad to hear that Just Ripe is closed. This was my favorite morning downtown destination. Best of luck to the most current owners, and fingers crossed that Kristen and Charlotte might some day venture back into the just ripe genre. We still talk about the chocolate chip cookies!

  2. Some business student could write an interesting case study on Pete’s and Just Ripe. Located across the street from each other, but one bustles with customers while the other struggled and closed. At first glance an outsider might have assumed it would work out the other way around.

    Best wishes to the entrepreneurs on their future projects.

    • On the other hand, since “Their lease is still in effect and they have coolers, point-of-sale systems, accounting systems and a large commercial kitchen which could be used to support another food business there,” someone who is savvy in food service might be able to turn this location into a business success and be a real plus for the downtown community. And a good place to start would be reading these comments.

  3. +1 on the hours. For me, if I can’t stop in on my way home from work, it may as well not even be there. I’m not going to leave the office in the middle of the day, spend my lunch time shopping, and then shuffle stuff around in the office fridge to store it ’til the end of the day.

  4. Terry Caruthers says:

    Their demise was based on the significantly reduced store hours. Prior to the change, I would stop there after work so I didn’t have to stop on the way home. With the elimination of late afternoon and early evening hours, I had to move my business to Three Rivers. I heard similar concerns from others. Hated it because I loved shopping there, but when you limit hours you lose customers.

  5. I also tried to go to Just Ripe a few times and they were always closing. I am not sure what the hours were, but my kids (young adults) and I were turned away more than once.

  6. I’m sorry I didn’t really get to experience the new version- most times I walked by it was closed.

    In the original iteration, Just Ripe was a case of trying to do multiple things and ending up doing none of them well. I think if they had gone all in on the grocery aspect or the cafe they could have carved out a niche.

    As an aside, I had a thoroughly unpleasant transaction there the first year it was open- the hip staff was thoroughly not amused to have to serve me a piece of quiche. As much as I wanted to support Just Ripe, that experience made me tend to steer away at lunchtime. Other “cool” businesses take note- hip and cool can’t be mutually exclusive of friendly and helpful when it comes to your staff. That, as much as location and quality products, will determine if a business survives or not.

    • Yeah, their hours were incredibly spotty. I can’t remember I time since last fall that they weren’t closed when I walked by.

    • Thank you CK. I am no longer young and never was hip. I know that the variety of offerings across our fare city seek to meet the needs of many; however, there are places where I have immediately felt that I was the uncool presence in the room. This may in fact be true, but I’m a paying customer and surely I don’t bring the average level of hip down that significantly as a patron.

      I’d like to find a middle-aged social club (or start one) where bocce ball, shuffle board, craft beers, tasty wines, greasy pizza, and farm to table food can co-exist and even enjoy one another’s presence.

      I know I’m being melodramatic, but surely there is some middle ground between hip/cool and Chilis.

    • Hello CK,

      I am one of the owners of the original iteration of Just Ripe. We did try to do many things (including being open 12 hours a day, 7 days a week) and it was very challenging in many ways, which is why later down the road we had to make changes. It was never our intention to be “hip” or “cool.” We just tried to make a place that we enjoyed and that we hoped our community would enjoy. I’m sorry that you had such a poor experience there.

      • Kristen, I for one absolutely loved what you and Charlotte did with Just Ripe. The prepared foods were outstanding, the biscuits were the best in town, and I found the grocery section to be so complete, that I quickly adopted the mantra of, “if it wasn’t for sale at Just Ripe (or the market in the warmer months), I didn’t need to eat it.” As a result, I filled up my gas tank a whopping three times in the year after Just Ripe opened, and the final time was unfortunately to move away from Knoxville. I look back very fondly of my time in Knoxville, and Just Ripe plays no small part in that.

        • Thank you so much, Tom. We really appreciate you and all of the wonderful customers we had over the years.

        • I agree Tom. The biscuits were amazing, as was everything else (omg the cheddar scones!!), and I went there multiple times a week. I was so sad when it was being sold. However, after the ownership changed, many of the things I liked kept disappearing or changing (no verde burrito! no little piece of cornbread with the soup anymore!), and honestly the biscuits just weren’t as good as the original owner’s, which was the main factor for me. I tried going back multiple times because I used to love it so much, but eventually I just stopped going at all.

    • I had a similar experience shortly after they opened. While staff behind the counter were chatting, I walked around, trying to find something for a quick dinner before a show. Not seeing anything appealing, I asked if they had any regular deli fare, like a ham and cheese sandwich. One of the staff said, “No, we’re not that kind of cafe,” and resumed her conversation. I left and never returned.

  7. Just curious, do you know exactly what they are doing with that building?

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      Which building?

      • The building with pilot light, former Knoxville pearl, hot horse, and the big empty space next to it. I’ve seen all kinds of construction there

        • I don’t think the Pilot Light building is under the same ownership as the adjacent buildings to the east. Recent construction at the Pilot Light was to rework the brick near the top, above the front entrance, which had developed a substantial bulge and was in danger of collapse.

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