French Market and Dover Development At Odds

Wall in Front of the French Market (photo from The French Market Creperies FB Page)

Wall in Front of the French Market (photo from The French Market Creperies FB Page)

I’d heard the relationship wasn’t going well, but Monday night when Allen Tate, co-owner of the French Market Creperies, took to Twitter and Facebook to air complaints directed at Dover Development, the controversy blew into the open and ignited a debate on social media that soon spilled onto local mainstream media. Tate via French Market social media accounts posted: “It’s happening! Our Landlord & the new Hyatt are trying to force us out of business and cancel our longterm lease without compensation!”

The charges were later reiterated via an interview with WATE. They reported that he feels his landlord is trying to force him out and the wall which has  been built in front of the business is hurting the business – perhaps by design. He stated that he was “told by the landlord it was for safety,” but wasn’t told for how long.

Saying that he felt they were being “intimidated” to get out, he noted a conversation he’d had in which he understood the company wants to put a Starbucks in the location. The lease, initially for five years with two renewal options is currently in the third year of its first renewal, meaning the tenant, assuming they meet the terms of the agreement, can exercise an option which would run through 2023.

The television interview did not repeat charges made earlier on social media that inspections were triggered by Dover in order to find the business out of compliance. Codes inspections found nothing major. On Tuesday the allegations continued via Facebook, with Tate re-stating that Rick Dover had called for inspections and chosen not to built less obtrusive safety protection, concluding, “Our landlord is one that is stuck with a tenant and lease they do not like or want but have no choice at this time.”

I spoke with Rick Dover in an effort to determine his plans for the space and to get his perspective. He started by assuring me that he plans to honor the lease assuming its terms are respected and pointed out that Hyatt has no concern about the space one way or another. He said he has not requested increased scrutiny for the business, but rather pointed out that the building is constantly filled with inspectors in a way which was never the case when the French Market existed alone in the ten story building. Now everything about the building is under scrutiny due to the new project.

Wall in Front of the French Market (photo from The French Market Creperies FB Page)

Wall in Front of the French Market (photo from The French Market Creperies FB Page)

Regarding the wall which has been erected in front of the business, he reiterated what Mr. Tate said he’d been told: It is for safety. Work is beginning on the terracotta and other portions of the facade and care must be taken that brick or other debris doesn’t fall on passersby or customers of the French Market. What has been the patio space of the French Market is not, he said, a part of the lease and will soon, of necessity be filled with scaffolding.

Additionally, a replica of the historic canopy will be installed at some point and that will require work in front of the building. He hopes the work on the exterior will be done within thirty days, but he said he can’t be certain until the job begins.

As for the allegation that a Starbucks is planned for the space, there appears to be a misunderstanding. Dover said the project will include a Starbucks, but that will be located on the opposite side of the lobby entrance from the French Market. He said if the French Market left he would pursue another retail tenant as none of his plans include the space.

Dover acknowledges conversations have been difficult between the parties. He says he has been a customer at the French Market for years and feels it is a downtown asset.  Saying, “I’m sure it has been unsettling,” and while he regrets that, he says there is no way to avoid inconvenience for the business. He pointed out that he has a building to develop and he’ll have to do that the best way he is able to get it done.

I later spoke to Allen Tate and asked about the statements Rick Dover had made. Regarding Starbucks, he pointed out that will be direct competition due to the coffee drinks and pastries they each sell. He said, “We’re excited to have the hotel, . . . and we bring 7,000 to 10,000 customers a month to this location and they will be exposed to the hotel when they come.” He questioned why a landlord would bring a competitor to the same building, continuing to insist that Rick Dover does not want them in the building.

He also pointed out that the cost of relocating would be $175,000 to $200,000 in addition to the lost revenue during the change. He rattled off a list of downtown locations that he’d checked only to find they aren’t available or aren’t going to be ready for sometime. He said given enough money he would move, but that would mean leaving downtown at least for the short-run, something he doesn’t want to do.

Calling the business “pioneering” when it started, he says he has no interest in starting again in a lesser-developed, difficult area. Continuing to insist he feels Rick doesn’t want the business and has made it clear in numerous ways, he said he was in development in south Florida for many years and knows there are ways to make a business feel welcome even during a difficult period. Clearly he feels the opposite has happened in this case.

French Market, Knoxville, Late Summer, 2012

French Market, Knoxville, Late Summer, 2012

It’s a conflict that we’re likely to see play out elsewhere around downtown. An increasing pace of development in a relatively small geographic area is a recipe for clashes in the needs of the various people involved. Businesses such as the French Market are focused on selling their product while developers are focused on the next project. Even with the best intentions on the part of everyone, tension is likely. Add KUB’s upgrades and the city’s various streetscape projects (bricks, coincidentally, are being replaced in front of the business at the same time as the other issues) and communication is likely to be difficult at times.

Since business and development are essential for each other, it is incumbent on all parties involved to communicate as clearly as possible in order to avoid as many issues as they are able. I love the French Market and think Susan and Allen do a great job. I also greatly appreciate the fact that Dover Development has taken on some of our most difficult and improbable rehabs. I hope both parties can deal honorably with each other to resolve the current issues in a way that is helpful to each.


  1. Oren Yarbrough says:

    I agree with everyone that the best option is to have Dover work with the French Market to remodel the entire front space of the hotel to incorporate the lobby and restaurant as retail space for not just them but every future tenant for another 100 years that may come.
    I will add that Rick Dover is in a strange position where he must remodel and renovate a 100 year old building while still attempting to keep an occupied tenant in that structure. This doesn’t happen everyday and this will cause stress. Allen Tate must be prepared to compromise if he wants to keep The French Market in the final construction.

    I see three options for this to end:
    1. The French Market stays and struggles through the construction and holds tight and benefits from the location it has always had. The lobby of the hotel will be somewhat sacrificed for the sake of an existing tenant, but this is totally something that can happen and most likely will.

    2. Dover and Tate reach an agreement and Hyatt approves the integration of French Market as a retail space attached to the hotel lobby. The French Market gets renovated and remodeled to have a similar material palette as the lobby so the entire facade and ground level off Gay Street are homogeneous. This works best from an aesthetic point of view, but will require French Market to undergo a period of closure for it’s own renovation. If Dover extended the lease of the French Market by a year to compensate for the construction and withheld charging rent for the months of the restaurants closure this might show good faith on Dover’s part that he cares for Tate’s business.

    3. The French Market moves out of the Farragut and sues for compensation for the remaining term of their lease. Dover still remodels and renovates the hotel, but possibly with a longer schedule thanks to the legal red tape that has been created. **
    **(This option could ultimately lead to a very lengthy halt on the construction and possibly Hyatt pulling out of the development altogether should something serious arise. Let’s not create an even more scarred, empty, building out of the Farragut please)

    I really don’t know how this will all work out. I am a strong believer in local business. I also am 100% behind the renovation and redevelopment of the Farragut. This building is 100 years old and is technically condemned in its current state. If Dover does not build the hotel then this structure may sit vacant for another 20 years before someone is brave enough to take it on. A compromise must be made….and the status quo is obviously not working. Tate has the upper hand of social media on his side but Dover has the money and is technically the landlord. The patio in front of the restaurant is not leased by Tate so legally Dover has done nothing wrong.

    Let’s not forget Rick Dover is the guy who is trying to save the Pryor Brown Garage, The Farragut, & Old Knoxville High School. These are all landmarks and this is a daunting task for a developer to even do one of these, let alone all three. Dover is willing to do what it takes to preserve Knoxville’s history so I trust he will make the best choice available.

    • Yet another possible solution just presented itself with the closure only two doors north at 522 Gay Street, of Lenny’s Sub Shop. It’s a terrific location, has room for a small out front patio, much more interior space than the current location, and probably — due to its proximity only 40 or 50 feet away, would cost far less than the $175-200G that was calculated for the French Market to move. The benefits are pretty self-evident for such a move if the property is available, and could be a huge plus for both Allen and Rick, if they are otherwise unable to reach an agreement on the current and/or future arrangement.

  2. Flossie says:

    The French Market is a downtown Knoxville treasure. My daughter, dog, and I went down there this Tuesday to eat on patio and had to leave because of noise of power tools working on makeshift walls.
    There is only one Frnch Market and thousands of Starbucks. Please work with this Knoxville gem.

  3. I love the absence of Starbucks from our downtown offerings. We have so many lovely coffee options, each unique and charming in their own right. That said, their arrival was inevitable and is logical given the grown of the area.
    Stand tall! You will prevail. Who wouldn’t rather enjoy the delights of a charming business with French influence over the canned appearance and lousy coffee of the chain.

  4. Suzanne says:

    Wood wall should be a big windows to let in the light.
    Keep the wood roof so falling items don’t hit anyone.
    I plan to eat at The French Market a lot more often.
    Hope all of Knoxville will too!!!

  5. Kristen says:

    Starbucks does NOT operate on a franchise model.

    • Yes. Yes. I was wrong that it is funded that way. Still a chain with boring product and very substandard foodstuffs that are worse than airplane snacks. And there are Starbucks all over Knoxville already. Why kill something great in a social part of town? It is a cherry location. Why not encourage diversity in a place looking to have people pay high residential rents? Guess they can make their own crepes at home?

  6. LOVE THE FRENCH MARKET!!!!!!!! Love the patio! Veg crepe!! Starbucks can not compare with the charm of this locally owned treasure!!!

    • Starbucks are also franchises. It is not as big a money investment than any other business. They also come and they go.

  7. Ev Banda says:

    We LOVE the French Market! We are there 2-4 times each week. They are a locally owned business. We Will NOT patronize Starbucks– which is rumored to be a conglomerate of Chicago and New York mafia-stereotypes–the exact opposite of the French Market!

  8. Art Wagner says:

    It now seems that Alan Tate’s claims of harassment may have a lot of validity. A public records request by Clay Duda of the Knoxville Mercury has revealed a number of apparently baseless complaints filed against the French Market by Dover.

    • Sean M. says:

      Wow, this really makes Dover look bad. They are allegedly concerned about “egregious code violations” which turn out to be nothing but smoke. It is actually really difficult after seeing this to accept their version of the story. I am not from or in Knoxville and this is impacting my opinion of their company.

  9. Mark Shetterly says:

    Now that Developers have a firm hold on downtown and smell money, I’m sure that Within a few years our downtown will go the same way as the strip with a bunch of corporate crap.

    • Developers created downtown. David Dewhirst anyone? What is different is the aging white gentrification that is turning downtown into a Baby Boomer retirement home perfect for empty nesters who don’t want to drive everywhere. There is a lot of money in that business but not so much for the art or creative classes anymore. South Knoxville is your Bushwick and has been for over ten years.

  10. Billy D says:

    It seems to me the logical rational solution is to scrap plans for another Starbucks and work with The French Market on a great plan that will allow the market to be a fabulous local asset to The Farragut….and continue to operate within the hotel with perhaps an expanded space. It gets really crowded in there with so few tables and space to sit. Excited about this project and hope something can be worked out to resolve the issue and make all parties happy.

  11. The French Market has the best coffee in Knoxville and I am surprised there aren’t three of them already in Knoxvile. Starbucks are filled here in New York with people using free WiFi mostly no even drinking the coffee. Now you have to get a passcode to use the bathroom based on a paid receipt but they don’t change the code daily. Crappy overpriced foodstuffs and the coffee is uneven in its mass production. Hardly competition for a French Cafe but I agree don’t air this out in public. Just grow your business and Starbucks itself would seek another location like the airport or Cedar Bluff.

  12. I mean I’m more pretty sure he wants a Starbucks in the French market, not the lobby. Because back when he first announced it, he said he wanted a bar rimming the edge of the entire lobby, or something to that degree.

  13. Michael Fleming says:

    Seems to me The French Market would have a bigger appeal to people visiting from out of town than a Starbucks would. I can get Starbucks anywhere. If I want a crepe, I think of The French Market. If compared to Asheville, yes, as usual, the privately owned, small business is more attractive to the consumer, not large chains that you can get at the airport, or grocery store for that matter.

    • Art Wagner says:

      Exactly right. A large part of the appeal and success of Downtown has been the relative uniqueness of its retail atmosphere and restaurants. While the Farragut project has the potential of continuing that in the hotel area, pushing a popular (and top quality) restaurant out to embrace a generic chain is just wrong for all concerned.

      I wonder if this has something to do with Dover’s contract with Hyatt? If so, he better put on his diplomatic shoes, because he needs to walk carefully.

  14. How many Starbucks do we need in downtown Knoxville? There is already one in the Hilton, the developer of the proposed Courtyard/Residence says there will be one in there as well, and now Mr. Dover is saying that there will be another one in the Farragut Hyatt. If all of those are realized, then that will be 3 Starbucks in a 12 square block area. This seems like overkill to me, but I am admittedly no expert in business feasibility. I only observe that our local coffee shops seem to be struggling (Flow closed and K Brew cut hours (or so I read in a comment posted by one of your readers)). The introduction of more chain coffee shops does not sound like the answer if we are trying to encourage entrepreneurship and support local business owners like Mr. Tate.

    Plus, Starbucks has crappy coffee.

  15. Chris Eaker says:

    Alan, you rightly pointed out that when you have developments like this happening, there is sure to be friction. I agree, the developer can certainly do some things to help this business during construction, but Dover must do what he has to do to work on the building. What I don’t appreciate is the hissy fit the French Market owners are throwing on social media. This is very unprofessional. He’s not happy with the situation and so he’s whining about it to anyone who will hear and using social media to ruffle everyone’s feathers. I’ve never been to this restaurant, and this does not make me want to go. If something illegal is happening, then by all means get a lawyer and fight it. Otherwise, grow up and deal with the situation.

  16. Maria McGuire says:

    Thank you for covering this story and taking the time to interview the parties! When I first heard the news yesterday, I imagined a mural of the French Market patio with tables, chairs and umbrellas and folks enjoying the nice ambiance… Any body interested?!

  17. There is a beautiful printed cover over all the boards on Rick’s future Knoxville High Project. One of them was even vandalized with a large “black lives matter” and was replaced within 2 days if not one. Please at least do this this for French market to say they’re still open!!!!!!!!! Thanks Rick!!!!! It’s a favorite place for so many!

    • Has there been any actual progress on the high school in the last few months? When I go by there’s nothing happening.

      That project was announced more than 2 and a half years ago (October 2013). Dover is breaking real speed records there.

  18. Julianna Texada says:


  19. Why is there no fantastic artful sign open while under construction painted by a local artist displayed on that ugly wall?

    • I agree. I was thinking about this myself. It should say something like “ils sont ouvert” (they are open). As long as it isn’t those dudes who painted the kindergartener drawing of a bear attack or whatever that was supposed to be. That was an eyesore.

    • The new plywood wall serves no purpose in the first place. The horizontal “roof” over the sidewalk is all that’s needed for pedestrian safety.

      In every other city in the nation they use open steel pipe frameworks to support the cover over the sidewalk. It leaves the storefront open to the eye and customers. Only in Knoxville do developers build closed sheds over the first floor and part of the sidewalk. It’s really weird, and in this case a clear attempt to put the French Market out of business.

      • Oren Yarbrough says:

        I wonder if it is some strange part of Knoxville’s City Code. Didn’t the JC Penney Building have a covered roof and wall when they were doing all their brick work? I know at some point they had the entire sidewalk blocked off, which could never work in this situation.

  20. Going down there to eat right at opening time.

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