Chef Jeffrey DeAlejandro paced around his new kitchen as I entered for our interview late last week. He explained that he’d spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning the oven left behind by previous tenants who’d operated Lil’ Vinnies and now he was working his way through recipes he’d hand written in a small book he had splayed open in front of him. Biscuits were nearing completion and other dishes were well underway. We talked in between various fluid maneuvers about the small kitchen.
Oli Bea (named after his children, Oliver and Beatrice) is his next step as he establishes his culinary identity. Many people know him as the man behind the food at Crowne and Goose, located next door. He’ll continue in the role as chef of that restaurant, simply expanding his reach with the new place – and offering something entirely different. He pointed out that having the two next to each other made it much more manageable, allowing him to spend time in each, as needed.
He’s excited about the new venture and he knows how important it is to get it right out of the gate. He describes Knoxville as supportive of new restaurants, but a “tough crowd.” He points out that if they have a bad experience the first time, there’s not likely to be a second time. That’s why he’s working so hard in advance of the opening. He feels that within the last year a growing number of restaurants in Knoxville are trying to, “do things the right way – from scratch and from the heart.” He mentioned Knox Mason as an example.
From scratch is going to be a mantra in the new restaurant. He’ll make biscuits and cinnamon rolls fresh from scratch daily, for example. He’s locally sourcing his meat and vegetables using such farms as Spring Creek Farm (Certified Naturally Grown, Grass-Fed Meats and Non-GMO vegetables) and J.E.M. Farm (Certified Organic). His eggs will be locally sourced and he hopes to have pasture-raised duck eggs as an option. Plans are in place to post signs stating the farms of origin of the foods served.
Jeffrey has good memories of breakfast when he was growing up and he wants to convey that feeling of comfort and of family in his restaurant, while providing “quality food at a reasonable price.” It’s a challenge, but he has a plan. He will purchase his pigs, butcher a fresh one each week, and make his own bacon and sausage, for example. It’s cheaper than buying it ready-made from a butcher, though it’s more work. It’s also as fresh as possible that way and he knows the source of his meat. He hopes to offer breakfast for “around $8 to $9,” so that everyone – professionals or working class – can enjoy a quality culinary experience.
Long-time readers will be able to predict that I asked about the coffee. While plans haven’t been solidified just yet in that regard, he assured me the coffee will be of a very high quality. He’s already had discussions with others before me reinforcing the idea that the coffee can’t be an after-thought. One idea is to have a range of coffees in the odd little space in the back of the room where the closet (pictured above) sits now.
The plan is to be open by the end of the month he’ll begin with breakfast hours. He told me he might start out with hours from 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM Monday through Saturday and stretch it a little later eventually. One of the most exciting elements of the new business, to me, is that he plans to open late night hours and serve breakfast. I’ve felt this was an opportunity waiting for someone to claim it and Jeffrey plans to open possibly from 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM on weekends – but that will come after he has established the quality of the food, service and experience in the morning hours, probably some time around mid-December. Lunch will follow, probably after the beginning of the year.
You have an opportunity to meet him, visit the restaurant and perhaps taste a bit of the breakfast fare this Friday evening. The two story building will be open, with his restaurant on the first floor and a new loft space on the second. I’ll have more about that space later. Open house will run from 6:00 – 9:00 PM and will feature food, drink, art and one really friendly chef.