It was a year, a week and a day ago that Orange Leaf Yogurt vacated the premises at 36 Market Square very suddenly. Just a couple of months later a handshake between Scott West and Ken Mills set the course for a new West family business to assume the vacant space. While the precise make-up of the business was up for some discussion, Market House Cafe, opening today, reflects the culmination of those conversations.
The new business is, in fact, a combination of businesses. Breakfast foods will be available starting at 7:00 AM daily while the focus of the menu will be lunch and later with soups, salads and sandwiches. Food will be available to quickly grab and go, but attractive tables and chairs will be available both inside and outside for enjoying your food on site. In addition to breakfast and lunch foods, a very large deli counter will offer meats with cheese wheels and wedges of a wide variety. Charcuterie plates will be available for takeout.
The food will be locally sourced as much as possible, but Scott West also pointed out that being locally owned and operated keeps the money circulating in our city. Using his family as an example, he noted that when a locally owned business does well, it tends to beget other local businesses or development. His point is illustrated through the West family businesses, but other examples downtown include Bliss and Bliss Home, Suttree’s and (coming soon) Harrogate’s Lounge and so forth.
The business will also include a tourism component. A section will include brochures of activities to be found in Knoxville and the staff has been trained by Visit Knoxville to be Knoxville Ambassadors. Further, the store will serve as an introduction to Market Square with a long awning soon stretching along Wall Avenue, inviting visitors on Gay Street to move toward the square. A marquee will be added to the building and an attractive patio area also runs along the street. (Who knew with a December opening we would be able to enjoy the outdoor seating so soon?)
Newspapers will also be available, including the New York Times and others. A section of Knoxville and Scuffy related gifts will soon be added. The music and vibe you’ll feel inside will be very retro. When discussing the music, Scott mentioned artists such as Nina Simone, Muddy Waters and others, with a focus on artists from the 1920s to the 1940s.
“Over 200 beers” will be available either in a cooler or at one of the ten taps. Coffee and coffee drinks are on the menu board with Vienna Coffee doing the roasting. You’ll also find espresso drinks and nitro cold brew coffees. And then there are the juices. I had a beet-based juice that I did not expect to like and it was delicious. I should have a more open mind.
The items on the main menu are named after Knoxville icons such as Cas Walker, Beauford Delaney and Roy Acuff or references to some well known or obscure portions of Knoxville history such as the Kid Curry, Marble City or (my personal favorite food name on the menu) “Let Us Now Praise Pimento Cheese.” You’ll also find hummus, dips and chips to go.
The history tie-in goes further as another aspect of the business will be an audio tour which starts and ends at Market House Cafe. Based on stories by Jack Neely, Scott promised the focus of the walking tour will be the more “colorful” side of Knoxville’s history. He also has intentions of taking people – via the walking tour – to places they don’t normally walk around the downtown area.
Chef Matt Boldreghini, originally from Memphis, trained at the Cordon Bleu school of culinary arts in Orlando. Matt grew up coming to Knoxville for UT games, but it was on a trip to Knoxville to run a 5K that he fell in love with the city and decided to make this his permanent home. He’s excited about the freshness of the food offered at Market House, freedom to explore food nuances in their menu and the general creativity of the concept. He’s also a big fan of local beer, so expect good quality on that end.
There will also be a range of sweet offerings, several of which have a healthy twist, such as “yogurt parfait with homemade quinoa granola and fresh berries.” They will also have “freshly baked cookies,” and Matt tells me he is “working on recipes for muffins as well.”
For the sake of my readers, I selflessly tested a variety of the items offered and I can report that I hit nothing that I would refuse a second time. I had a roasted beef and cheese sandwich (the “Cas Walker”) on sourdough bread, which was both delicious and filling. It came with a pasta salad and together the two could easily be split between people with smaller appetites. All the sandwiches come on a choice of three different breads – which will be locally produced initially, with plans for in-house baking in the near future.
I also tried a cappuccino – and I always drink my coffee straight – and found it to be delicious. I drank the whole cup and followed it with a cup of the regular coffee and it got high marks, as well. Some of you may know head-barrista, Drew Wood, from his tenure at Coffee and Chocolate. As I said earlier, the Never Miss a Beet juice (beet, apple, carrot, orange and sweet potato) really surprised me – in a good way. I also enjoyed three different very different kinds of chicken salad and the homemade pimento cheese, which was fantastic.
It’s hard to narrow the focus to the most exciting part of the project. It starts with Strong Alley, which will soon get a considerable face-lift and a new sign of its own, runs around the perimeter of the building with the awning and seating and then the beautiful interior which includes gorgeous metal ceiling tiles and a retro-cool vibe. And that’s not to mention the food, beer, coffee and juices and the tour. There’s a lot going on here and you’ll want to come explore. Check them out on Facebook and come by when you get a chance.