When I read the headlines recently about the sale of the Crown and Goose to Randy Burleson, I probably had the same questions many of you had: What impact will this have on the Crown and Goose? What will the Crown and Goose be like in the absence of Jeffrey Nash who developed the concept with his London hometown in mind and in the absence of Jeffrey DeAlejandro? Does Randy Burleson, who also owns Aubrey’s, Barley’s Knoxville and Maryville, Bistro by the Tracks, Stefano’s Pizza and Sunspot plan to turn Crown and Goose into a corporate version of itself?
The only person who could really answer these questions was Randy Burleson, so I sat down with him to see what he had in mind. What I found was a congenial man perfectly willing to answer questions, though a bit frazzled from his day dealing with his two-year-old.
Originally from south Knoxville, Randy’s lived most of his life in the city. He attended UT where he “took everything,” ending up with far more hours than he needed to graduate, but with a degree in political science and an economics and liberal arts minor. He worked in restaurants during school and after graduation in 1988, but realized he wanted to do more. He returned to UT for his MBA, but rather than intern for an investment firm like so many of his classmates, he interned for Grady Regas at Grady’s Good Times.
Along with a girlfriend at the time and other partners, he was asked about buying Stephen’s Italian Restaurant which was going out of business. He bought the equipment and moved the restaurant to Farragut in 1992. The name of the new restaurant was “Aubrey’s” at the suggestion of the girlfriend who soon departed, leaving him with a business that he slowly refined. Eventually, he began opening other locations to the point that now there are nine locations in and around Knoxville and in Lenoir City, Maryville and Cleveland.
He also began making acquisitions, often buying distressed restaurants which he felt should be preserved and turning them around. He bought Sunspot in 1998 when it was in bankruptcy. In 2002 he bought two Barley’s locations and Stephano’s Pizza.
Barley’s gave him a presence in the Old City at a time that was sometimes rough, though he said he always preferred the Old City to other parts of downtown. He added that Barley’s has been very good to him. He said feels the Old City has a lot of potential, that it’s a little scruffier and that opens the door to more creativity. He thinks the advent of Marble Alley and The Daniel will only make the Old City better for business.
Declaring, “I like to save restaurants,” he makes it clear he means restaurants he considers unique and important to Knoxville. Bistro by the Tracks he pointed to as an example. “If it was just about my ego, we would stick to Aubrey’s,” he pointed out, concluding some restaurants are just a part of Knoxville.
As it turns out, Randy Burleson and Jeffrey Nash are long-term friends. Jeffrey used to eat at Aubrey’s several times a week. Randy remembered when Jeffrey said he was buying a restaurant – which would ultimately become Crown and Goose – and Randy took him to see Irish Times restaurant, which he thinks may have gotten Jeffrey’s creative wheels turning. So, Randy was a fan of Jeffrey’s and of the Crown and Goose from the beginning and kept an eye on it as Jeffrey Nash’s Courtland Group grew increasingly successful.
When the time came that the two had a conversation about the sale, Randy said it was very easy and comfortable. Jeffrey Nash gets to focus on his development projects, Jeffrey DeAlejandro gets to focus more on his family and Oli Bea and the restaurant is in good hands, with Jeff Carter formerly of Dancing Bear Lodge and Blackberry Farm helping guide the transition and Paul Sellas who has worked under Jeffrey Alejandro taking reigns as chef.
As for what impact the change in ownership might have on the restaurant, part of the answer lies in the fact that even each Aubrey’s operates with autonomy. Randy pointed out that an Aubrey’s in Powell shouldn’t be the same as one on Northshore. He has strong managers who shape the direction of their own restaurants and Crown and Goose will be no exception.
So, more will stay the same than will change: Jeffrey Nash will maintain offices next door and was having a drink with friends while I was there. All the employees remained. You’ll still get your Fish and Chips and Bangers and Mash. The specials will remain the same for now. The jazz that’s been scheduled two nights a week will continue – Randy is on the board for the Knoxville Jazz Orchestra and pointed out that Vance Thompson would be very unhappy if he cut out the jazz.
What might change? He said he’s listening to the staff to learn what might make their jobs better and he’s identified that a better dish-washing system is needed and he’s already made moves to make that happen. Other small changes might make operations be a bit smoother or pleasant for the staff. He also said we might expect lower wine prices – for the same labels. He pointed out that with a string of restaurants he can buy wine by the pallet and get it for lower prices. And that sounds like a change we can all support.