Holly’s 135 Closes (plus one more)

Holly's 135, 135 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, December 2015
Holly’s 135, 135 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, December 2015

It was quite surprising to learn that workers began transporting equipment from Holly’s 135 on the morning of January 1. Just the previous night a party had brought in the new year in the space. Less than a month ago I wrote an article about the changes Holly Hambright had made to the space and it was less than a year ago that I noted its opening. It seemed that all was going well, that early challenges had been met and the future looked bright. Holly is a local culinary star and her presence helped elevate the downtown culinary scene.

So, what happened? This statement was posted on Holly’s 135 Facebook Page,

“Good morning and Happy New Year. It is with very sad regret that I inform you that I have chosen to close Holly’s 135 permanently rather than comply with the KUB receiver requirement demanded of us. It does not make business sense to invest 30K to 60K (minimum) into a building we do not own. We will be utilizing all energy and resources to expand and improve service and menu at Holly’s Corner and Holly’s Gourmet’s Market. We have enjoyed our run on the 100 block of Gay Street and cannot thank our supporters enough. Most importantly, no one is losing their job!”

The same statement appeared on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, though the first two accounts have been closed.

So, does the infamous “grease trap” or more accurately, “grease interceptor,” strike again? You’ll remember, it was cited as a contributing factor in the multiple business closings last December. As with those closings, however, there seems to be more to the story.

One person commenting on WBIR challenged the idea about the employees, asserting that they had no prior notice and are required (obviously) to transfer to Bearden where two of Holly’s other ventures are located. So, they seem to have been offered jobs, but without notice. It’s the same thing Shuck employees told me a year ago.

A couple of portions of the statement gave me pause. First, I’ve talked to many business owners who have and have not installed the grease interceptors and none of them have mentioned costs like those listed. Typically the range is $10,000 to $20,000 and I’d reported previously, for example, that Maker’s Donuts – a business that fries its food – spent about $10,000 on their grease interceptor. Could Holly’s 135 be required to purchase one that cost that much more?

Further, the grease interceptor is to catch grease from cooking and from washing dishes, but Holly’s 135 had all its food transported in from the kitchen at Holly’s Gourmet’s Market. Yes, the dishes must be washed on premises, but some businesses have circumvented the need for a grease interceptor by hand-washing their dishes, so I believe that’s still an option.

Holly Hambright, Knoxville, April 2014
Holly Hambright, Knoxville, April 2014

It’s important to note that Holly Hambright did not hold the lease on the property. That would be Gale Honeycutt who owns the largest interest in numerous businesses, including Holly’s various enterprises as well as Cru Bistro, Puelo’s and Nama. The particular spot that has most recently been Holly’s 135 is a space leased by Mr. Honeycutt from Kevin and Melinda Grimac. He leased it when it was Shuck and before that when Nama occupied the space, so he is a long-term tenant whose lease has ended on that property.

I reached out to Holly, who declined comment, and to the Grimacs. The idea has been suggested in various conversations about the grease interceptor issue that building owners rather than business owners should bear the burden of the expense. Interestingly, Mr. Grimac told me emphatically, “No one approached me about a problem with a grease interceptor.” KUB would not approach a building owner, but rather a business owner as the responsible party and it would be up to that business owner or lessee to approach the building owner if they wanted help. Mr. Grimac indicated he would certainly have been willing to explore alternatives.

Clearly, the requirement for grease interceptors is a burden for small businesses. It’s also a more difficult issue downtown with historic buildings set wall-to-wall with no ownership of outside areas where they might be buried. These are not usually insurmountable, however. Witness that Knox Mason on the same block has managed the issue. Others have done the same.

Holly's 135, 135 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, December 2015
Holly’s 135, 135 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, December 2015

So, what exactly happened here? All the details may never be revealed publicly but, no doubt, there were a number of variables in play. Also certain, is that  a different party will lease that property for the first time in a number of years. And so, 135 Gay Street is available, really, for the first time in a long time. I understand some interest has been expressed, but as of yesterday, it could be yours if you’ve got an idea.

Where does this leave Holly? Still operating fine businesses across the city from Holly’s Eventful Dining to Holly’s Gourmet’s Market in the Bearden area and Holly’s Corner, right here in downtown on Central Street. She’ll continue making fine foods at these locations and perhaps others in the future. We were fortunate to have her in the heart of the city for a year and I wish her the best and will look for opportunities to support her other ventures.

Finally, I should note another closing that happened over the holidays. Just before Christmas the Knoxville News Sentinel reported that owner Karen Sproles would close all Lunch Box locations, including the one downtown on Market Street. The closing was part of a long-range plan she and husband Don had developed before his untimely death several years ago. I first wrote about the restaurant in July 2011 in conjunction with Harry’s, both of which are now closed. The Lunchbox was a downtown staple for many years and Karen indicated that it was a good run, but it was time for it to end.

So, we start the year with two closings. I predict the openings will outstrip the closings within a very few weeks. Stay tuned.