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.


  1. Mike Otworth says:

    I live and have a business downtown, and we eat out often. The first time I went to Holly’s 135 they were out of both items I tried to order, and the waiter never did take my drink order. – Never went back. Nice reporting here – the grease trap looks like it might be a red herring.

  2. Arthur Benjamin Carmichael III says:

    I’m not sure but the high grease interceptor price might have something to do with with the below portions of the building (2 floors down from street level and accessible only via the Jackson Armature courtyard) being in use which could mean digging out under the lowest floor, finding alternative accommodation for the current use and access via and repairs to the Jackson Armature courtyard. That said, it could also have something to do with her newest business which has a much better kitchen space, more seating, probably a smaller per-square-foot cost which means higher profit ceiling. If that were the case, it would probably be tempting to concentrate her efforts on the business with the most potential.

    That is all speculation btw.

  3. Art Wagner says:

    I enjoyed Holly’s135 every time I dined there, and that was probably half a dozen times during the year. And, the place was always full. But, it has to be stated that the space is very small with a minimal kitchen area. Given the history, I’m guessing that perhaps the space cannot absorb enough restaurant volume at a certain price point to make it profitable for the partners. However, it is weird that they would use the grease interceptor as a public excuse if that can be so easily contradicted.

    That said, downtown-proper really needs the quality of cuisine that Holly offers. I would certainly hope that the future will land her in another downtown spot with a more doable situation.

  4. I believe it’s important to note that KUB has not shut a single business down so far because of grease interceptor non-compliance. After your story and the one WVLT aired last year Sapphire received phone calls and fielded the same question about us closing. Now someone has been spreading this rumor again and it has no basis or precedent. KUB has been incredibly lenient in their time frame. The recent WVLT post had comments demonizing KUB, but it’s the federal government that’s requiring it. It’s my understanding that Utility services such as KUB aren’t given the option to opt out.

    That said, I can understand Hollys comment about not wanting to invest so much in a building she doesn’t own. If that’s the true cost she cited, then I’m assuming that’ll be retail next.

  5. We live right across the street from Holly’s 135. A business closing is never good news, but as proud residents of the 100 block, this one hits very close to home. I would love to see a “boutique” Thai restaurant occupy this space. We would eat there every week, if someone would take the chance. I know many others who would love this option as well.

    On another down note, it appeared last night that Local Motors on Market Square is closing as well? The entire back of the store is covered with plastic and only a few small items seem to be offered now up front. Any news about this?

  6. Helen Cargile says:

    Thank goodness we still have Holly’s Corner on the north end of town- however, it’s not open for dinner. And we will sorely miss the best Old Fashioned ever made!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      She talked about expanding services at the other two, I believe, so maybe dinner service at Holly’s Corner would be a possibility.

  7. A bittersweet loss but still is nice to hear they will survive elsewhere. Intriguing insight into the cost and thanks again for the coverage of our city. Happy New Year to you and yours!

  8. Elizabeth G says:

    It does seem strange that Holly’s would cite the grease interceptor as the reason for closing when it was being discussed a year ago (as I believe you cited in Dec. 2014 with the mass closings) and Holly’s 135 most likely had knowledge of it when they opened a year ago.


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