Tomato Head, co-owned by Mahasti Vafaie and Scott Partin, has long been a staple of downtown. Eventually, the couple opened another Tomato Head restaurant in Maryville, then moved it to west Knoxville. Subsequently, the kitchen at the downtown Tomato Head wasn’t enough to contain Mahasti’s ambitions and the couple opened a bakery on Middlebrook Pike in 2012.
The 1800 square foot production space allowed Flour Head, which they named the bakery component of the business, to not only bake goods for their restaurants. They expanded to providing their fresh-baked international breads to a number of large and specialty grocery stores. The business grew – and ultimately needed a larger space.
The couple found that space back in the downtown area where it all started for them. The couple is poised to purchase the Brown Appliance Parts Company building at 857 N. Central Street, on the corner of Central and Bernard. It’s just across from the Hive and just a few yards from Schulz Brau Brewing Company. Zoning limits the size of a craft bakery to 3,000 square feet. The building is about 20,000 square feet, plus a basement. What to do with that extra space?
I spoke to Scott Partin who told me he’s “always want to make beer,” and the new building will offer the couple the opportunity to do just that. Initial plans call for producing beer only for their restaurants – but the idea seems open-ended. Whether a tasting room or other businesses might be included in the space remains for discussion, but Mr. Partin made it clear the couple doesn’t plan to purchase the building only to have most of it remain dormant.
The news became public because of a routine MPC hearing in which their proposed use was approved at yesterday’s meeting. That was the first step of a lengthy process. Months of planning and design (by Sanders Pace) will follow and the building is still occupied by the previous business. After some months of planning, the renovations to the building will begin, with a target of late 2017, for opening. The bakery will likely open before any other pieces of the business. After the transition, the Middlebrook Pike facility will be closed.
Interestingly, the allowance for 3,000 square foot craft bakeries was approved by the Metropolitan Planning Commission following its decision that C-3 zoning would allow for up to 3,000 square foot breweries. In a sense, craft breweries made this craft bakery possible in this location which, in turn will produces a craft brewery.
This continues the development of this corridor as, among other things, a small production corridor. Given Scott and Mahasti’s record, this promises to be another successful enterprise stretching downtown out Central Street. And it makes clear that we haven’t seen the end of craft breweries just yet, as this represents the latest announced expansion of Knoxville’s fastest growing industry.