A Long-term Downtown Business Closes

Downtown Grind, 418 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2017

In 2004 downtown Knoxville was a very different place. It wasn’t all bleak and abandoned, but it was a far cry from what we experience every day in 2017. Many of the goods and services we take for granted now were in short supply. Coffee, for example, which can be had in numerous locations and variations around the center city wasn’t nearly as readily accessible. In the time since, coffee shops are taken for granted. Additionally, numerous small restaurants offer excellent coffee.

It was into that first environment that Eddie Mannis decided to open two new downtown businesses in the Phoenix Building: A new location of his Prestige Cleaners and the Downtown Grind. Each filled a need that few others had addressed. Each have continued to contribute to the building that I have described as downtown’s MVP of buildings, housing those business, a bank, a pharmacy, a primary care clinic and an ice cream shop.

Downtown Grind, 418 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2017

Downtown Grind, 418 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2017

Given the shift in environment, Eddie Mannis has decided to close the Downtown Grind, while keeping the Prestige Cleaner’s location open (my boots and coats thank you for the last part). It marks the end of a nearly thirteen year run that Mannis described as a, “gift to downtown Knoxville and our way of helping with the revitalization.” He never thought it would be a big profit center for him. With the explosion of coffee shops and quality coffee, it became more difficult to compete and make a reasonable return.

His announcement on the Downtown Grind Facebook page indicates that the shop will close Friday. I was told today the last day will, in fact, be Sunday. I spoke with Robin, who many of you know from her work behind the counter there and in the cleaner, where most employees have performed double duty, shuffling back and forth as needed. She first came to work for Prestige in 1994 and has worked in the shop since its opening. She’ll continue working for Prestige and you’ll likely see her in the cleaners in the rear of the building.

Cynthia Markert Art, Downtown Grind, 418 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2017

Cynthia Markert Art, Downtown Grind, 418 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2017

I also spoke to downtown artist Cynthia Markert who, many of you know, also works there.  She said, “I was a self-employed artist when I began peeking in the window of the soon to open Downtown Grind and I thought it lovely. It reminded me of Asheville.” She loved coffee shops and had, “fantasies of a coffee, used books, art place of my own.”

Downtown Grind, 418 S. Gay Street, Knoxville, January 2017

She had worked as a bartender at the downtown Radisson she says, “mostly because of their cappuccino machine,” so she applied and began working there and displaying her art on the walls. She says she’s met, “some fabulous people through the years,” and will miss the residents of the Phoenix. Her immediate plans are to, “devote more time to my artistry.”

I’ll miss the Downtown Grind and I’ll miss seeing Robin and Cynthia on a regular basis, though I’ll still see them in other connections. I had many good cups of coffee there, along with a lot of good conversation and interviews. Urban Girl cried when she heard the news, remembering good hot chocolate and muffins. We’ll gather for one last treat tonight and toast a place that made its own little contribution to our downtown renaissance.

When I know what will take the space after the closure, you’ll be the first to hear.


  1. Aaron Thompson says

    Thank you for your contribution Eddie! Early adopters aren’t always appreciated over time, but I’m still here and still do. See you and Robin at the cleaners!

  2. Susan Napier-Sewell says

    Thank you, Eddie, for keeping us clean and caffeinated all these years. Great article, Alan!

  3. Art Carmichael says

    What will the hours be for the cleaners?

  4. Sorry to see the coffee shop closing. We have enjoyed the coffee and the staff.

  5. As someone who worked downtown from 1984 until the mid-2000s (and if you think 2004 wasn’t great, you should have seen it in 1984!), I can vouch for the fact that this was a very ground-breaking business. I am very sorry this is closing, but thank you, Eddie, for this and the many things you do for Knoxville and its people.

    • I’ll second that. When Downtown Grind and Prestige opened, it was significant in that it seemed like the first amenity for the nascent downtown downtown residential community. Kudos to Mr. Mannis for his optimism, and good luck to Cynthia.

  6. Oh, I’ll miss them. When I first moved here in 2003 from a larger city with lots of coffee shops, the Grind was a little haven for me when I visited downtown. So glad to hear that Prestige is staying open!!

  7. A big disappointment for us. We’ve been supplying coffee to The Grind since the opening and come to really appreciate Robin, Cynthia and all the others that have moved through over the years. Thanks Eddie for your business and for representing us so well for so long! Perhaps we can find Cynthia another coffee gig in a Vienna branded store soon? (stay tuned) 🙂

  8. Paul Brown says

    Sorry to hear about the closing. My wife and I went to Downtown Grind on our first date. I admit that since then we’ve usually chosen Coffee & Chocolate or Cafe 4 over this coffee shop, since those are closer to where we park.

  9. Jill Green says

    I had to go for one last white hot chocolate and a blondie. There may be other coffee shops, but there is no other Grind.

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