A Gay Street Business Closes, So Does Part of the Street (and an Art Exhibition Opens Briefly)

Potbelly Sandwich Shop, 522 South Gay, Knoxville, July 2018

It was just a year-and-a-half ago that I announced the opening of Potbelly Sandwiches at 522 South Gay Street. It was the second Knoxville franchise location operated by the same investment group and operated by local musician and businessman Mark Ray. It took the place of the recently closed Lenny’s Sub Shop at the same location.

The group has announced that both the downtown location and the Turkey Creek location is no longer in business. A notice was posted to the door at the downtown location expressing their appreciation for their regular customers. I contacted Mark Ray who offered the following elaboration:

In the end, the investor group just couldn’t climb out of the financial hole from the initial cost of building and opening the two shops. Our sales downtown had been steadily climbing, despite not a single dollar ever being spent on advertising or marketing. Technically we were making money each month. Of course what I will miss most are the great customers-we had so many regulars Monday through Friday who ate lunch with us.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop, 522 South Gay, Knoxville, July 2018

Here’s wishing the best to Mark as he looks for new opportunities. It’s hard operating a business in any environment and downtown (or Turkey Creek) is not a low-priced place in which to operate. It also may raise the question of how many of one type of business downtown is currently able to support, with fine sandwiches at Frussie’s and Cafe Vicolo and sandwich alternatives at Subway on Market Square among other places. The closure does open an opportunity for someone who wants a prime location on Gay Street. The space is offered by Hatcher-Hill.

300 and 400 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2018

300 and 400 Block of Gay Street, Knoxville, July 2018

Speaking of closures, how about two blocks of Gay Street? I’d mentioned it before, of course. The intersections are having the brick replaced with a faux brick that looks attractive and is hoped to have a longer life with less maintenance, though repairs have already been done on some of the earlier work.

The interesting opportunity presented by the closures is that the street between the intersections is not torn up. It’s open an available for creative people to utilize as they will. I’ve seen a photograph of citizens playing foosball in the street. My photographs showed some currently available corn hole sets.

It’s a perfect time to get into the street and be creative. It’s a chance for a street party! Presumably restrictions on alcohol in the street still apply, so keep the party dry, but enjoy the street while we have it. And speaking of that, what horrors have been visited on the populace with the closing? Hmm. Makes one wonder if it couldn’t be closed more often. Imagine every weekend on Gay Street . . .

Kevin Bradley, Church of Type Letterpress Exhibition, 132 West Jackson, Knoxville, July 2018 (Photo Tinah Utsman)

Kevin Bradley (pictured with RB Morris), Church of Type Letterpress Exhibition, 132 West Jackson, Knoxville, July 2018 (Photo Tinah Utsman)

Finally, there was a pop-up art exhibition this past weekend that merits mention. If you’ve been around downtown Knoxville long enough, you’ll remember Kevin Bradley who was co-owner of Yee-Haw Industries and was often seen walking around downtown in a coonskin cap. (He told me the cap was a hit on the west coast, but eventually gave up the ghost.) His letterpress work with Yee-Haw is still highly sought after.

Kevin Bradley Letter Press Art Exhibition, Old City, Knoxville, July 2018

Kevin Bradley Letter Press Art Exhibition, Old City, Knoxville, July 2018

He left Knoxville around 2010 for the west coast where he founded Church of Type in Santa Monica. He has continued to explore and push the limits of letterpress, as seen in the pop up exhibition this past weekend at 132 West Jackson. The work on display this weekend certainly attested to his continuing creativity.

The exhibition was set to close Saturday, but there was some hope its stay might be extended. You might catch a glimpse if you hurry down there. You’ll definitely find some of his work at Rala and you can find him online here. The site includes a gallery of some of the work seen in the exhibition.


  1. http://Chris%20Eaker says

    It amazes me how Lenny’s and Potbelly can’t stay open but Subway does. Both of those sandwich shops run circles around Subway.

  2. Mediocre food!

  3. http://Troy%20Goodale says

    Maybe a small thing to their bottom line, but I live one block down on the 400 block of Gay Street. It seemed that every time I thought to eat there, it was on a Sunday when they were closed. With more residential popping up downtown, closing on Sundays may not be the best option for some of these struggling small eateries.

  4. Kevin Bradley’s art show is extended until July 22. You can see the show from 9am-5pm M-F through Robin Easter Design, 132 West Jackson Avenue. Kevin will be in the gallery starting at 5pm Friday and Saturday. Don’t miss it. The Work is Amazing. Also please note that photos credited to Robin Easter were taken by Tinah Utsman.

  5. http://Aaron%20Thompson says

    Another one to mention is Blackhorse Brewpub where Five was

  6. http://Randy says

    Sorry to see Potbelly go, but, as you said, there are many places to get quality sandwiches downtown. One commenter on this article said we don’t need another Market Square. I completely disagree.The best thing that could be done for Gay Street business and the downtown residents would be to close part of Gay, as suggested. Many cities have done this with great success, creating livable, walkable community spaces. Places where people want to live, work, socialize, and shop. At worst this would cost us a few parking spaces, Almost all parking is available off Gay already. We need to expand our city center outside Market Square, and this includes shopping, not just food and drink. It’s a classic conundrum (what comes first, demand or inviting space?), but other communities in the US and around the world have demonstrated that, if you build the attractive space, people will come. It just takes vision, will, and leadership.

  7. http://Sam says

    Is it me, or does it seem the Knoxville restaurant curse for any relatively successful eatery to open a second location in Turkey Creek? Alas Silver Spoon Cafe, that good Cuban/Caribbean place that used to be in Montvue Place until they opened a Turkey Creek location, etc., etc…

  8. Kevin Bradley HOW FANTASTIC!

  9. http://Oren%20Yarbrough says

    I loved Potbelly’s and am terribly sad to hear that it closed down. Sometimes downtown Knoxville’s “Local only” mindset hurts small franchises that are trying to bring restaurants into the area like Potbelly’s. I imagine people didn’t see the restaurant as a local person trying to bring something different to the city, but rather as a “big corporate entity” trying to besmirch downtowns image.
    Crazily, I ate at Potbelly’s this week right before I went and saw Book of Mormon. Half the cast was walking in and out of the store to pick up orders, including the female star of the show that played Nabulungi. Hopefully, something good will open in its place.

    • http://Hayduke says

      I’m happy to hurt all the franchises I can. A lot more of the money spent at Frussie’s or Cafe Vicolo stays in Knoxville and the individual visions of the owners help make Knoxville unique. A Potbelly or Subway makes Knoxville a little more like everywhere else.

      • http://Nancy says

        I’m sorry, but I don’t understand why you want to hurt a business just because it’s a franchise. You do realize that all franchises started as one man or woman’s dream as a single store that they worked tirelessly on to make successful. They often work 90-100 hours a week for years while never being able to afford to draw a paycheck. They put thousands of dollars back into the local economy by hiring employees, paying tons of local and state taxes, sourcing goods and supplies locally, hiring local vendors, technicians, and spending hundreds of dollars on local marketing. If they are lucky, all their hard work makes the business prosperous and they can open up another store, then another and so on. All the while, improving the local economy. That person may eventually start to franchise their business. Petros, Casual Pint, and Steamboat Sandwiches for example are all local business that started with one store and are now franchises. Do you never go to these local business?? Are you punishing them for working hard and being successful? I just think that is an awful narrow minded way to think.

      • http://Brian says

        I also don’t understand the “no franchise” mindset. There are tons of great local, often upscale restaurants in the downtown area. Why can’t we also have a few mid-price, quick, fast casual chains alongside them. Or perhaps even some type of food court type area somewhere downtown. While there are a lot of upscale, bar like options, the options for families & those maybe wishing to grab a decent quick bite without full sit down service, are few & far between. Why is there this “locals only” view in downtown Knoxville, & why mostly upscale. Other nearby cities such as Columbia SC, Greenville, SC, & Chattanooga have fast casual & franchise restaurants in their downtown areas alongside local establishments. And it seems to work well there. Don’t get me wrong. I love great local based options, but why can’t we have both and more options for families & workers alongside the trendy bar/pub type upscale places? Just a thought.

  10. http://Chyna says

    I’ve long said that we should close Gay Street to vehicular traffic and make it like the 16th St. Mall in Denver. Maybe have a trolley that runs regularly from one end to the other, but otherwise pedestrians and bikes only.

    • http://Dave says

      Closing one of the major thoroughfares when we’ve already got our 16th Street mall (see: Market Square) doesn’t seem wise or necessary.

  11. http://Arthur%20B%20Carmichael says

    There’s been some discussion of the possibilities started on Dan Goss’ (of Downtown Grill & Brewery) Facebook feed: https://www.facebook.com/daniel.goss.315/posts/10214692491058918

  12. http://Lettie%20Flores says

    Imagine- a weekly Suttree-sponsored foosball tournament, weekly Sapphire-Chivo-Babalu-?sponsored long table dinner, live bands,Pharmacy-sponsored ice cream trucks, maybe Maple Hall-sponsored duck pin bowling, all along Gay Street. I like it.

    • http://Jackie says

      Lettie – I would love to see all of Gay Street from the Tennessee Theatre through the 100 block permanently blocked off to traffic on the weekends from Friday afternoon through Sunday night! We could give the restaurants a ton more outside seating, have art walks and wine tastings set up, just about anything you could think of – dog friendly, maybe an adults only section and section with kids activities.

    • http://Thomas%20Dyke says

      We’re down for the foos! We already have foosball socials weekly on Tuesday nights and tournaments every First Saturday night. We’ll be out there on the road again this Tuesday! -Knoxville FoosVOL

  13. http://George%20Scott says

    Well, sorry to see any entrepreneur fail in a given go-round, but I know many people (myself included) who would never patronize a business named “Pot Belly.” So, there’s that. A little sensitivity to marketing…

    Best of luck in your next effort!

    • http://Billy%20D says

      I hope you know that tha name “Pot Belly” refers to the pot belly stove. There was one in the front window downtown.

    • http://Erin%20Thames says

      Damn I loved that place and I only got to go once. 🙁 Never once thought anything about the name.

    • http://Trout says

      It’s funny. While I knew they were referencing the potbelly stove, any time I thought about grabbing a quick sandwich from there I would think about how all of that bread and meat would affect my own potbelly and would skip it.

    • http://The%20Modern%20Gal says

      That’s too bad, George — it’s your loss. Their sandwiches and shakes are delicious. (And I say this as someone who tries to fully support our local establishments, but I really do think Potbelly is that good.)

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