Two Openings Planned: Market Square and Gay Street

Sign Announces Restaurant, 522 South Gay Street, Knoxville, November 2018

One’s an open secret and both have been a buzz on Facebook. Generally when word slips out about a restaurant opening, I try to patiently wait until I have more information before writing about it. In this case, that doesn’t seem to be happening very quickly, so I’ll put out what many people interested in downtown may already know and I’ll try to give you more when I know it.

The sign pictured above was placed in the door window sometime last month. The location is the spot where potbelly was last seen. I contacted the woman who is opening the restaurant via email and she replied that she was very busy, a bit overwhelmed and still figuring out the project. She said she would let me know when she had time to talk. So, we wait.

What we do know is that we have a Vietnamese restaurant coming at some point on Gay Street. We’ve often discussed on this blog and on Facebook, the desire for more ethnic foods in downtown and this looks like a step. To say Facebook was abuzz is to do a disservice to bees. Everything about that tiny sign was parsed from grammar to the implications of the shape of the bowl. Hopefully we’ll know more, soon.

Quickly on the heels of my breaking story about the closing of Blue Coast Burrito, comes breaking news (I think my friend Mary Constantine at the News Sentinel broke this one – congrats!) that a restaurant has announced plans to take the spot. Some of you may know the Ruby Slipper Cafe in New Orleans. Well, they’ve expanded to other cities and now operate a Ruby Sunshine chain.

This we do know a little more about. They promise to open in Spring of 2019 at 37 Market Square. The also promise to have the same menu as the restaurant in New Orleans. The focus is brunch and the hours they project match that concept: “M-F: 7:00 AM -2:00 PM and open until 3:00 PM on Sat-Sun.” It’s another breakfast option where we haven’t had many and takes weekend brunch to the next level.

A quick look at the Ruby Slipper reveals lots of grits, morning alcohol, pancakes, biscuits and some fancy New Orleans’ style breakfast options. You can see the full menu here. I read recently that the point of brunch is to be able to morning drink without judgement. Will Knoxville morning drink on weekdays? Stay tuned.

Both restaurant announcements underscore that there are still people who feel downtown Knoxville presents an opportunity for business success. Expect more announcements in the near future as downtown business continues to be very, very hot.


  1. I can appreciate the brunch-only concept, but I question the success of their hours. As a downtown worker, I know a lot of people who don’t get to lunch until 1:00 or after, which means a place that closes at 2:00 isn’t an option. It seems odd to me to have a business there that is not open at night. People walking from the Market Square garage from late afternoon on will see a dark space before reaching the square. It just seems like a poor business model for a confined space like Market Square – after all the years of having spaces boarded up and businesses closed at night, it’s great to see everything vibrant and thriving. Visitors and those unfamiliar with this restaurant are likely to see it dark and think it’s permanently closed.
    Of course, for all the people talking about family friendliness downtown, I would think they’d appreciate the early hours, despite the cocktails, because it’s actually one less place serving booze at night. Right?

  2. As you know, I’m always a little dubious when “New Orleans” food comes to Knoxville. Hopefully, the owners can teach the chefs how to “do it to it”.

  3. Marcus O’Brikis says

    I think it’s becoming clear that the escalating commercial rents and insufficient customer traffic is making it hard for downtown retail survival. The saturation of bars and restaurants is moving Downtown Knoxville to food court status.

    • You are absolutely correct. Landlords have gotten greedy and are demanding rents and triple net expenses that no retail shop or family style restaurants can afford. In a few years all that will be left on Market Square and Gay Street will be bars and upscale restaurants that serve alcohol as that’s the only way to make the kind of money you’d need to afford to operate there. The entire dynamics of downtown will change from a fun place to take the family to only a place few can afford to go to. I’m afraid it will collapse like a house of cards by 2025.

      • Kelly Franklin says

        Curious about your comment; I don’t know all the places downtown by any means, but after thinking a few minutes, the only eating place in Market Square or Gay Street that I can think of that is not “bas and upscale restaurants that serve alcohol” is Subway on Market Square. Am I missing the slew of down-scale restaurants that do not already serve alcohol?

        • That’s exactly my point. No one other than restaurants who serve alcohol an bars will be able to survive because of the increasing rents. Retail stores, coffee shops, dessert places will disappear unless they own the building.

          • Well, you’re making a prediction about something that has been the this way for 5+ years. Just because consumers and residents of the Downtown area don’t want more Subways doesn’t mean there’s not more because the place *can’t* support them. It’s because we *wont* support them. I’m glad 430 S. Gay street isn’t an Arby’s anymore. It’s a sign of progress, not regress. Good businesses thrive. Bad businesses die. Knoxville’s market is no different.

      • How does a restaurant serving alcohol make it non-family friendly? You can still just not order it.

        Also, I keep seeing this “No retail can survive!” nonsense here. I mean, (off the top of my head) Fizz, Earth to Old City, Nothing Too Fancy, Tree and Vine, Bliss/Tori Mason Shoes, Mast, Urban Outfitters, Union Avenue Books, City Fido, and Bluetique have done it for years now. Perhaps the issue isn’t retail not surviving. It’s bad retail not surviving.

        All of this handwringing over development and improvement is annoying. You see one or two businesses close a year and others that thrive. That’s how it works. According to the SBA, 30% of new businesses fail with the first two years. 50% fail within the first 5. 66% fail within 10. So to expect Knoxville–or any segment thereof–to buck this trend is naive at best and purposefully disingenuous at worst.

        • Just curious.. How many businesses have decided to pack up and move to more affordable spots in old north or south? I doubt there is a list, but it seems over the last few years, several have chosen this path. Just my experience-I lived downtown for 10 years until about 3 months ago. I rented from one of the 3 well known “developers” in town and they decided to go up on my rent 20% over last year. Also, consider they had gone up anywhere from 2%-3% every year (which was manageable).When asked why there was such a steep increase, I was told “Market changes have determined that this is the fair amount for rent.” Ok. No Thank You. Needless to say, I bought a home in old north thats 2.4 miles away from the old city and I’m going to be paying 38% of what I was paying to be within walking distance to a dozen restaurants/bars. $5 for a an uber ride is a pretty solid reason for not paying for the “privilege” of living downtown anymore. I really hope the market can settle itself down and rise at a “reasonable” and sustainable rate for working folks who make knoxville so great. Just my opinion though. Cheers.

  4. Arthur Carmichael says

    Nothing against Ruby Sunshine but I’m way more excited about Viet Bread & Tea.

    Also, given the robust Vietnamese community in New Orleans, which, I’m guessing, stems from the French/Catholic connection, is it just an odd coincidence that a New Orleans restaurant and a Vietnamese restaurant were announced in the same post? Or was that on purpose, Alan? ;~)

    Yeah, I know, sometimes I read too much into things.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      The coastal Vietnamese population stems to the influx of Vietnamese fishermen and their families during the boat-lift days at the end of the Vietnamese War. I grew up on the Gulf Coast and I had never met a person from Vietnam until the mid-seventies and suddenly there were Vietnamese communities there. Nothing intentional here. Read too much into things? You? Take it easy and leave the heavy lifting to the level-headed among us, Art. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to get back to sorting through the Bob Dylan garbage I scored while I was in New York City. 🙂

  5. I ate at Ruby Slipper in New Orleans back in August and it was absolutely fantastic. The food is so good and the menu is very large. The brunch cocktails are superb and they have a large selection to choose from. My favorite part about this restaurant is that in the NOLA locations when you are on the inevitable wait, you can walk up to the host stand and order a brunch cocktail since it also doubles as a small bar and cashier stand.

  6. Wow, the menu for Ruby Slipper looks awesome. Excited to check it out.

  7. I’m really excited about this! Any restaurant that comes from New Orleans is bound to be amazing. Cue the “Unchain Downtown” naysayers.

  8. Chris Eaker says

    I’M SO EXCITED ABOUT RUBY SLIPPER (SUNSHINE) COMING TO KNOXVILLE! YES, I KNOW I’M YELLING BUT I’M THAT EXCITED! Ok, now that I’ve calmed down a bit, let me give you a first hand experience account that Ruby Slipper is an amazing restaurant. The food is amazingly delicious. I hope they duplicate the fun New Orleans ambiance inside. I think it’ll be a very successful addition to downtown Knoxville. I can’t wait, but I guess I’ll have to.

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