What happens when banks no longer need huge lobbies? If they’re located in a city as lucky as this one, they might get an exciting new restaurant. That’s what will happen later this year when David Rule of Maryville’s Walnut Kitchen opens his new concept at 625 Market Street in the elegant former lobby of a bank located on its first floor.
I recently mentioned the idea in an article about First Century Bank, which recently moved into the building. Their decision to occupy only a kiosk in the foyer of the building made today’s announcement possible. The high sculpted ceilings, mezzanine views and massive windows of the former bank space will serve as an elegant backdrop for the new restaurant venture.
Its in the early stages – so early the restaurant doesn’t have a name – and David preferred the interior of the restaurant not be photographed simply because he wants the first images to reflect his vision of the space. We walked through stacks of wormy Chestnut that Wade Richardson is integrating into the space and looked up at massive chandeliers which will be replaced with lighting more in line with the original lighting when the building was built in 1923.
The entrance to the restaurant will be on the main floor from Market Street through what are now revolving doors. The bulk of seating will be on that floor, as will a prep kitchen visible to diners and a full-service bar which will feature craft cocktails, an elevated wine list and an oyster bar to one end.
The bar will be built in to the side of the safe and the beautiful safe door will be preserved and displayed at the front of the restaurant. Additionally, a small stage will be constructed which will feature a player piano with space for live music. He said he loves all kinds of music and could imagine an acoustic guitar player, jazz or a string trio. He also could see a poetry reading or the stage being used for speakers at private events.
The upstairs mezzanine level will include more seating as well as the primary kitchen a baking kitchen for preparing fresh-baked bread. The restaurant is planned to be open lunch and dinner hours, but much of what will happen will be in response to what his guests request.
He plans a different emphasis with the food than his much-praised fare at the Walnut Kitchen where the focus is on southern cuisine. He said the menu at the new location will be more continental in focus, though you can expect a heavy emphasis on locally sourced, fresh food. He describes the sourcing as “wider angle” pointing to the oysters as an example. Still, he said, “being as close as possible to your produce is usually a good thing.” Saying that the focus will always be on the guests, he says simply, it will be the “same quality but a different take on food.”
Downtown caught his attention because of the rapid, recent growth as well as the massive changes in the culinary scene here. He counts as friends a number of the most respected downtown chefs, including Brian Strutz at A Dopo Pizza, Joseph Lenn (who he worked with briefly at Blackberry) of J.C. Holdway, and Matt Gallaher of Emelia and Knox Mason. “I want to bring what I have to offer and push downtown dining even further. I want to be cooking with those guys.”
He started his culinary career at an early age, working at 411 restaurant in Maryville when he was just fifteen-years-old. He worked there for a couple of years and when he began to get questions about what he was going to do after school, he realized how much he liked restaurants and cooking and decided that was the path for him. He studied hospitality both at Hiwassee College and the University of Tennessee.
Blackberry Farm always held an allure for him and he describes it as big presence in Maryville. His first exposure came in high school when he job-shadowed at the resort. He was working at Aubrey’s in 2007 when he landed an interview and then a job as a breakfast cook at Blackberry. He worked there for 2 1/2 years until he was recruited back to the Burleson family of restaurants.
He worked at Bistro By the Tracks and then performed a range of services for the company, including menu development. He helped open new restaurants and was involved in the opening of Sunspot in its second location. He also helped with the charity work the company performs.
He worked with the company for five years before accepting a job with Dancing Bear Lodge in Townsend. Seven weeks later it burned (not a kitchen fire!) and he found himself looking, once more. He landed back where he had started: Blackberry Farm.
He accepted a job as a butcher for the resort and he was intimidated. He’d worked some with meats, but he’d never been a butcher and he knew the exacting standards in place in that kitchen. He considers it a turning point when, confessing to Sam Beall how nervous he was, Sam said he wanted to give him the opportunity to learn.
He stayed with the company for four years, until he felt ready to start his own venture. He learned the intricacies of charcuterie and learned to cure meat. “I love to meld old world Italian meats and the southern Appalachian meats.” He talks fondly of how his Mamaw treated meats. He married the two and developed his own style.
The opportunity to open Walnut Kitchen came in 2017 and it made him very proud to have a place in his hometown and he expressed great appreciation for the support the community has given him. “The space, atmosphere and culture is very welcoming. It’s a family atmosphere for guests and staff.
He referenced the high quality staff when explaining how it is possible that he is opening a second restaurant in about two years. Seventy-five percent of the staff that started with him is still with him after a year-and-a-half, which is remarkable in the culinary world. “I take a personal interest in my staff.”
I asked the inevitable question about televisions and he said there will be two at the bar and one other which will be hidden behind a painting that rolls up on the occasion (like a UT Football Game) when the television is warranted. Most of the time patrons will not see a television outside the bar.
“I love that there are no rules (in this business). If you can dream it, you can do it.” He hopes to be doing it in the new space “later this year.”