A Market Square Business Closes

Space Head, 24 Market Square, Knoxville, July 2019

A surprising buzz circulated around downtown yesterday afternoon as word spread that after only two months at 24 Market Square, Space Head had closed. Owned and operated by Mahasti Vafaie and Scott Partin, owners of Tomato Head and Flour Head, the restaurant offered a non-meat burger, a (very good imo) fried chicken sandwich and downtown’s only vegan ice cream.

It has to go down as one of the quickest closings on Market Square and one of the most surprising given the continued track record of the couple’s other enterprises. Tomato Head is one of the longest lived businesses downtown and the oldest on Market Square.

Additionally, the couple operates a second location in west Knoxville. Their spinoff bakery, Flour Head, has been a great success with their breads being used by a number of local restaurants. In addition, the couple is marketing a line of food products nationwide.

Space Head, 24 Market Square, Knoxville, July 2019

Contacted yesterday, Scott Partin said simply, “We just never drew enough customers to make it sustainable.” Regarding plans for the space, he said nothing has been decided and the couple will “assess in the coming days.” They own the building and could opt to use it themselves or lease it as they did to Bliss for many years.

It’s a reminder that opening and operating a business always carries risk. Even securing a location in the hottest spot in the city doesn’t offer certainty of success, nor does previous success mean it can be replicated. All of us who enjoy downtown or local businesses spread across the city owe a debt of gratitude to the people who, successfully or unsuccessfully, put themselves at risk to make the city better. If we want local businesses, we have to support them.

Comments

  1. I was excited, trying to eat vegan these days, when possible, so I took my 9-yr-old son. We both disliked the interior and assumed it was a temporary look, but it was loud and cold-feeling so we opted to take our food (for which we waited a really long time even though there weren’t others ahead of us) outside instead. Music in there might have helped. Anyway, I liked my vegan nuggets ok, but my son didn’t like the chicken nuggets, they were way too spicy for him, so we never returned. The price we paid for the food wasn’t a value for the atmosphere and food itself, so it didn’t lure me back even when I was not with him. I’m sorry to have to say that, I wanted to see Mahasti’s latest creation succeed. I figured what I experienced was just startup pains, and it would have smoothed out.

  2. Damn, I picked up a menu just last week and was looking forward to eating there as the plant-based menu really appealed to me. Has it already closed? Doesn’t seem like they gave the place enough time to get going, I had just found out that it was there and I live downtown. Probably am not the only one who had just discovered its presence. The Tomato Head is the only restaurant I frequent, and the fact that it had the same owners was a definite draw for me.

  3. Big fans of Tomato Head, and will always appreciate their role as one of the prime drivers for the renaissance of Market Square and downtown Knoxville, but this place was rife with issues from the get-go:
    1) as many have commented, that name was just bad
    2) the chicken sandwich and veggie burger were just aight, and not exactly necessary in the context of other offerings in the area
    3) never got the ice cream because its not convenient to order it when you get your main course, and the wait for it after you finished your main meal was far too long, which leads me to…
    4) incredibly slow service for a fast casual type restaurant…really inexcusable
    5) finally, I get that perhaps they didn’t want to spend too much on the interior build-out, but that was a pretty bleak, unappetizing space
    Here’s hoping to a reboot of Lula/Luna/LOL, or some other unique concept that can work for them. They really do deserve our thanks and sympathy.

  4. Hate to see this business close. I loved the food there. I don’t think they tried hard enough before giving up, but, hey, I’ve had a bone to pick with them ever since they got rid of the honey mustard dressing at Tomato Head.

  5. Wish we had a “really true” Chinese Restaurant on Market Square!

  6. Those beet quinoa burgers were amazing and I really hope they appear on the Tomato Head menu!

  7. One changes their shirt and it is news? Experienced folks make a tax deductible loss. Next? As others said put some of those items on menus in existing places and watch it build! And yes like TJ that stuff will be nationally marketed. This is not about the food. Next!

  8. Seems like this was just a very poorly planned enterprise. Two months and you can’t see it as sustainable? Well..yeah, two months isn’t enough time to build up a client base. Also, a better name might have helped. Many passersby had no clue what it even was. The space too was pretty uninviting–a really sterile place that seemed more like a clinic than a kitchen.

  9. * I meant Luna, not Lula. Lol

  10. Mahasti and Scott are entrepreneurial pioneers. Always have been. They’ve done well with great concepts and great food/service and will continue to. They’ve been part of the fabric that makes downtown amazing for a long time. I agree with many here: I miss LULA! Homemade mole and creme fraiche. C’mon, Mahasti and Scott, whaddya say? 😉

    Speaking of local, and with apologies for the shameless plug, I would LOVE for you guys to hike over the “kudzu ridge” to Jackson Avenue and visit our little tea shop, Jackson Avenue Tea, across from Balter.

    Cheers!

  11. Gabrielle Boudreau says

    So sorry to hear about them closing. The quinoa burger and vegan ice cream were delicious. I hope these get added to the Tomato Head menu.

  12. When a restaurant with serious vegetarian options evades knowledge of its existence from vegetarians hungry for options, then sorry…something is seriously wrong with the restaurant’s marketing or design, not the potential customers. There is no reason that a Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant should not do great downtown.

  13. Somebody already said it, but I will repeat it. LULA. It would soar now.

  14. Would love to see the vegan sandwich options added to Tomato Heads permanent menu. There are so few vegan friendly restaurants in town and Space Head has a good product going.

  15. A fast-casual option would be great. Keep the fried chicken sandwich–people seem to like it–and add some fast-casual and grab-and-go options, and re-open with a new name. (the name was a really bad choice, in my opinion.) A restaurant like Pret-A-Manger would be an illustrative example of what we need downtown. Not sure we have the capacity yet to sustain it, but perhaps something similar would be feasible.

  16. Not surprised at all. If you want to open a successful restaurant in Downtown Knoxville, you need a full liquor bar and table service. The demographics of Downtown simply will not support any fast casual concept paying todays rents.

  17. Sad to see it go, but the main reason for it closing was probably the atmosphere. At least from the outside, it looked like there was nothing but plain white walls, no decor whatsoever.

  18. Bryce Giesler says

    Fail Fast and move on! It’s great they took the risk to offer something different. It’s also great that they realized quickly it wasn’t one supported by the customers. Let’s see how they learn from the experience and come up with next! Should be interesting.

  19. I would like to see a fast/casual Japanese restaurant move in there with take-away sushi and different kinds of bowls.

  20. I would like to see some fast casual type options or perhaps a good food hall type option downtown. There’s plenty of “sit down”, upscale & bar type restaurants. How about more family focused options & more more counter serve type places? (I’d even like some chain type fast casual options like other cities have downtown).

    • It would be nice, but they don’t seem to be successful enough to pay the costs of business in and around the square. Trio was fast casual for years, then tried changing to sit down before closing. Market House was fast casual-esque. It no long exists. Even Cafe 4’s coffee shop section where you could get coffee drinks and pastries doesn’t exist any longer.

    • We have more enough chain restaurant in Knoxville. Market Sq. and Gay St are know for the fact that they have non-chain restaurants. We need more of THEM.

  21. I’m not surprised to hear this news. It seems like they put in the absolute least amount of effort in terms of menu and interior design.

    • I agree. I didn’t get the chance to try it, but the menu looked tiny & consisted of mostly just fried chicken sandwiches (something of which there is already a glut of around town. Not to mention, just across the square already). Odd name, and odd menu (looked like Judy Jetson meets Chick Fil A, lol).

  22. the return on Lula…that is what needs to happen. The name is still etched on the door of Spacehead

  23. I had a chance to eat there once over the summer, and the food was good, which is to be expected. But it always struck me that the name Space Head might not be a good choice. “Space Head” can conjure up some interesting images in the imagination, but it doesn’t seem like an inviting name for a restaurant.

    • Chris Eaker says

      Agreed. I can’t tell you how many times we walked by it while they were still in the build-out phase and saw the name and said to my wife, “What in the world is it?” That is not the kind of response you want from potential customers. Businesses names should be descriptive enough to tell people what is it is.

      • I agree…I had no idea it was a restaurant. Didn”t really look into the windows, but it didn’t call me in either..Best of luck with something new…also if there were dishes that were a hit, add them to Tomato Head.

    • I really enjoyed the vegan ice cream. With Coolato and the sorbet gone, there was nothing left downtown vegan dessert-wise. I also thought the vegan sandwich was good, but I think the sauce was its saving grace. I got the vegan nuggets for my son and on their own, they just weren’t very good. But that could have always been tweaked. It’s sad to see all the effort they put in the building lost.

  24. I hope they’ll add those chicken sandwiches to the Tomato Head menu. They were really fantastic.

  25. Their track record is mixed. They opened and closed Luna on the square some years back and since then have closed their Maryville location.

  26. I hate to see this. Your last line carries so much weight. It is so very, very important to support local businesses. We don’t have anything to fall back on and a one slow month, some times one slow week, can make a huge difference! Keep in mind, it’s not the big companies taking out ads in your kids school programs or buying banners at the ballfields. It’s the local business owners that are also moms and dads, aunts and uncles, friends and family that are giving you support, so be sure to support them!!!

  27. Thanks for taking that risk. We appreciate you

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