We first brought you the news of Kern’s Bakery reinvention in 2019. This multi-use market, food hall, and entertainment venue has raised eyebrows since. With multiple delays, pandemic shutdown, supply chain issues, permitting, weather, surprise construction issues, etc., some have questioned whether it was still on track or if this was a 75,000 sq ft sinking ship. I am happy to report the project is full steam ahead. Fully capitalized in Feb. 2022, work has been ongoing since.
Tim Martin of TMA Real Estate Brokerage and Consulting and Alex Dominguez of FSRE IV (Four Stones Four) offered us a tour to get the most recent and accurate update on their plans and visions for the food hall. The property is in an opportunity zone which works to the advantage of the community in that the owners make a 10-year commitment to uphold and maintain the property ownership, providing a positive economic impact on our community.
As with most demolitions and renovations, the initial stages go primarily unseen to those who aren’t there daily. So, walking in, some of the hard work done so far was not readily obvious.. While there is still much to be completed before vendors can take possession of their spaces, it was great to see framing is up for each of the vendor stalls, and almost all slots are filled. We’ll get into the different vendors in a future article. During our tour, we learned more about the extensive history of the building and the vision for what this historic site can be.
Phase 1 of this project was housing. Flagship Kerns is open and offers boutique apartment living in their 320 private bedrooms. “Two five-story, amenity-rich buildings include 160 fully-furnished, one-and-two bedroom apartments, smart-home technology, elevators, a co-working space, a pool, and clubhouse.” They also have a front-row view of the construction and progress of Phase 2-the reinvigoration of Kern’s Bakery. Phase 3 is a potential hotel site, but this will not begin for several years.
Many may mistakenly believe the current building that received the Historic Landmark designation in 2017 is the original home of Kern’s Bakery, which began in Knoxville in 1876. However, “the original Kern’s Bakery building houses The Oliver Hotel and the Peter Kern Library speakeasy on Union and Market. After Kern’s death in 1907, his family discontinued select operations of the business and maintained bakery operations until 1925, when they sold to three local businessmen.
The bakery production facility was relocated to Chapman Highway in 1931, where it became a Knoxville landmark and a successful regional business. The Roy H. Brown family owned and operated the bakery until Sara Lee purchased the brand in 1989, continuing to use the production facility into the 2000s.”
Preserving the history of the building and honoring the souls that created the business and poured their lives into it is an essential aspect of this project. The ceilings are being restored, and the concrete floors will be polished. Exposed brick throughout shows off the building’s character, silos previously used for storage will be highlighted in different areas of the building.
The original windowpanes give us a glimpse into the past, and original wooden beams will be repurposed into furniture by the gentlemen of A Better Way Ministries. Original columns will remain alongside new ones and symbolize the coordination of the building’s old and new. We can also expect to see the original loaf of bread sign lit and drawing in customers. They describe the interior design as “warehouse casual” and perfectly imperfect.
One beloved item they had intended to be preserved is the traveling carousel many associate with Kern’s Bakery. It was on the property for years but has gone missing during construction. The owners have issued a plea to the community to help them find the iconic carousel and return it so that it can once again symbolize wholesome fun and cheerfulness in the community. No questions asked for information leading to its return, and you may even get $500 in gift cards to Kern’s Bakery once it opens later this year. If you have any leads (or photos of yourself or your children on the carousel), please get in touch with email@example.com.
Dominguez described a “biophilic” initiative they see as engaging the senses and encouraging the human spirit through natural elements like native plants throughout the property, water stations, recycling, and art. Natural lighting with fresh flowers from the in-house flower shop will anchor the space’s center seating area and small performance stage. Biophilia is the innate human instinct to connect with nature and other living beings. Dominguez says he felt very strongly that this concept is one he wanted to incorporate into the design and feel of the historic building.
Martin and Dominguez described a synergistic approach with activation and community engagement that allows patrons to visit and stay awhile versus an establishment with only one goal, such as a traditional restaurant. They purposefully place vendors in a way that encourages flow and collaboration. A quiet space for study or work, cozy places to socialize, possibly even a treasure map for kids to complete with a free treat at the end, outdoor seating, rooftop patio, murals, big screen TVs for watching games and movies, a variety of entertainment for all ages, and a vast assortment of food stalls will have you coming back again and again.
This project has many silent investors and many community partners credited with the progress thus far. You can see all of those partners here. Find them on Instagram and Facebook and subscribe to their email newsletter to stay current. You can also take a virtual reality tour of the building to experience Kern’s Bakery.
Next, we will cover the vendors projected to open at Kern’s this winter, and it is a lineup that will make even critics optimistic.