Potluck Café Has Opened at 1328 North Broadway Bringing a Little French With That Food

Potluck Cafe, 1328 North Broadway, Knoxville, August 2023
Potluck Cafe, 1328 North Broadway, Knoxville, August 2023


Potluck Café opened recently at 1328 North Broadway in the little slice of real estate on the corner of Glenwood and Broadway, most recently home to Noble Kava, which has moved to a new location at 2123 Sutherland Avenue. Owned and operated by Melanie LaFoy, the new restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, offering comfort food infused with Melanie’s wide culinary experience and love of everything French.

Born at St. Mary’s Hospital, just a few blocks from the new business, Melanie mostly grew up in Maryville, where her parents remain. Her dad, a pharmacist, owns Blount Discount Pharmacy. She graduated from William Blount High School. During high school she took an educational school trip to France with money she’d earned working at Food Lion. “My whole world was changed.” Her family background is French, and she’d studied the language, but something clicked when she visited there.

She got better at the language, becoming a peer-teacher in high school. She attended Berry College, initially majoring in literature and theatre. She studied abroad in France for a portion of her education and ultimately had so many French classes she changed her major. “Then I did what my parents loved: I joined a band and toured for eight years.” She continues to play in a band, performing with Nightjar where she writes songs, sings, and plays guitar and piano, and it was music that first landed Melanie on this website, when she won first place in the regional competition of Tennessee Songwriter’s Week, a Taylor guitar, and the right to represent east Tennessee at the Bluebird Cafe.

Potluck Cafe, 1328 North Broadway, Knoxville, August 2023

Nine years ago, she had a son and returned to school, attending UTK, where she got a MA in French Literature. She and her partner moved to Nantes in western France where she taught poetry and literature classes for students studying in English. She stayed there for about three years before returning to Knoxville just prior to the pandemic to teach French at UTK.

“Throughout all of this I’ve always cooked. I’ve cooked elaborate meals for the band and for my friends.” She recalled a meal she cooked for her high school friends in their sophomore year in which she asked them all to name their favorite foods and she cooked them all at a big meal as their Christmas present. “We had a huge slumber party with ten or twelve people and I got up at 3:00 am and made every person their favorite breakfast . . . My grandmother ran a huge kitchen and I think I just inherited this weird kitchen gene.

“Underneath everything I’ve done, there is always cooking. When I was a professor in France, I worked at a Creperie and learned how to make crepes.” She worked at Sweet P’s on and off for a decade, while also working at Babalu, and cooking at Landing House. Even when teaching at UT, she used her non-class days to work in area restaurants. “I’ve tried to work at as many places as possible to do my own culinary school.” In addition to cooking, she also worked in management, managing Kopita for a spell.

“Since I was a kid, I wanted to have my own café. I’m good at teaching, but it’s never been my passion . . . I’ve always known that working in kitchens makes me happy. I think my brain was made for managing fifteen million tasks at one time. When it is one thing, I get bored.”

Potluck Cafe, 1328 North Broadway, Knoxville, August 2023

In the fall of 2021, while dealing with ongoing health issues, she left UT to work at Kopita, moving later to Good Golly Tamale. She realized that she was ready to operate in her own place. She’s able to relegate some of the tasks that are made a challenge by her rheumatoid arthritis. She has a long-time friend and co-worker, Jeremy, who comes in and does prep work before she arrives in the morning, which helps her tremendously. This helps her avoid the intense labor which would be more difficult for her. Interestingly, she says her arthritis is currently much better which she attributes partially to a lower stress level while working for herself.

“I feel healthy and happy, and everyone’s been loving this place, so I feel everything thing in my life has come together.” She said there is a surprisingly large contingent of people who come into the restaurant speaking French. Recently she said the who space was filled with French when a French professor brought in a visiting family. It’s become a point of bonding with many people who are various versions of Francophiles. She said even her work with the band contributed to helping her become more comfortable talking to a range of people.

Once the decision was made, she began doing pop-ups at Good Golly and Tern Club, where they let her use the space for free. She said she really feels the “Knoxville restaurant community has my back. Everyone has been very kind.” She’d just fed about 200 for brunch at Hi-Wire and Sweet P’s let her use their oven. She said the work she has done at all the restaurants helped her not only improve her skills but the relationships she made along the way matter at least as much.

The focus of her food has been casseroles, which she’s given her own culinary twist, and that’s where she started: offering deliveries during the pandemic. She wanted to start with something that would be sustainable should we get shut down again. Word spread quickly. She still doesn’t know how the first order found her. A woman from Denver called to say that a friend who lives in Farragut had lost her husband and needed a meal. The woman also, in a plot twist that could be from a movie, desperately needed help filling out documents in French and Melanie helped.

Potluck Cafe, 1328 North Broadway, Knoxville, August 2023

“She told her friends about me and now I have all these deliveries to ladies out west.” She said much of her experience has been that way, with one door opening to another, often in unexpected ways. She worked building followers with the hopes of opening her own place within a year. So far, everything has gone according to plan or even better.

As she began developing a business plan, she had a false start or two along the way. One location fell through, and an investor got cold feet and withdrew. She looked at other locations and realized they would require a large build out or required a grease trap be installed, all requiring money she didn’t really have. After quitting her job, and just when she thought it wasn’t going to happen, a friend offered a small amount if she could find a spot that didn’t require much work.

When she learned that her current spot was coming open, she acted quickly, soon signing a lease. She set to work making use of every inch of the small space she could. She found an espresso machine, along with a several other components used for $2,000, all of which together would have cost her around #13,000 new. She found a white retail refrigerator unit for $400. She found a great carpenter who built her bar and painted the space for a reasonable price. A customer who is an electrical engineer volunteered to fix her electrical and a plumber friend hooked up all the machines. The art was purchased from the neighborhood thrift stores. The colors remind her of southern France.

It was while living in France that Melanie first thought of a name for her future restaurant. An informal French word for friend is “pote,” and “potluck” references that, while acknowledging the custom of having a little of everything at a potluck — something that is common there as well as here. She began experimenting with turning breakfast dishes into casseroles. She has an eggs benedict casserole, for example, and a French toast bread pudding. For lunch, she offers dishes such as lasagna one day and roast and vegetables another. “A lot of my methods are French based.” She says, ironically, her best dish may be her breakfast enchilada, which is a Latin recipe.

Potluck Cafe, 1328 North Broadway, Knoxville, August 2023

And business has been good pretty much from the beginning. We met at a time between meals and yet, the restaurant had customers coming and going virtually the entire time. She said there has been no real pattern so far. Having breakfast all day and being open on Mondays has helped. She’s considering having breakfast for the supper club she does. The lunch dish is available starting at noon. She also offers pre-made food-to-go (pre-order), super clubs (evening meals), private chef meals, and catering. The space is also available for rental at night with or without her catering.

She’s closed on Wednesdays but is open from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm on the other weekdays. Weekend hours are 10:00 am to 3:00 pm and brunch is served all day. You can find more information, including details about the food on the website. For the latest up-to-the-minute announcements about specials and more, follow along on Instagram.

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