Future Home of Old Sevier Market, 906 Sevier Avenue, Knoxville, October 2023
Serial entrepreneur Chris Morton has taken the lease on the space at 906 Sevier with the intention of completing his dream of opening the grocery store he first visualized years ago. In the interim, he started Bearden Beer Market, which he subsequently sold, opened Alliance Brewing (2015) as a co-owner and, most recently, opened South Coast Pizza (2018). In 2018, Chris announced the grocery store at the same location, but with a different name. A pandemic and five years later, it appears the idea’s time has come.
Chris said the idea of a grocery store has been needling him for years and, while he first thought of opening near Alcoa Highway in Blount County all those years ago, his business and development energy has been drawn to south Knoxville along Sevier Avenue for nearly the last decade. For the last five years, with some slowdowns along the way like a global pandemic, he’s been working toward finding the right group of investors to move forward. He’s assembled a large group, and the process is now underway.
The location is in the same large building as Hi-Wire, Red Bud Kitchen, Peak Hydration, Mood Ring Vintage, and it is in the portion of the building behind the recently opened Fly By Night. The space features parking on the entry end of the building and garage doors to the rear, which will be perfect for deliveries to the storage portion of the building. That portion of the building will be changed to add windows, though the entryway will be where the current doorway sits.
Chris said the size is very similar to a Trader Joe’s and the store will seem very familiar to shoppers there, with a similar vestibule to enter. The grocery space includes about 6,000 square feet and the storage is about 10,000 square feet. Chris is the primary investor and will be the owner operator. He feels like his background in food will serve him well, though he plans to bring in a “top notch management team.” He’s got his eye on several key people to get started.
He feels like the community will respond to a locally owned, non-chain grocery store. “We have our own micro-economy down here. Nobody’s corporate . . . We all know each other and what we’re doing. It’s cooler to walk into a building with great music and a thumping bass . . . kind of like Pike Place in Seattle. There are so many thousands of people who are going to be living in the area.”
He said, like Bearden Beer market did, he plans to bring in things that others haven’t offered. He’s discovered deli meat in Minnesota, for example, and he’s traveling looking for the best in other products that he can offer. He’s got bacon in Pennsylvania that isn’t available in this market. He also plans to work with local farms for eggs, meat, and other products. He’s open to allowing local farmers to use his store as a drop-off point for their customers. He said he’s ok with not making money from that and he’ll make it elsewhere.
“The goal is to get premier products that I want to purvey.” He said he may limit common household dry goods to one brand to allow more space for great quality products, like a wide range of olive oils, for example. It also gives him space to carry seasonal items. While he knows he can’t price-match a major chain, he plans to keep the prices competitive. He hopes to eventually have a terrace on the backside of the building with beer and grab-and-go items for people using the art trail.
I also spoke to Tim Duff, one of the owners of the building where the market will be housed. Acknowledging that the conversation about the grocery store goes back five years, he said they looked at other options for the space, but always came back to that idea. “We waited for Chris because we wanted to do right for the community. What was right was a grocery store.” Noting all the tenants now in the building, he said with this lease, they are down to one 2,000 square foot space. “We are thrilled to get a grocery store and feel like it is a missing piece.”
Chris said he sees the store being open seven days a week and he’d like to see an opening date next summer, though he seems to have the attitude that it will be ready when it is ready. “It’s a thirty-year business, not a thirty-day.”