Downtown Loses Four Businesses as 2023 Ends

Anaba, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March, 2019
Anaba, 131 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March, 2019

Sometimes it’s coincidental, sometimes planned, and often dictated by the Christmas season and the looming fallow financial period of winter, but business closures around the turn of the year each year are common. In the early years of this website, from around 2010 to 2013 or so, every closure was given outsize importance as potential harbingers for the decline of the downtown experiment, but those days passed. Now, closures, while some sting, simply present as part of the natural cycle of businesses.

For a number of years I would give a report listing the closures with the openings to make the point that more were opening than closing. Some readers or Facebook users had yet to see the remarkable imbalance toward openings. Now, it hardly needs to be said: We’ve talked about more openings in the last two weeks than the number of closures included here. Still, they should be noted and considered. We’ll look at them alphabetically.

Anaba (Opened March 2019)

In the first years of the current downtown redevelopment, the new and existing restaurants tended to be American, or as they often cast themselves “New American.” While there is nothing wrong with that, downtown needed diversity in its culinary offerings and that eventually began to happen. When Anaba opened in March of 2019, it became only the second (contemporary) restaurant to offer sushi. As an established restaurant with a following, the opening seemed promising.

And it was. Nama is an institution a few blocks away and we’d soon get a third sushi option later in 2019 when Fin Two opened, but Anaba continued to offer solid Japanese food at a reasonable price. It became our default for carry-out when Urban Girl visited downtown (sushi is her favorite food in the universe). Five years isn’t a terrible run for a restaurant (8 to 10 years average lifespan), but I hate to see it go.

The group also closed their Maryville restaurant, so the issue wasn’t unique to downtown. Their popular Northshore location remains open. Knoxnews reported a new restaurant will open there this spring. I’ll try to get more about that out to you very soon.

Cafe Vicolo, 625 South Gay Street, Knoxville, September 2017


Cafe Vicolo (Opened September 2017)

Located in one of downtown’s most unique and, as a result, challenging locations, owner and chef Phil Tessier felt he could make the location work, naming it for its location (“vicolo” means alley in Italian). Located technically at 625 South Gay Street, it occupied a spot in that building, but facing an alley between it and the East Tennessee History Center. The spot previously served as home to a coffee shop (I could never catch it open) and then Empire Deli which opened at the spot in 2014, running for a bit less than three years.

The spot had charm and Phil added tables to the alleyway, making its presence more obvious from Gay Street. His delicious sandwiches drove the lunchtime business, but his breakfast sandwiches stole the show for me. Initially serving charcuterie boards, Phil eventually removed them from the menu, but continued to make amazing boards for me, which I’ll always appreciate.

In recent years, the pandemic changed the patterns of office workers on whom he depended for their lunch business. He emphasized his catering more than the restaurant while his partner Paula faced serious health issues. A few weeks ago, Phil announced the closure of the restaurant. Downtown lost a resident and a business, but Phil plans next to move to Italy where he will continue his culinary adventures, working on his pastry skills.

C.J.’s Tacos, 507 South Gay Street, Knoxville, March 2020

CJ’s Tacos (Downtown Location Opened March, 2020)

To be clear, CJ’s Tacos is not going out of business, they are simply closing the downtown location. Opened inside the Embassy Suites at a time just days before COVID-19 would upend the hotel and restaurant industries, the restaurant had to adapt out the gate, switching more to carry-out meals for a while. The restaurant grew out of a food truck which has never stopped working and will continue.

Here’s the statement released to media outlets:

Dear Knoxville,

CJ’s Tacos opened it’s first restaurant inside the Embassy Suites downtown just 2 weeks before COVID turned the world upside down. We have now had 3 wonderful years of serving Knoxville at that beautiful location.

We have decided that it is in our best interest to close our restaurant so we can focus our efforts even more on our food trucks (including our new CJ’s Ice Oasis) and expanding our catering services.  This means that all of you will still be able to enjoy our food at our food trucks throughout the Knoxville area! Our last day open in the restaurant will be Saturday, January 27th 2024. We hope that all of you come visit us in the restaurant sometime before then!

Our current restaurant hours are as follows:

Tuesday-Thursday: 11:30 am-3:30 pm, Friday: 11:30 am-10 pm, and Saturday: 4 pm-10 pm

Again- we can’t thank you all enough for your continued support, and we’re excited for our next chapter! To view our food truck schedule’s, visit Our schedule is posted one month at a time.


CJ’s makes an amazing taco, different from any others I’ve eaten in Knoxville. The fried shells are incredible (and decadent). This was one of Urban Girl and Boy’s favorites out the gate. You’ve still got a few days to grab a taco downtown and after that, you’ll need to track the truck and look for CJ’s Ice Oasis (I assume that will debut in warmer weather.) Here’s the best to CJ as he continues his serial entrepreneurship.

Marble City Dentistry and Facial Esthetics, 800 South Gay Street, Ste P325, Knoxville, January 2021

Marble City Dentistry and Facial Esthetics (Opened February 2021)

Downtown has struggled in the modern era of its redevelopment to keep a range of services for residents and none more so than medical providers. Dentistry is one example. Buzz Neighbors operated on Gay Street for a spell, closing in December 2020 under a cloud of allegations and eventual convictions for healthcare fraud. In his wake, downtown got two new dentists in fairly rapid succession, with Ethan Long, DDS setting up shop around January 2021 and  Marble City Dentistry opening in February 2021. The moment offered a rare competition between two medical providers offering a similar service.

As the last year neared an end, Dr. Bill Pippin, owner of Marble City Dentistry, sold his business (offices in Sevierville and downtown) to a national group. The downtown office remained open for a short time before the new owners opted for it to close, leaving downtown, once more, with one practicing dentist. Dr. Pippen was my dentist and he’ll be missed.

While much of the wider public focus over the last fifteen years has been the lack of a full-service downtown grocery store (We now have some smaller options for groceries including Red Panda Market, which opened a year ago.), I think a number of downtown residents would be more interested in seeing a wider range of medical services. At this time, the area has a dentist (Ethan Long, DDS, my new dentist), a pharmacy (Phoenix Pharmacy), and an urgent care/primary care office (Valley Medical). It would be great to have additional options, but that, as well as the survival of these providers, depends on support from the community. Please use these providers so we can keep what we have and build from there.