A longtime staple for locals and tourists, Genghis Grill has closed their 138 Market St. location.
In the spirit of wild speculation based on zero facts, I thought it might be fun to ponder what establishments would work best in that space. Do we want more food options? A retailer? A local favorite in a downtown location? Or do we want it to remain empty and shuttered forever?
Genghis Grill, despite its popularity, had lost favor with many locals because of multiple health inspection issues. But as one reader put it, "What did we really expect with a raw meat buffet?" and the point is a good one. Many will mourn the loss of Genghis Grill, but I choose to see this as an opportunity—an opportunity to bring something new and exciting into the space.
This column will focus on food establishments, but I'm open to ideas about nonfood retail endeavors as well. It is meant to start a discussion, but also to encourage a potential business owner to take a chance.
In the past decade, the downtown entertainment district has shifted from near the river to the Southside. A new business must understand this and make changes accordingly. Here are five factors I think a new establishment must keep in mind with this specific space.
Directly across the street from the Tennessee Aquarium, any new chain must be able to cater to tourists visiting Chattanooga. That's a no-brainer. But even more so than before, competition in other areas of downtown is high. Tourists want something interesting they can't get anywhere else. But at the same time, it needs to be familiar. There is a fine line. It's also true that Chattanooga's population isn't THAT big. And not everybody "goes out" on a regular basis. Catering to tourists—especially those staying downtown—is key.
One of the biggest holes in Chattanooga's nightlife is a legitimate 24-hour eatery. Walk into City Café at 2 a.m. Saturday and tell me the concept doesn't work. People go out and then need a little grub on their way home. Other than Yellow Deli, City Café and a few late-night bars on the Southside, nothing in the tourism district is available for those much-needed late-night bites. Some nights, it's far easier to just stay inside than to go on a hunt for food, even if cooking at home is the last thing I want to do.
If Genghis Grill was anything, it was fast. You could get through the line and be enjoying your bowl in a matter of minutes. During a busy tourist season, expediency is a must. I love Mojo Burrito to death, but if the line is longer than 20 people, I know I'll be waiting longer than I want to. It's just not "fast" food. A Chick-fil-A is fast food and would do well in this location. But if weekends are your busiest times, a restaurant that is closed Sundays makes no sense at all. Quick, efficient and tasty—and get the tourists back out into the city.
"Buy local" is ideal, but in reality, this location would best be served by a well-oiled franchise or chain restaurant. How about a darn Waffle House? It's 24 hours and always consistently good. How about a new and up-and-coming chain like Another Broken Egg or quick Mediterranean fare like I Dream a Falafel or, and here's an idea, a Steak 'n Shake? If you don't think a Steak 'n Shake would draw the college/high school crowd, you don't know any college students or high-schoolers. R Taco is also an up-and-coming chain. Buffalo Wild Wings is a majority investor, and with a BWW location essentially next door, the fit might be perfect. Even a Dunkin' Donuts or a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory might work in that location. It just has to have curb appeal.
It sucks. There's not another way to put it. And the lack of parking—and the price of parking in a Republic lot—is a big deterrent for me when I consider where I'm going to eat. Who wants to spend time finding a parking space? Several people have reportedly been towed (at an excess of $200) from the spaces behind this building at the Market Street location. I'm not questioning the legality of the towing—I don't have enough information—but it seems to happen on a regular basis. A new business owner in this location should be aware of the parking/towing issues before investing.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.