Bringing Back Historic Chattanooga Brands
By bringing back historic brand names in a distinctly Chattanoogan way, each of the following businesses pays homage to the city’s history and takes part in rewriting its future.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Chattanooga’s Southside district was an economic hub for manufacturing and transportation. As factories and railways closed, many iconic local companies also ceased production. However, Chattanooga’s historic brands have recently experienced a resurgence as local entrepreneurs look to the Southside’s vibrant past for inspiration.
Reviving an old brand can have significant advantages for a new company. Using a preexisting brand’s name, logo, and slogans can save a great deal of time and resources. Name recognition and nostalgia are also key factors in creating an image and perceived value for a new company or product. Fond memories of the past and authenticity cannot be produced from thin air, but they can sometimes be harnessed to create something new.
By Andrew Shaughnessy
Now: Clyde’s on Main (Est. 2014) | Owners: Mike and Taylor Monen
Then: Clyde’s Auto Glass (Est. 1978) | Owners: Clyde Grant, Bill Cooper, and Don Grant
When food-industry entrepreneurs Mike and Taylor Monen bought the old Clyde’s Auto Glass building on Main Street, it hadn’t been an active car repair shop for years. “One day, I found myself driving past it and thought, ‘This place needs to be a restaurant bar with the same name,” says Mike Monen, co-founder of the laid-back restaurant bar with a throwback vibe. “Our entire concept for Clyde’s on Main was fueled by this building.”
The overall aesthetic of Clyde’s on Main is reminiscent of the ‘80s – the decade the garage was in its heyday. The Monens charged Ben Dicks and Travis Hitchcock of Widgets & Stone with creating branding to reflect a neighborhood bar in the days of boomboxes and hair bands.
The couple set about harnessing the familiar brand and space to create a relaxed dining experience with a neighborhood esthetic. They kept the original brick walls, crafted paneling to replicate the old siding, and repurposed garage doors into bays windows opening to the patio. “We’re very laid back people,” Taylor says. “As we’ve built our brands, Mike has always said, ‘I want to make places we would like to hang out. Where would we want to go?’”
Outside, the iconic hand-painted “Clyde’s Auto Glass” sign remains intact, while inside, everything from the decorations and furniture to the music, food, and drinks harkens back to ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s pop culture.
A picture of Clyde Grant, who owned the original repair shop with his son Don Grant and Bill Cooper, is proudly displayed in an old frame at the front of the restaurant. “They left it in the office,” says Taylor. “It was the first thing we found when we moved into the space.”
A celebrated WWII paratrooper and an avid golfer, Grant passed away in 2009 – but his legacy lives on. “People come in here to get their car windows fixed, and end up having lunch instead,” says Mike. “When anyone who was connected with Clyde’s Auto Glass walks in, they are just blown away by the transformation.”
Photos by Rich Smith
Now: Chattanooga Brewing Company (Est. 2010) | Owners: Mark Marcum and Jonathan Clark
Then: Chattanooga Brewing Company (Est. 1890) | Owners: George Reif and Family
The original Chattanooga Brewing Company was founded in 1890 by George Reif, whose family ran the brewery until Prohibition forced the company to close in 1915. Nearly 100 years later, local engineers and home brewers Mark Marcum and Jonathan Clark revived the brand name. They started the Chattanooga Brewing Company in 2010, then opened a new brewing facility in 2014.
The original plant, built in the year 1888 at a cost of $100,000, covered a full block of Broad Street between 2nd and 3rd Street. Now the facility is housed in a 7,500 square foot, two-story building on Chestnut Street.
“The original brewery was huge compared to our location today, since it had little competition as a place to purchase beer,” says Marcum. “At the height of production, it was selling about 150,000 barrels a year.”
Since Chattanooga Brewery Company’s reinvention, Marcum and Clark have been intentional about incorporating elements of the original business. “We wanted to be Chattanooga’s beer, so from a marketing perspective, keeping the name and branding made sense,” says Marcum. “But beyond that, it was a great opportunity to highlight our city’s brewing history.”
As part of that effort, they researched the types of traditional German beer the Reif family – who hailed from Southern Germany – would have made. “We learned they had several beers that were especially popular,” he continues. “We suspect their Imperial Pilsner was a Munich Helles style of beer, so we modeled our own after it. Our Chickbock is a German-style Maibock. We did our best to make it as close as we could.”
“We also use elements of their original branding in our marketing,” Marcum adds. “One of the early logos is used on our shirts. It shows a pint glass with the wings on it, because one of their original slogans claimed their beers were faultless, like a little angel beer. It was perfect.”
Photos by Amanda Sprague
Now: The Terminal Brewhouse (Est. 2009) | Owner: Matt Lewis
Then: The Terminal Hotel (Est. 1910) | Owners: Chester Davis and Family (1940s – 2006)
“Old buildings are a critical part of our business model,” says Matt Lewis, who co-founded Chattanooga’s Terminal Brewhouse with his business partners Ryan Chilcoat and Geoff Tarr. “Chattanooga has a ton of them, and they fit our penchant for Old-World style pubs. There’s a built-in personality and atmosphere you can’t fake. You can build a new building that has qualities of an old building, but it doesn’t feel the same.”
The Stong Building, home to the Terminal Brewhouse, certainly has a lot of personality. Built as the Terminal Hotel in 1910 to meet demand for lodging by travelers passing through Terminal Station (now the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel), the structure housed a number of different businesses over the years. Yet by 2006, it was vacant and falling to pieces. “It was bad,” Lewis recalls. “All the floors had collapsed into the basement. It was a shell.”
The three-level building retains much of the original brick and beam, giving it an authentic, homegrown ambiance. Beers are brewed in the basement, with the equipment visible from all levels.
Under threat of destruction by the city, the building went to auction and was bought by Joe Sliger. Meanwhile, Lewis, Chilcoat, and Tarr were coming together with a dream to start their own brew pub. “We each set off on a mission to find the right location. Ironically, we all picked the Stong,” Lewis says. “We liked the funky triangle shape. It was odd, but to us that was the beauty of it.”
After years of planning and working with Sliger and the architects to refit the building, the trio opened The Terminal Brewhouse in 2009. “The history certainly had an influence on the naming of the business and the marketing,” says Lewis. “The logo is a take on a railroad sign, while the skull is a play on the word ‘terminal.’ Being next door to the Choo Choo, it made total sense to brand ourselves in a way that implied we’re all part of the same community.”
“We’re making a new history on the Southside. To us, that always includes maintaining some of the history that’s already there.”
Photos by Rich Smith, Historic Photo Courtesy of Chattanooga Public Library
Now: Dr. Thacher’s Cocktail Syrups (Est. 2015) | Owners: Tennessee Stillhouse and Pure Sodaworks
Then: Thacher Medicine Company (Late 19th – Early 20th Century) | Owner: Henry Savage Thacher
As Chattanooga Whiskey leaders Tim Piersant and Mike Robinson were brainstorming ideas for a micro-distillery and tasting room on the Southside (now the Tennessee Stillhouse), they began hunting for high quality syrups to create whiskey cocktails. “We just really didn’t like what we were finding,” says COO Mike Robinson. “So we put pen to paper to see if we could create our own.”
The result was a partnership with local company Pure Sodaworks, who set about creating a custom line of syrups using only the best ingredients. Creative Director Rich Abercrombie was set loose to design a brand that would complement Chattanooga Whiskey’s turn-of-the-century look. “I grew obsessed with 1800s-style branding,” Abercrombie says. “I started buying old packages and bottles and building up references. Then I stumbled upon Dr. Thacher’s.”
The original Dr. Thacher was a chemist and apothecary who sold a line of medicinal products from his Southside Chattanooga laboratory. One of these, Dr. Thacher’s Liver and Blood Syrup, claimed to fix everything from sleeplessness and liver disease to pimples. “I was blown away that his was one of the bigger brands in the South, and it was made right here in downtown Chattanooga,” Abercrombie says.
Abercrombie took the history and packaging design of the original Dr. Thacher’s products, and reinvented the brand to market the syrups. “With any Tennessee Stillhouse brand, I always get inspirations from the past and then give it a modern twist. It made sense to pair a local whiskey with cocktail syrups inspired by an old Chattanooga manufacturer,” Abercrombie says.
Recreating the Dr. Thacher’s brand was about celebrating our heritage and history too, Robinson says. “Chattanooga has such a cool story. It was known as the Dynamo of Dixie and considered an industrial powerhouse in the South. The city fell away from manufacturing, and it’s being reinvented now. By looking to the community’s past and bringing back Dr. Thacher’s story, we’re taking part in Chattanooga’s reinvention too.”
Photos by Med Dement
Now: The FEED Co. Table & Tavern (Est. 2014) | Owners Miguel Morales and Dustin Choate
Then: Chattanooga Feed Company (Est. 1900s) | Owners: G.B. Glenn and A.J. Glenn
Most entrepreneurs start with an idea, choose their location, and then build their business accordingly. But when Miguel Morales and Dustin Choate opened The Feed Co. Table & Tavern in 2015, they reversed the usual order of things. The building and its history inspired their restaurant. “I fell in love with the building before we even had an idea for the menu,” says Morales. “When we toured the space, the first thing we asked was, ‘What was this?’ Then we went to the library and dug into it.”
Inside the large Tavern space, an L-shaped mezzanine at the back provides a more intimate dining experience, while an array of salvaged items transformed by artists into fixtures, seating, and tables help tell the story of the historic building.
In his detective work, Morales learned the building had housed a number of tenants over the years. However, only one caught his attention: the Chattanooga Seed-Feed Supply Company – a feed company for livestock. “The thought was, why not switch it around to be a feed company of sorts for people?” he says.
Already, the bones of the building evoked a warm, rustic feeling with its industrial roll doors, exposed brick, and heart pine – perfect for a farm-to-table concept. Morales and Choate decided to use the linear warehouse layout to create three separate dining environments: a quieter dining room with views of the kitchen, a louder tavern atmosphere, and a patio for outdoor dining. “If you look back to what this feed store was long ago, it had everything for everybody,” Morales says. “We wanted to stay true to the one-stop-shop idea.”
Today, every aspect of the restaurant is crafted to transport diners to the near past – from the rocking chairs and rustic warehouse décor to the sloppy joes and ribs. “It’s basically a time vault,” says Morales. “I wanted the restaurant to remind people of an easier time in their lives. What did it smell like when their family grilled out in the backyard or cooked together in the kitchen? What were those entrées like? We set out to mimic those feelings and experiences.”
“Food can take you back to another place and era. And that’s what I thought was unique about the building – it was a time capsule of its own.”
Photos by Lanewood Studio, Historic Photo Courtesy of Chattanooga Public Library
Now: Fleetwood Coffee (Est. 2015) | Founders: George McGee and Jennifer Stone
Then: Fleetwood Coffee Company (Est. 1920s) | Owner: Henry King
“It started in the late ’20s, when my grandfather began roasting coffee in the corner of his wholesale grocery business,” says Fleetwood Coffee founder George McGee. “The coffee business grew and grew, and pretty soon he was using the entire building for roasting and packaging.”
That business, the original Fleetwood Coffee Company, became the best-selling coffee brand in the Southeast for nearly 50 years. At one time the company was roasting more than 200,000 pounds of coffee per week in its downtown Chattanooga building.
Fleetwood was later bought by Minute Maid, then Coca Cola, and finally by Folgers, who dropped the name in the ’80s. With that, the once-celebrated brand disappeared off the map. Then one day while surfing the internet, McGee learned Folgers had dropped the brand – and jumped at the opportunity to acquire a bit of family history. “I spent a few hundred dollars to get the name, but I didn’t quite know what to do with it once I got it,” McGee recalls.
That answer came when he was introduced to Q Grader and International Coffee Group founder Jennifer Stone. The two partnered with Chattanooga investors to reintroduce Fleetwood Coffee to the South. “There’s such a heritage there,” Stone says. “The history and the story gave us an authenticity, a hometown feeling, we didn’t have to fabricate by launching a new brand. I felt like we could capture the people who would remember the name.”
Many of the original design elements have been retained in the new packaging, such as the original Fleetwood logo fonts, the black and red color scheme, and the motto, “SupAromatized: the goodness is roasted in!” All the elements work to maximize the combined power of nostalgia with the confidence inspired by an older, established brand.
“We are confident that our unique approach of utilizing the highest quality specialty coffees at a value price will return the brand back to its original glory,” says Operations Director Jamie Walton. “We want to own the Southeast again. That’s our goal.” They’re off to a decent start. The coffee brand that dominated the Southeast in the mid-20th century has been picked up by retailers Food City, Ingles, and Lowes Groceries, among others.
Now: St. John’s Restaurant (Est. 2000) | Owner: Josh Carter
Then: The Ellis Hotel (Est. 1915), and St. John’s Hotel (Est. 1967) | Owners: Gus and Victor Ellis
In the early 20th century, the building which is now St. John’s Restaurant was built as the Ellis Hotel. Designed by famous Southern architect R.H. Hunt, it featured luxurious amenities like steam heated rooms and electric lighting.
The hotel would later change hands and names – most notably, becoming the St. John’s Hotel in 1967 – in a gradual fall from its height of elegance. Eventually, with the demise of passenger train services, and the coming of the interstate highway, it fell into total disrepair. The once bustling hotel was boarded up.
When the Ellis Hotel opened for business in 1915, it had 76 rooms, each with a view to the outside. Today, light filters into the open and airy dining room through large two-story windows with views of the revitalized neighborhood.
Its renewal came in the late ’90s, when the building was saved by Cornerstones, a local preservation group, and restored to its former glory by architect Thomas Johnson. “By the time Johnson got to it, it had been abandoned for more than 15 years,” says Josh Carter, current owner of St. John’s Restaurant. “Trees were growing through the windows.”
Restaurateurs Nathan Lindley and Danny Lasseter opened their fine dining establishment in the building in 2000, making a conscious decision to place their upscale restaurant in a landmark that had gone from thriving to crumbling. The move was not only bold – it drew from a key chapter in Chattanooga’s past.
“St. John’s was a recognizable name that was part of Chattanooga’s history, and that name helped establish a location,” recalls Carter, who began as a server in 2000. “The hope was that, by restoring St. John’s to its former glory, we could begin to put the district on the map again.”
Though some of the interior layout was redesigned to suit the needs of the restaurant, Johnson attempted to restore the building to its original state as much as possible. He kept the original front door, recast the ceiling molding from a section of the original molding, and cut the bar top from a wall in the basement. A stairway leading to nowhere – it runs into a wall – was preserved solely because it was part of the original architecture.
“We could see the potential of everything moving this way, we were definitely on the front end of the change,” says Carter, laughing. “Guests from out of town sometimes look out the window and say, “What a vibrant area!” And I just think back to when we opened.”
Photos by Rich Smith, Historic Photo Courtesy of Chattanooga Public Library