By Matt Rankin, Jaclyn Cancro, Bill Foster, Luke Brogden, Ken Lay & Rusty Odom
East Knoxville is home to Knoxville’s most diverse population.
With charm unmatched by any other sector of the city, East Knox hosts communities like Burlington, Strawberry Plains, Tuckahoe (pronounced Tucky-ho), Holston Hills, Mascot, High Top, Marbledale and Four Way to name a few.
It’s the least flashy and most likely the slowest part of town, and the people who grew up there wouldn’t have it any other way.
At culinary institutions like Chandler’s Deli on Magnolia Ave. or Cardin’s Drive In (on Asheville Hwy. which is the same road but further East), you’ll find an amalgamation of folks just looking to indulge in a little comfort food.
Attractions like the Knoxville Zoo and Chilhowee Park might jump out as the most notable destinations to those not from the area, but as you’ll come to realize if you continue reading, East Knoxville has plenty to offer both longtime residents and those traveling through the area. Here are just a few of the highlights.
by Matt Rankin
Though its grounds are recognized primarily for hosting the yearly extravaganza that is the Tennessee Valley Fair, Chilhowee Park offers far more in terms of value and versatility throughout the year than it does in just that week-and-a-half stretch in September. The park’s open layout is fairly flat and extremely well-suited to various gatherings/events. Nestled in between swaths of lush greenery, the midway is scenic and friendly to pedestrians. And, historically speaking, few places in Knoxville hold so much cultural significance.
Although the expansive, multi-purpose Jacob Building is a neat modern structure, the edifice it replaced was considered a technological marvel upon its completion in the early 20th century. When filming began on October Sky in 1999, a young Jake Gyllenhaal called the building home for a few days of shooting, as did BLANK publisher Rusty Odom for his role as “kid in the eighth row at the science fair award ceremony.”
Unfortunately, the stately palace was lost to fire in 1938, but the marble bandstand constructed in 1910 near the park’s center still stands today. Much has changed since those days, but Chilhowee Park remains an integral East Knox landmark. And, let’s face it, who among us is not looking forward to seeing Styx and Naughty by Nature take to the Homer Hamilton stage on consecutive nights next month?
by Matt Rankin
When I was a child in the late ‘80s, the astronomy club to which my father belonged would hold monthly evening meetings in the planetarium of the Discovery Center, then a plain, nondescript building on the western fringe of Chilhowee Park. On occasion I would tag along, allowing me to have free rein over the museum, which I could explore at my leisure. It was great fun at the time; in retrospect, however, those drab exhibits were pretty lacking with regard to modern touches and actual information.
Nowadays, although the planetarium is still there and the business concept is similar, every aspect of the place has changed for the better as a result of it rebranding as The Muse several years ago. A perfect spot for still-developing minds to soak up scientific learning, the museum is open seven days a week at 516 N. Beaman St.
Admission is $7, and the excellent planetarium shows are just $2.
by Ken Lay
Knoxville Golden Gloves was taken to new heights by Ace Miller, a fight promoter and trainer, who borrowed money to open a small boxing gym.
During his time in amateur boxing, Miller, who died in 2012, used the vehicle of boxing to keep underprivileged kids off the streets and away from drugs.
Miller worked with several Olympians and a pair of professional champions in Bernard Taylor and the late Big John Tate.
Alonzo Butler was the last fighter to burst on to the national stage from this gym. Butler was once ranked as one of the top 25 heavyweights in the world, had multiple televised bouts and still ranks as the 139th heavyweight in the world according to BoxRec.
Ace may be gone but his legacy and mission live on. Upon Ace’s death, his daughter, Tracy Miller-Davis took control of the Golden Gloves program. The program now hosts fights at the Ace Miller Golden Gloves Arena on Lakeside Drive in East Knoxville.
by Bill Foster
Jackie Booker Griffin dreamed of owning a restaurant her whole life, while working a career that took her from Red Lobster to Sawyer’s Chicken Fingers to the Crown and Goose. So, when she finally got the chance to open her own place on McCalla (1.6 miles East of Barley’s in the Old City), it was only natural to take her cousin’s suggestion and name the new place Jackie’s Dream.
Growing up in Oliver Springs, Jackie recalls how every Sunday, someone would have to “feed the preacher” and her whole extended family would all go to lunch at whomever’s house had the responsibility. Her recipes, from all four grandparents, and her parents and their siblings, all come from those Sunday dinners. Furthermore, Jackie makes everything in the restaurant from scratch. “Nothing pisses me off more,” she says, “then a restaurant that calls itself ‘soul food’ and is opening cans. We cut and chop and peel everything here on site as much as we can.” Her dedication shows. You might have to wait a little longer for fried chicken than at other establishments, but it is fresh and hot and perfect every time. The oxtail stew on Sunday’s is a special treat and it isn’t uncommon at all to see more than one preacher being fed at Knoxville’s newest food staple.
by Matt Rankin
The bestselling African-American author in history and creator of the immensely successful Roots wasn’t a native to this area (although he had family in Henning in West Tennessee), but he lived in both Knoxville and Norris later in life after speaking during the 1982 World’s Fair and forming a fast friendship with John Rice Irwin, proprietor of the Museum of Appalachia. Beloved across the globe for his literary contributions, the writer was posthumously memorialized in Morningside Park with a 12’ bronzed sculpture, the massive size of which complements his considerable talent and lasting cultural impact.
Knoxville Botanical Gardens
by Matt Rankin
Located just five minutes from downtown, these sprawling gardens seem a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Comprising 47 acres sloping down from Wimpole Avenue, they contain too many unique and distinctive varietals to count, along with greenways, quaint buildings and an entire system of gorgeous stone walls. Public and private events are held throughout the year, and anyone who has attended a wedding there or one of the first iterations of Rhythm N’ Blooms will attest to the immaculate views surrounding the idyllic setting.
by Luke Brogden
Shortly after passing through the funky and eclectic Magnolia Avenue corridor the actual magnolias, maples and oaks take over a little ways down what is now Asheville Highway. Right under the pedestrian bridge, hang a right on Chilhowee Dr. and glide into the lush rolling Holston Hills. Therein lies what feels like a misplaced English manor estate: the broad low-slung whitewashed brick campus of Holston Hills Country Club. Beautiful vistas of leafy canopies and large swaths of fine-cut fairway from the club’s golf course provide a serene back-drop for a day out on the links or a special event.
The country club has just experienced a change in ownership, so a few alterations could be expected, but the charm of the community is sure to remain the same.
As somewhat of a secret, or maybe just an oft-forgotten jewel, Holston Hills stacks up admirably against other similar neighborhoods like Sequouyah Hills or Island Home.
by Rusty Odom
Cardin’s Drive-In has a way of making people feel young. Baby Boomers and those who born before them can be found here any day of the week, as can much of the Carter community, planning what’s next or reminiscing about days gone by while slurping down a Chocolate Chocolate Chip milkshake or a butterscotch dipped ice cream cone. Chatter from one car to the next is completely acceptable and if you prefer, you can park the car and sit at a picnic table under the old green awning that is as synonymous with Four Way residents as Market Square is for downtowners. There’s not a better place to go after a baseball game or trip to the swimming pool in Knoxville.
Our favorites on the menu are the bacon cheeseburger, the shrimp basket, the dip dog, the Cherry Coke or any one of the wide array of milkshakes. Plan on taking your time when you stop in, because just like most everything on the East side of town, things move a little slower at this Knoxville palace.
Harriet Tubman Park
by Ken Lay
Harriet Tubman Park is located at 300 Harriet Tubman Street in East Knoxville.
It features walking trails, basketball courts, tennis courts, a picnic area, a horseshoe pit and playground. It has played big role in inner city youth tennis in Knoxville.
The park is open from dawn to dusk and has four tennis and basketball courts.
Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge Center
by Luke Brogden
A better place for birding or a lover’s stroll may not exist in East Tennessee. Flower-filled meadows and valleys and winding dirt hiking paths recall Wordsworth’s quintessential nature walkabout poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud.” The wide, open mowed down paths wind through full natural woods and undergrowth slightly hedged in with knobby old barbed wire fences. Feel the sun pervade your senses or find a shady spot for respite. The varieties of bird species can’t be matched but to me the real draw of Seven Islands is the solitary isolated vibe–never a big crowd there. After a long, loud, busy day the silence is golden.
by Bill Foster
Knoxville’s zoo began with a 1923 initiative to start a park for poor children. Boosted by depression-era WPA funds, it opened in the 30’s but soon closed due to neglect. It was finally renamed the Knoxville Municipal Zoo and reopened in 1951 with “Al the Alligator” as the main attraction. Today, the zoo boasts thousands of animals and is the premiere zoo in Tennessee. Little Diamond, the first African Elephant born in the western hemisphere was born here and the zoo has birthed more red pandas than any other zoo in the world. It sends staff all over the world for important conservation efforts and the zoo has been a critical member of efforts to preserve hellbender and mudpuppy salamanders.
The zoo hosts many events throughout the year including the popular Feast with the Beasts and Boo at the Zoo. There is a children’s birthday pavilion available for rental and a splash park located within the grounds. The zoo is open 9:30 to 4:30 on weekdays and 9:30 to 6:30 on weekends every day except Christmas and Christmas eve. Tickets are $19.95 for adults and $16.95 for children. Military discounts are available.
Claude Walker Park
by Ken Lay
Claude Walker Park is located at 2945 Wilson Avenue. It is home to a pair of softball diamonds.
The four-acre facility recently underwent a complete renovation as the fields, concession stand and restroom facilities were completely overhauled.
It is home to recreation softball and during the fall it is the practice home of the Austin-East Youth Football Program (the Baby Roadrunners).
The Baby Roadrunners hold their annual summer preseason football camp at Claude Walker Park and on the final day of preseason camp, players are treated to a cookout dinner and the Baby Roadrunners are sponsored by the Knox County Sheriff’s Department.
In April, 2016 the park was one of the city’s youth baseball and softball facilities to participate in Major League Baseball’s Play Ball Campaign.
by Ken Lay
Knoxville was recently voted the best city for pizza lovers in the United States and one of the top rated pizza places in K-Town is East Knoxville’s Pizza Palace.
The Pizza Palace is a drive-in restaurant that has been a staple in Knoxville for nearly six decades it was found by Al, Gus and Arthur Peroulas, a trio of brothers who immigrated to the United States during the 1950’s.
The Pizza Palace opened its doors in August, 1961. It has been a Knoxville hot spot for three generations. It has received national attention from the Food Network’s Guy Fieri on the show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
But it’s not just a pizza joint. It also serves a wide array of Italian cuisine, seafood, steak, salads and sandwiches. It also has something for the sweet tooth as it features a full dessert menu that features ice cream and milkshakes.
The Pizza Palace is now owned by another generation of the Peroulas Family.
For Better and For Good: A Love (Kitchen) Story
By Jaclyn Cancro
We’re living in a time where it seems really difficult to find goodness. With the amount of mud on the news and cynicism polluting our pub conversations, it seems impossible to believe that there are kind and decent humans doing good work anywhere. Sure, you can find it in the form of Facebook Groups like “Humans of New York” and photo blogs displaying “25 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity.” But it’s more and more rare to catch people doing good. It’s terrible, really, because it’s easier to be kind than the other options but so often, we’re caught up in our hectic schedules and personal dramas to take a moment to think of others.
That’s not the case at 2418 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in East Knoxville. That’s the home of Knoxville’s most adored non-profit organization, The Love Kitchen. The Love Kitchen is a 100% non-profit, volunteer based organization. Their mission is to feed anyone who is hungry and create a community center to serve as a safe haven supporting the area’s children and their families. It’s hard to fathom no salaries for their workers, but the idea is to provide for the community, putting all resources toward the cause. In it’s more than 30 years, The Love Kitchen has built a strong community of volunteers and local businesses who offer their goods and services at no cost.
Patrick Riggins, President and Executive Director of The Love Kitchen says it’s a calling, not a job. Not only because jobs offer a paycheck and this does not, but because of the mission of The Love Kitchen. It’s there to feed not just people’s bellies but their souls as well. They aim to inspire and create family for the people in our community.
They do this in three ways. The first is by preparing two lunches a week on Wednesday and Thursday at 2:00 pm, all in all, about 200 meals a week. This meal is open to everyone. Riggins told a story about a construction crew repairing homes in the area after the big Hail Storm of 2011. With limited time, the crew asked if they could pop in for lunch and the staff obliged. After several weeks of enjoying lunch at the Kitchen, the crew chief asked if he could pay for the meals they consumed. The staff declined, explaining, “that’s not how things work here.” To which he responded with a monetary donation to show his appreciation for the kindness of the staff.
Second is by delivering more than 2,800 pre-cooked meals to homebound Knoxvilleans. They prepare seven meals; two servings of one menu, two servings of another menu and three servings of a third menu, for variety. “All [the recipients] need to do is warm them up,” Riggins explained. These meals are delivered by volunteers, many of whom are the only personal connection these homebound folk have all week. There are about 31 delivery routes, each taking about 45 minutes to an hour. Riggins explained that many local businesses take a route and rotate staff members to make the run on their lunch breaks. He told a story about a woman in a wheelchair, who had family in the area but they never came to see her so her Love Kitchen delivery driver was the highlight of her week. He said some of their drivers have been with the company for 15 years, so they are, often, the only constant in these people’s lives.
Finally, they offer Emergency Bags, in which they bundle dried goods and canned foods. These are for people who are not homebound but are still hungry. They may work through their lunch break and are unable to have lunch at the Kitchen or they may not qualify for aid. The Kitchen loves the idea of helping people who are helping themselves. So on Wednesdays from 4:30-5:30, anyone in need can come pick up their Emergency Bags.
When the Love Kitchen was established in 1986, it was the goal of the founding sisters, Helen Ashe and the late Ellen Turner to make a place that people wanted to be. Their aim was to have volunteers with the same hunger to better their community that they had. They believed, that when people work in the Kitchen because they want to, not because they have to, that it creates a more welcoming environment. Riggins says they were right. To this day, the home kitchen feel the twins created still exists because volunteers are there with an intrinsic motivation not a financial one.
The Love Kitchen was born from the vision of Helen, accompanied by sister Ellen. Born in Abbeville, SC to sharecroppers, they grew up with nothing and only due to the determination and diligent saving of their parents were they able to leave Abbeville and attend Knoxville College, where they studied to be nurses. They worked at UT Medical Center until they retired in the early 1980s. Helen worked in the ER, where she was in frequent contact with indigent patients. Often, she found herself buying them food while they waited for attention. She’d tell Ellen that one day, she would have her own place to feed anyone who was hungry. And that’s what The Love Kitchen is.
Opening its doors, very appropriately, on Valentine’s Day 1986 the Love Kitchen has never had it easy. After they lost their initial location working out of an East Knoxville church, they cooked meals at Helen’s and served out of a car in a parking lot. They secured a home to work from for a few years until they finally found their current location on MLK Blvd in 1991. They’ve been very fortunate to establish strong relationships with companies like Costco, Panera and Food Lion, who all send food to the cause and “take really good care of us,” according to Riggins. They’ve also been fortunate to team up with Knoxville’s Scarecrow Foundation, who shares in the Kitchen’s mission to end hunger.
Riggins explained that these partnerships are a true blessing. Working without a budget, The Love Kitchen needs as much help as it can get. They accept fiscal and canned donations from individuals and businesses but they can always use more. Occasionally, they are awarded grants, however without an in house grant writer those are few and far between. They also don’t want to accept government assistance because they feel it would be counter-intuitive. Part of their mission is to inspire the people who come into the Kitchen to better their lives, i.e; get off government assistance and be self-sufficient. They feel they would be hypocritical to then, turn around and accept government money. So, they fundraise and ask for help from their community instead.
Growing up, their father taught them three truths. The first is “there is only one Father; our Father in Heaven.” Second, “there is only one race; the human race.” And finally, “never take the last piece of bread. Someone may come by in need of it.” It’s this foundation that makes the kitchen thrive. This, and the warm energy that the twins have instilled in The Love Kitchen and its staff.
Riggins says, even in their absence (at 88 years old, Helen isn’t as mobile as she once was and often misses time at the Kitchen), you can feel their guiding hand always ushering volunteers to continue this embracing spirit. He explained that it’s a calling and a responsibility that makes The Love Kitchen’s volunteers do what they do. A calling to help those less fortunate and inspire people to better their lives and a responsibility to maintain the twins’ legacy. He admits that it’s easy to get jaded and feel like some people are taking advantage; taking but not working towards anything better in their life. It’s when you see the eyes of a homebound senior citizen, you remember what it’s all for. When you see people in the sitting area, sipping coffee and swapping stories, you remember why you do this for no pay. When you hear stories of the twins playing match-maker to the volunteers, you understand that this is family.
The Love Kitchen got it’s name simply because Helen didn’t want to call it “The Soup Kitchen.” She wanted something different; a place where people could go and feel loved. A place where you’re not herded through a feed line and sent away, but where you’re asked to come and stay a while. The Love Kitchen and its staff strive to have personal relationships with everyone who walks through their doors (or whose doors they knock on).
This feeling of home and family has spilled into our community, as well. Riggins touted the efforts of the Scarecrow Foundation along with local restaurants. He discussed the Downtown Grill and Brewery and their holiday can drive, as well as their contribution to Scarecrow’s Gator Hator Poker Classic, which they will be hosting September 19. For information on how to qualify, visit www.gatorhator.com. He also mentioned Five Bar Knoxville’s Thanksgiving Day dinner, where they turn the establishment into a Love Kitchen, offering free Thanksgiving dinner to anyone with no where to go or nothing to eat. Those who can offer a donation are welcome to, but there is no pressure whatsoever to do so. In it’s first year, Five raised approximately $3,400 for The Love Kitchen. Riggins called it “money given with a joyful heart.”
In addition to the Poker Classic, Gator Hator Week will consist of 25 events, including a golf tournament, ladies’ night with a silent auction, breakfast at Pete’s, a Gator Hator pub crawl, a concert with Backup Planet at the International and so much more, all benefiting The Love Kitchen. Details about these are also listed at www.gatorhator.com. Contributing to the cause through events like these make it fun and easy to lend a helping hand.
Additionally, you can go online and offer monetary donations at www.thelovekitchen.org. You can bring donations to the Kitchen or mail them, if you’d like. Or even offer a couple hours of your time during the week.
After 30 years, The Love Kitchen is still running because of a reciprocal relationship with this community. The people involved with The Love Kitchen’s spirit lift and inspire those around them. The community provides. As the community donates to The Kitchen, The Kitchen works toward the betterment of Knoxville’s people. Where would one be without the other?