Shiloh Brew & Chew: ‘Blue-collar food fit for a king’
By Robert Norris | (email@example.com)
There’s a new place opened up where old watering holes have come and gone over the years. If your memory stretches back far enough, you’ll recall the building just above Brown’s Creek Shopping Center on East Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville as going through several reincarnations.
Jailhouse Lounge. Lowell’s. Confused. Cheyenne’s. Now it’s all spruced up — a lot — and has undergone more of a resurrection than a reincarnation. Out with the rough-crowd reputation, in with family-style food and service.
Since late November, Shiloh Brew and Chew is the new food sheriff in town. It’s home to The Big Ol’ Steak and is wearing an attitude, Western, but not wild.
Shiloh has the look of an old-fashioned tavern. It even has a covered wagon out front. Its creators didn’t start out to go Western. The place didn’t even have a “concept” — something considered primal in this age of restaurant chains.
When Sharma Floyd, co-owner of Shiloh with Rob Phelps, was asked what type of theme and menu she wanted to install, she had a pat answer: “‘I don’t know.’ As stupid as it sounds, that honestly was my answer. ‘I don’t know.’”
She did know this much: Floyd wanted her own restaurant and to serve “blue-collar food fit for a king.”
From busing to bossing
Maybe it was destiny. When she was 13, Floyd started busing tables at her mom’s workplace, the Holiday Inn on Airport Road in Sevier County, where she grew up. By 16, she moved up to waitress. Over the years she worked at and managed places in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Her favorite was the Burning Bush in Gatlinburg.
Now, with no kid in the nest anymore, she finally had a chance to try out her dream for a place of her own. She couldn’t find a location in Sevier County. One evening, while on her way to go bowling with her sister, Dawn Leonard, at Crest Lanes in Maryville, Floyd noticed Cheyenne’s had no vehicles out front. It did have an orange note stuck on the front door. Cheyenne’s was no more.
She and her sister Googled for the building owner’s name, and the rest is Shiloh history. The owner turned out to be Charles Finley. The name rang a bell for Floyd, who during her one year of childhood in Blount County had lived in Highland Acres and attended seventh grade at Fairview Elementary, where she played on the basketball team.
“My school teacher’s name was Charles Finley. So I told my sister, ‘Would it not be ironic if this was coach Finley, ’cause I played basketball.”
Sure enough, it was the same Charles Finley. When she phoned him the next morning he remembered her immediately and, better yet, was willing to help make her dream happen. Game on, but still no concept.
‘Minnie Pearl’ has teeth
Here’s how Floyd remembers her inspiration as she gestures toward a configuration of worn leather hanging from the east-side interior wall of Shiloh:
“That mule saddle we have up there belonged to my grandfather. It’s well over a hundred years old. As a child growing up, I would go to Townsend. All the grandkids, part of us would ride an old tractor, and part of us would get to ride an old mule.”
A cantankerous old mule “Minnie Pearl” turned out to be — as granddad well knew. One day, after being warned to leave the mule alone, little Sharma disobeyed, snuck away and tried to offer a bite to eat to Minnie Pearl. Minnie the mule, as it turns out, was happy for a bite — of Sharma’s finger. Floyd carries the scar to this day.
“That saddle,” Floyd said nodding toward the wall, “when my grandfather passed away, my sister ended up gettin’ it. And when we where here one day, I kept telling myself, I said, ‘I don’t know what this is supposed to be. I really don’t know.’ And then something else was said, and I said, ‘Dawn, that’s it. I will work everything around Papaw’s saddle.’
So she has. The Western look is distinctive and authentic. Most of the decorations are Floyd’s own antiques.
“I didn’t want this place to be new. I wanted it to be comfortable, cozy, homey, inviting, family.”
Growing a menu
But what about the food? Her partner Phelps, who works with Internet technology for Clayton Homes along with Floyd’s sister, didn’t know a lot about running a restaurant. But he knew about being a customer of eateries from greasy spoons to five-star gourmet spots. And he knew what he liked to eat.
“I wanted steaks. I love steaks. If nothing else, we need good steaks,” Phelps said. “I mean, we have all the Western stuff, we’ve gotta have good steaks — and boy we found ’em.
They shopped around for suppliers and settled on prime, black Angus beef by Braveart. You can order an 80-ounce cut or larger if you want to be immortalized on the Shiloh Wall of Fame.
From there, the menu took hold naturally. Rule No. 1. Make it fresh.
“Everything we do, when you order something, it’s done right then,” Floyd said. “We’ve got a freezer, the only thing in it is ice cream and French fries. We do everything by hand. Everything is made fresh every morning.
“Even our steaks aren’t frozen. We order ’em on Monday, they cut ’em on Tuesday, they bring ’em on Wednesday. We order on Wednesday, they cut ’em on Thursday, they bring ’em on Friday.”
Building a reputation
So, they’re building their food reputation. (Don’t miss out on the homemade pineapple upside down cake and the corn bread.) The challenge now is shaking the reputation of the building’s predecessors.
They’ve contacted local law enforcement (easy since Floyd’s daughter is an officer across the county line) to let them know things have changed. Floyd’s message: “I’m not running a bar (but they do serve beer). I want to be known for our food, and we’re very good at what we do. ... Don’t judge us until you know us.”
So, now they’re hoping to get the word out. To the people behind Shiloh Brew and Chew, the restaurant is more than the food and the building.
“There’s more of a spiritual story behind all this, about how this really all came about because we’re Godly people. Coach (Finley) went out of his way to make sure we got what we needed here,” Floyd said.
“My sister kept saying to me, ‘God’s got it.’ I finally picked up on it. OK, we’re slow right now, and I keep telling Rob, ‘It’s coming, it’s coming.’ For me it’s a test of patience, because God knows I have none, I have none.”
Phelps finished her thought: “We’re poised. We’re right in the right spot. We’ve got the right menu. We’ve got the right staff. Everything is poised. Once the (tourist) season hits, and once we can get some exposure, we’ve got a restaurant that’s gonna to be here for a lot of years.”