So much for a soft opening. There was a time when a restaurant could ease into operation, open without much notice, give the new staff a chance to get up to speed. Just start serving a few friends, family and folks who happened to drive by and notice the lights on.

In/Out Pizza, a new restaurant in Blount County is another indicator those days are gone forever thanks to cellphones.

The grand opening of In/Out Pizza, located on North Cusick Street just inside Maryville by the Alcoa city limits, is set for Oct. 23, exactly one month after the actual opening on Sept. 23.

Manager Will Redding sits in a new chair at one of the new tables in the refurbished “party room” at the back of the restaurant. The room accommodates guests when the front fills up and can be reserved by groups at no charge.

“This was supposed to be a soft opening. It hasn’t been because word of mouth spreads faster than fire,” Redding said Wednesday. ”That’s the day and age we’re in.”

A youth pastor told Redding he planned to bring his youth group by that evening for church night. Tuesday night was senior night, with special pricing, and one customer told the manager his senior group expects to make it a regular happening.

The owners are Jeff and Kasey Kenley. This is their second restaurant, the first being the In/Out Pizza in Morristown.

“They’re super friendly and they’re family oriented. That’s why we don’t serve alcohol. We want to keep it as family friendly as possible,” Redding said.

The pizza team

The way the manager describes it, the owners operate as a team but with distinct responsibilities.

Jeff is a contractor by trade. He can check out a building and blueprints start forming in his head, according to Redding. He’s about structure and organization. She’s about the food prep.

“Like the husband says, ‘I don’t cook, I eat.’ Kasey’s the one who’s hands-on about this,” Redding said. “The pizzas came from Kasey, her own recipes.”

She spent years as a restaurant server, including time at a pizza chain restaurant. She learned what customers expect and how to make pizza. Then she came up with her own recipes. It was making pizzas at a bowling alley that she got a chance to test them out. “That’s where all these recipes come from. She remembers, tweaks them to what she needs to, and perfects them,” Redding said.

In the pizza business

The Kenleys took the next logical step, taking over a former pizza chain location in Morristown, installing their own recipes and structure, calling it In/Out Pizza.

Redding modifies the name a bit as he pronounces it — “In ’n’ Out Pizza’ is how it rolls off his tongue. The tweaking of the name reflects the recipes too.

“We’re still experimenting all day, any day,” Redding said. “Like caramel apple, we’re going to try a caramel apple and see how that goes. The owners are very flexible on that kind of thing.”

They did homemade cinnamon rolls yesterday. The staff tastes them first, then gets approval from the owners before adding them to the menu rotation.

“We’re trying ‘em out, because who doesn’t like cinnamon rolls. That’s something you could put out there for breakfast. It’s surprising what you can put on a pizza.”

Or maybe not so surprising, not at In/Out Pizza. As a matter of fact, it does serve a Breakfast Pizza topped with eggs, sausage, ham, bacon, mozzarella and cheddar cheese.

The menu features specialty pizzas, but the buffet is the main attraction. The buffet pizza selection can vary day to day, except for standards like Pepperoni, Meat Lovers and Cheese. Those will always be be there, along with the Italian pasta offerings. Then there’s the salad end of the food bar. A matter of pride, it seems.

“There’s people that just want a salad. Our salad bar is probably the staple. Kacey made sure of that because it’s hard to find good salad bars,” Redding said.

As for what customers really go for, the pizza, it starts with the sweet stuff.

The bread and butter

“Our favorites here? The Strawberry, we can’t keep on the bar. The Chocolate Chip we can’t keep on the bar. When it comes to pizza, Pepperoni is always your bread and butter. For specialties it’d be a Charlie Chan (ranch base, chicken, mozzarella, green peppers, onions, drizzled with sweet chili sauce) and also Buffalo Chicken, Meat Lovers, Chicken Bacon Ranch. Taco Pizza’s my favorite.”

There is, of course, no accounting for taste. Although Maryville and Morristown aren’t all that far apart, the two In/Out Pizza locations have guests with varied pallets.

“In Morristown you could probably put like a three-gallon bucket of banana pudding up there on the salad bar and it’d be gone within 30 minutes. Here, nobody’s eating it. People here are eating corn and pickled okra. Over in Morristown nobody eats it,” Redding said.

“It’s all about location and where you’re at, and the people and how they were raised. That’s just how it is. I mean location is everything.”

In/Out Pizza is open Sunday-Thursday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Location: 501 N. Cusick St., Maryville. Phone: 865-268-5565.

Bob has served in a variety of roles since joining The Daily Times in the 90s. He currently is editor of the business section. When someone gets promoted, retires or gets hired at a new job in Blount County, he's the man to email.

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