Don’t be confused by what’s happening at Snoring Bear Diner in Walland.

Regulars of the diner might wonder about the new signage that’s going up as early as today at the restaurant at 4543 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway.

It’ll say Snoring Bear Village. It will also say Diner, Country Store, Food Shop & Ice Cream.

Some might point out there’s not enough room for all that in the compact diner that opened last summer. They’d be right.

Everything but the diner is housed in the larger building next door across the lot. That’s what’s new, opened about a month ago along with Hayden’s Sweet Shop Cafe that shares the space with the country store.

New, if you can call an old motorcycle repair shop new. No doubt about one thing, it’s a transformation.

Kim Watkins, co-owner of the diner and the newly created “village” with her husband Glen Watkins, says locals are surprised at the difference in the building that houses the country store. It shows its working class roots in the flooring that doesn’t match. But that’s okay, neither does the merchandise. The store is not so much country as it is an eclectic collection of creations by local artists and artisans whose works have caught Kim Watkins’ fancy — or at least that she figures will sell.

From wine stoppers to jewelry to pottery to quilts, all handmade, the items for sale at the country store are on consignment.

“My vision for this was I felt there was a need for a place, an additional space for local artists. We have 19 local artists in here,” Watkins said. “From Soy Sensations that does all-organic bath and body products to soy candles. She uses essential oils with everything. We also have Turner Hollar with soaps and goat milk lotions. She’s real popular in the area so we’re really proud to have her in here.”

Watkins goes on for a while about the artists and their creations. She knows who makes what in her store but puts no price on display space. She’s not running a flea market.

“I don’t lease spots because I feel that if it’s not selling then I’m either not doing my job or it’s not the right product, and then I have more control over it.”

When it sells, Watkins collects her 30 percent consignment fee.

A few exceptions

Actually, while 90% of the merchandise is local and handmade, there are exceptions. Such as a fancy picnic basket with accessories obviously not handmade. A customer had already claimed it and was picking it up later for a wedding. Whether for dining on the lawn after the ceremonies or for a gift, it would be suitable for either.

Watkins explains.

“There are some things that we brought in to mix in, like the wine coolers and the picnic baskets. Those are not handmade. But a lot of our kids’ clothes are handmade, our skirts, the pottery. The jewelry’s all handmade, the quilts. Ninety percent of it is. It’s a lot of fun,” she says.

“It’s always interesting to see what people are going to bring in. We’ve had to turn a few people away. I don’t want it looking like a garage sale. I feel that for the folks that we do have in here, not only is it a supplement to their income, they work hard for it, but they put a lot of detail in their art. We’re really proud to have the artists that we do here.”

But the store is a commercial enterprise, and Watkins says the manufactured items she buys wholesale add variety and supplement the store’s income.

“Unfortunately — just to rely on the commission from the artists’ work — you have to have things that are yours to pay the bills.”

Sweets and more

Don’t be surprised to see a customer walking around the store licking an ice cream or savoring a slice of cheesecake. That would come from the Hayden’s Sweet Shop Cafe side of the building, the side for fresh cinnamon rolls, caramel pecan rolls, baked breads, quiche, paninis and salads.

Those familiar with the story of how the Watkins ended up in Walland would understand. For all their interest in local art, they aren’t locals at all. They are from Michigan. Four years ago their son Hayden died at age 8 from illness. Two weeks after Hayden’s funeral, his parents headed south to Nashville hoping to open a diner, keeping Hayden in their hearts but in new surroundings.

Glen had been a cook since high school and the couple had done catering and operated a Philly cheese steak cart on a seasonal basis. They spent weekends driving around looking for the right place to settle, but the midstate area seemed expensive and busy. A friend from Madisonville set them off on a road trip farther east.

“She said, ‘Let’s go to the Maryville and Townsend area and I guarantee you’re going to love it.’ On the way home that night, my husband looked at me and said, ‘We’re moving, that’s home.’ And it is home. Best decision we ever made. The people here are really wonderful. Our community has really embraced us. We’ve worked hard for it, but they’ve really embraced us.”

Small, but big enough

When Kim spotted the building destined to become the diner, she was intrigued. Glen was skeptical.

“It wasn’t for rent. When I say God led us here, I mean literally led us here. We saw it empty and my husband looked like, ‘No way, I don’t want to be in a building that small. I could never work out of here.’”

But he could and is. Even the building’s owner was reluctant at first. One year later, he’s leased them a whole other bigger building.

Hayden’s spirit was imprinted on the diner. Kim Watkins recalls sleeping in her son’s hospital room and snoring when Hayden started giggling and said, ‘Daddy, we’re going to catch that bear some day.’”

The Snoring Bear Diner lives today, and has expanded into a store next door.

“We wanted a sweet shop. Our son was never able to eat a lot of sweets in his life because he was on a very restricted diet. He was only allowed 12 grams of fat. In the last year of his life he was able to eat sweets and enjoy them,” Kim Watkins said.

So now there’s Hayden’s Sweet Shop Cafe. And when the sign goes up, Snoring Bear Village. Not too big. Not too small. Just the right size.

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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