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Donut dynasty: Richy Kreme owner expands reach with partnerships, cookie brand

When Dustin Cochran envisions the future of his businesses, he knows exactly what he wants and what he doesn’t.

“I have no desire to be the McDonald’s of the cookie or donut world. That’s not appealing to me at all,” Cochran said. “What I do like is building a brand and a company where I can employ people, create a good place to work, create opportunities, give back to the communities.”

But part of building any brand is expansion, and that’s been no problem so far for Cochran’s businesses, Blount County staple Richy Kreme Donuts and newly founded cookie company Myrtle’s Bakehouse.

Cochran bought Richy Kreme, which first opened in Maryville in 1948, late last year and has quickly breathed new life into the local donut dynasty by mixing use of the shop’s original recipes with social media branding and community partnerships.

He uses his Myrtle’s Bakehouse brand, named after his grandmother, to sell cookies “as big as your face,” nearly half-a-pound, he said.

“When I set out to do the cookies, I set out to make the best cookie anybody ever had,” Cochran said. “It wasn’t about making any kind of money or profitability or really anything. I really wanted to make the best cookie somebody had had.”

Two Townsend businesses are selling Cochran’s products, he said, and he’s also partnered with different Knoxville spots, including Hey Bear Cafe and a new coffee shop. But his excitement was palpable when he spoke of the Knoxville Farmers Market in Market Square, where he now is a permanent vendor selling both donuts and cookies.

“It’s like the pro market,” Cochran said. “It’s huge. ... We had a line at the Farmers Market (June 10) probably 30-40 people long to get a cookie.”

Cochran’s brands even were featured recently on an episode of “Sit a Spell,” a podcast produced by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Podcast hosts interviewed Cochran and lauded his products.

“It was fabulous,” host Meagen Brown said of a Myrtle’s Bakehouse cookie, while saying a Richy Kreme donut “melts in your mouth.”

And Cochran’s been amazed at the Blount County community’s positive reaction since he took over Richy Kreme.

“We honestly thought it would take a couple of years to get Richy Kreme back to (people thinking) it’s a high-quality, trusted brand,” Cochran said.

Cochran’s future plans include a Richy Kreme expansion in Pigeon Forge, which would feature a 27-foot airstream trailer turned donut haven. At the trailer, which has been parked behind the Maryville store, patrons will be able to customize their own donut holes with different toppings and more, Cochran said.

“It’s going to be super cool,” Cochran said.

Cochran was mum on exactly where the Pigeon Forge expansion will be located, but said it’s “a really awesome location,” with lots of foot traffic, similar to The Island, a huge Pigeon Forge attraction that features shops and a Ferris wheel.

Myrtle’s Bakehouse cookies also soon will be sold at Kern’s Bakery in Knoxville, a remodeled version of the former company warehouse that will feature local vendors, apartment homes, a hotel and entertainment areas, according to its website. It will open in 2022.

Customers will be able to enjoy “an eclectic mix of local, independent, regional and recognized brands in dining and specialty retail,” at the Food Hall at Kern’s, the website states.

Cochran said that since another donut vendor has a spot at Kern’s, and it isn’t allowing overlapping businesses in the space, he will only sell cookies there. If the other donut vendor drops out, though, Richy Kreme donuts are next in line there.

Another change coming soon for Richy Kreme: the “k” in “kreme” will change to a “c” as the business expands, Cochran said. He cited legal matters as the reason; the Maryville shop will still use the traditional “k.”

Cochran said he is just as invested in the community surrounding his businesses as he is about the brands themselves. He said if he could refocus his energy, he would pour it into the local area, as he already has through partnerships with local schools; Cochran’s even looked into buying at least one nearby building for another venture.

“We’ve been so fortunate that people love our products,” Cochran said. “And we stay true to the quality. We don’t sacrifice that, no matter if our prices go up on our end, ingredients or whatever. We’re making that recipe just like it’s supposed to be made.

“I don’t know if I ever want it to graduate from a local, homegrown, family business,” he added. “I’d rather make the best donut you can get and have a few (stores) around here, and be known for that.”

Something new for something old: Preservation group funds roof for historic house

Visitors to the Cades Cove Museum, located in the Thompson-Brown House in Maryville, soon will notice something new atop the historic structure: a metal roof to replace the rotting cedar shakes that had been in place for decades.

The Cades Cove Museum is operated by the Cades Cove Preservation Association, which leases the building from Blount County and has entered into an agreement with the county to fund vital repairs to preserve and protect the house, believed to have been constructed in the first quarter of the 19th century by William Thompson. The Rev. William Beard Brown purchased the home in 1867.

Stephen Weber, president of CCPA, said, “The roof’s been leaking for a long time. In the foyer upstairs, we have an old washtub that collects water when it drips in, so we decided it was time to do something. We went into our fundraising mode, and we have enough right now to do the roof without having to go into our general account.”

Heartland Roofing won the bid for replacing the roof. Weber said Wednesday that the old shakes from the front porch and back porch have been removed and tar paper put down. “They found the boards that still had the saw marks from where they were originally sawed and put up there,” he said. “Hopefully within the next two or three weeks, we’ll have it done. Once they get everything taken off and prepared, it will be pretty easy to put the metal on.”

Cades Cove Museum Director Gloria Motter said, “We’re going with the roof as the building had in the early 1900s. Once the roof is on, we’ll work on replacing the windows.”

Thus far, funds have been raised through generous donations by CCPA members and a few non-members with no outside funding.

Preserving history

Jim Motter, public relations/communications officer with CCPA, is serving as project manager for the restoration efforts.

“Heartland Roofing has done a terrific job,” he said. “They’ve got about three-quarters of the old shakes off and thrown in the dumpster. Most of the shakes were in pretty rough shape — they were rotted.” He said Weber is sorting through to see if any could be salvaged for use in fundraising efforts.

The decision for a metal roof rather than replacing the shakes was made for the extra durability and is part of the home’s history. Motter said when the house was restored to its earliest beginnings in the 1970s, shakes replaced the metal roof that had been in place since around the 1930s. “Wooden shakes are hard to seal off. They leak pretty quick once you get them up there,” he explained.

The house is on the National Register of Historic Places, which was consulted before proceeding. “Now, the repairs have to last longer because of the cost,” Motter said. “They recommended going to the metal roof instead of the cedar shakes because of the longevity. A leaky roof only lasts so long and then the whole thing has to be ripped off. We can understand why Blount County didn’t have the budget for all this stuff.

“We’re running a museum out of this thing,” he said. “We want it to look good, we want it to look like a log house, but we still want it to be energy efficient so we can afford to be in here.”

The chimneys will be capped because they are no longer in use. “We have weather coming down through there and critters coming down and we can’t stop them, so if we cap it off, we won’t have to worry about that,” Motter said. “And it will make the old place more energy efficient.”

Ongoing projects

Weber said CCPA has a five-year plan for restoring the Thompson-Brown House. The roof is only the first step.

“Once we get that done, we’ll be focusing on getting the windows replaced and a little bit of electrical upgrade,” he said. “Then we’ll go into fundraising mode and address the heat and air. There are some logs that need to be stabilized due to water damage. Hopefully the fundraising keeps going so we can get these things done.”

CCPA raises funds through the sale of products, donations and membership fees. Currently, a “yard sale” of gently used donated items continues on the grounds during open hours. Special events, such as the Cades Cove Homecoming event scheduled for Aug. 28, also raises funds through vendor space rentals as well as product sales.

CCPA originally planned on an $80,000 budget to fund the projects, but that was before the pandemic hit and will likely rise. “It will take an effort to reach that,” Weber said. “We hope when people see what we’re doing, they will make donations, including in-kind contributions from businesses for materials or labor. Hopefully this will encourage people to get involved and preserve this building for the history of Blount County. This is a Blount County gem just as much as it is a home for Cades Cove Preservation Association.”

The Cades Cove Museum, filled with historic artifacts once owned by the people who lived in Cades Cove, is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays at 1004 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway, adjacent to the Blount County Justice Center. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. Learn more at www.cadescovepreservation.com.

Collaborative effort

The new topper is the result of a collaboration between Blount County Government, which owns the property, and CCPA, a Tennessee nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation, which has been informally leasing the space for its offices and the Cades Cove Museum since 2005. The formal written agreement with CCPA to lease the Thompson-Brown House for $1 per year was approved by the Blount County Commission at its Nov. 21, 2019, meeting. The agreement states that “CCPA shall have the responsibility for the preservation, restoration, use and maintenance of the premises. Specifically, CCPA shall plan any restoration, shall execute and let contracts for restoration and shall distribute funds for the restoration and maintenance, provided disbursement of funds shall comply with the provision of any grants or donations at all times. Any such restoration or maintenance projects shall require final approval by Blount County mayor.” Blount County retains ownership of the property and any improvements that are made.

Having the formal agreement in place allows CCPA to move forward with vital repairs through its own fundraising efforts, thereby saving Blount County taxpayers the cost.

Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell said, “We’ve worked very well with the Cades Cove Preservation Association. They have provided valuable insight into our history, and we continue to have a great partnership with them and will for years to come. Replacing the roof on the Thompson-Brown House helps preserve the integrity of this special building.”

A Place to Stay holds first ever Street Outreach Service Day

A group of volunteers gathered in the parking lot of the Blount County Public Library on July 18 as local nonprofit A Place to Stay hosted its first ever Street Outreach Service Day to help the homeless.

Event organizers said it was a chance for volunteers to come together and help some of the most vulnerable people in the community.

“We provided services for the homeless population — our neighbors, as we call them — who we feel are kind of lacking,” Cassandra Brown said.

Brown is the community outreach coordinator for A Place to Stay. During the July 18 event, the organization provided several vital services for the homeless population.

Shower stalls were set up in the parking lot, along with a hygiene station containing soap, toothpaste and deodorant. The organization also organized a clothing pantry and provided a washer and dryer for use by those in need. Food trucks supplied hot meals and a food pantry allowed people to take supplies when they left. In one corner of the parking lot, a barber offered haircuts and beard trims. There was even an area for foot baths and massages.

“We thought about what services they really needed and what resources would really help the people in the area,” Brown explained.

One of the most important aspects of the event was the opportunity to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. A Place to Stay partnered with United Way to make COVID vaccines available to those who attended the event.

According to Brown, those who wanted the vaccine received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson variety “so they don’t have to come back for another shot.”

“We really want the homeless population to get vaccinated,” Brown explained. “So we tried to incentivize the vaccine because homeless people, unfortunately, aren’t typically motivated to get vaccinated.”

With so many services on hand, the event needed an army of people willing to give their time and effort to the cause. According to Brown more than 75 people were expected to volunteer, something the organization didn’t expect when it first started planning for the event.

“It started as this small idea and it just kind of snowballed into something bigger,” she said. “We have an office in the Blount County Public Library and they came to us asking if we wanted to do an outreach event. We contacted the Helen Ross McNabb Center and started talking about what we needed to do. When we started reaching out, we just had so many people saying they wanted to do these great things for the community so we just went with it.”

Brown added that the organization hopes this event is just the start of a journey to a better life for those who attended.

“We hope by having them come out to the event we can get them into case management,” Brown said. “A lot of homeless people don’t want to reach out, so we’re going to reach out instead.”