Lisa Misosky and Catherine Frye, owners of Maryville’s Southland Books & Cafe, know how to run a business.
They bought the bookstore from its original owner in 1999 and opened the cafe in 2005, around the time they moved the operation to its present location at 505 E. Broadway Ave. However, their dream was to expand their operation and open an adjacent lounge where people could congregate in a quiet and comfortable setting.
In September, the two women accomplished that goal with the opening of The Bird & The Book, a casual, unpretentious bar that offers over 100 varieties of beer — a mix of foreign and domestic ales, lagers, porters, stouts and IPAs — as well as a food menu consisting of sandwiches and light entrees.
The new establishment is located at 1509 E. Broadway Ave. in the same building as their other businesses, but occupying a space just below the bookstore, where the former Blue Tick Brewery was located before its former proprietor vacated in early 2017.
“This was the solution to my midlife crisis,” said Misosky, who runs the bookstore portion of the business and now tends bar. “We had talked for two years about opening this other business but never had the time or ability to make it happen.”
Frye, who operates the cafe and now oversees the bar menu, shared the same dream.
“We both wanted to open a bar and we had talked about it over the years,” Frye said. “We discussed what we wanted, how it should be a cozy and comfy kind of place where it wouldn’t be loud or rowdy, and people could talk, enjoy themselves and find things to do.”
With seating for 99 people, about 20 tables, a custom-built bar, television screens, a stage, sound system and various table games, The Bird & The Book fits the description of the business they envisioned. Strings of light crisscross the room beneath a high industrial-looking ceiling, while music posters dot a portion of the walls.
In keeping with the casual vibe, a series of monthly activities — including live music, poetry readings and games — have already been initiated with plans for other kinds of gatherings.
In addition, the two women say they will make the room available for celebrations, parties, political gatherings and other social events at no charge. The emphasis, they said, was to make it a good fit for the community.
“This community is where we live,” said Misosky. “We want to make this community better, and we can do that by making this a place where everyone can feel welcome.”
The business opens at 4 p.m., but closing times and days could be flexible as the business settles in to an established routine.
“As long as people are here and enjoying themselves, we’ll stay open,” Frye said.
It took 10 months to complete renovations on the space, which Misosky and Frye designed themselves after a bistro they visited in Paris. They estimate the costs to convert it was about $50,000, which they funded through proceeds from their existing business, some savings and a loan. They expect it will take a year before they recoup their investment and start making a profit.
Misosky and Frye also enlisted the assistance of Trent Gilland, the owner of Maryville’s Public House on High, when it came to sorting out their selection of libations and installing taps behind the bar. The two businesses share rotating bingo nights and trivia contests, which bring patrons to both establishments to compete for prizes.
While neither woman claims any experience running a bar, both said that their business background has made the transition easier.
Misosky was born in Maryville and raised in Seattle and Anchorage, Alaska.
“I remember sometimes having to step around a moose on the sidewalks,” she said. “It was like a scene from the TV show ‘Northern Exposure.’”
Her family eventually moved back to Maryville, where she graduated from Maryville High School in 1986 before going on to major in political science at the University of Tennessee. She became enamored with the book business while working for McKay’s used bookstore in Knoxville, and then Southland Books where she was employed for 17 years by its original owner David Slough.
Frye graduated from UT with degrees in speech communication and women’s studies. As a former manager for Blockbuster Video, she acquired a business acumen that prepared her for running a business of her own.
An accomplished artist, she operated her own glassworks studio and continues to sell some of her art through the bookstore. After becoming a partner in Southland Books, she took over the operation of the cafe and eventually took responsibility for the food preparation.
“I was never professionally trained, so I don’t consider myself a chef,” Frye said. “I’d call myself a cook.” She bases her menus on family recipes, which she tweaks through what she described as “trial and error.”
The food selection for the bar and the cafe mostly overlap at present, but The Bird & The Book does offer its own nightly specials, and in time will offer its own menu.
In the meantime, both Fry and Misosky said they are looking forward to other additions like a new kitchen and more frequent events and activities.
At very least, the two are committed to making The Bird and The Book a success for themselves and for the community. “They’ll have to carry me out of here feet first,” Misosky said.